- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

NEW YORK — The Conservative Party of New York says the state Republican Party has shifted to the left on tax and personal-freedom policies just to be politically correct.

Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long said the organization found in its annual poll that the state’s Democrat and Republican leaders have made an ideological shift. The survey grades the legislature’s 212 members on to what degree their votes reflect conservative principles.

“There’s usually a pretty good separation between Democrats and Republicans, but this year they’ve merged into a one-party system,” Mr. Long said.

This year’s report card assigned an overall rating of 28.7 percent, the lowest score in the Conservative Party’s history, compared with last year’s rating of 48 percent. It also showed that the normally more conservative upstate Republican-dominated Senate was found to be as liberal as the New York City-dominated Assembly.

Six of the 22 bills considered for the survey pertain to the budget and include the largest tax increase in New York’s history, overriding vetoes by Republican Gov. George E. Pataki on a $93 billion budget. Spending increased by $2 billion.

The strict no-smoking law, which bans lighting up in bars, restaurants and most offices, passed the Legislature over the Conservative Party’s loud objections, which included the charge that it was “one of the ideology-driven infringements on personal liberty that New Yorkers are not willing to quietly accept.”

But Mr. Long’s traditional allies, the governor and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, joined hands to support the nonsmoking measure; not one Senate Republican voted against it. Last year, the state Republican Party, with the governor’s help, approved a sweeping homosexual-rights law over the objections of conservatives.

“I guess it’s about being politically correct,” Mr. Long said. “They don’t worry about the future, but just what’s popular today.”

The conservatives began a campaign to amend the law.

“They said they passed this bill to save lives, then why don’t they ban the sale of automobiles?” he added.

Another defeat for New York conservatives was passage of a bill to require hospitals to provide information on “emergency contraception” to victims of sexual assault. The Conservative Party and Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan of the New York Archdiocese lobbied hard to exempt Catholic hospitals from the law, but were unsuccessful.

Political veterans do not necessarily agree with Mr. Long on the significance of the conservative rating.

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, said the electorate remains stable even while politicians vacillate on the issues. He cited as an example Mr. Pataki, who in his successful campaign for a third term moved to the left to woo local crossover votes. After his victory, he veered back to the right and courted the national Republican Party.

Mr. Miringoff said his 1994 polling showed 36 percent of New York voters said they were philosophically conservative; 40 percent described themselves as moderates; and 24 percent said they were liberal. This year’s poll 34 percent said they were conservatives; 41 percent moderate; and 25 percent liberal.

Nevertheless, Mr. Long, whose party helped lead Mr. Pataki to victory over former Democratic Gov. Mario M. Cuomo in 1994, warned of consequences. He said the weak economy in the state is a factor that could produce a “throw the bums out” feeling among voters.

New York allows major party candidates to run on minor-party ballot lines, which often makes third-party support crucial to victory.

“We’re going to have to look for new people to endorse if we can’t curtail the rate of taxation,” Mr. Long said.

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