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Conservatives continue to exploit New York’s ‘fusion’ voting

Erie County’s tiny Conservative Party convened Thursday to endorse its fall candidates, but a few local Republicans had to pass through the woodshed first.

Sens. Pat Gallivan and Mike Ranzenhofer rank as official “small c” conservatives who easily earn the “capital C” Conservative Party’s nod. It’s safe to say this pair doesn’t spend its weekends at Bernie Sanders rallies.

Indeed, Gallivan and Ranzenhofer garner some of the strongest Conservative ratings in the State Legislature when the party issues its annual report card.

But Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo remains steamed over some of their votes and planned to tell them so at Thursday’s meeting.

“They’re going to have to answer several questions about their votes for family leave and a higher minimum wage,” Lorigo said just before the conclave. “No one is happy about their votes.”

Gallivan and Ranzenhofer this year followed Majority Leader John Flanagan in granting Gov. Andrew Cuomo at least part of what he wanted. That included a 70-cent annual hike in the upstate minimum wage until it reaches $12.50 in 2021. In New York City, the minimum wage reaches $15-per-hour in 2018 with some restrictions.

The pair also approved a new family leave program that grants workers up to 12 weeks off to care for family members.

Lorigo is unhappy. His party traditionally opposes “interference” by government into the affairs of business. It doesn’t like GOP cooperation in Cuomo’s left-leaning agenda. And it demands a certain level of ideological purity.

“Flanagan put on the pressure,” Lorigo said of the Republican votes. “That’s not something we approve of.”

Gallivan and Ranzenhofer appeared resigned to Lorigo’s lecture. But they remain savvy enough about the ways of Albany to know they can’t please everyone all the time – even the vaunted Conservative Party.

Gallivan says one of the Legislature’s main functions is to pass a budget ever year, and in New York, the governor holds the upper hand. As former Gov. David Paterson demonstrated, if the Legislature balked on some budget proposals, he would submit a form of continuing resolution that would often give him what he wanted anyway.

And Lorigo pointed out that Cuomo could have ultimately established a wage board to implement his minimum wage as he did with fast-food outlets. Then the governor would “wear it.”

“Some people get to say that, but we are in the majority and have the responsibility to govern,” Gallivan said. “In the end, letting the governor ‘wear it’ at the expense of our citizens is not the best of alternatives.”

Ranzenhofer called his decisions “very, very tough.” But he viewed a gradual hike in the minimum wage better than an immediate $15 per hour that Cuomo would find a way to impose.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about taking a popular vote,” he said, “but taking the best vote.”

It’s all part of the unique political process that governs New York. Minor parties like Conservatives often act as tails wagging the dog. Even some upstate Democrats like Kenmore’s Robin Schimminger covet the party nod to blunt inevitable Republican criticism of cozying up to the New York City Dems who run the Assembly.

The Conservatives – and other minor parties – continue to exploit New York’s “fusion” voting that allows major party candidates to run on their lines. The Conservative Party provides cover for many upstate pols, and it keeps the GOP on at least a semi-conservative course. That’s why it was founded back in 1962 to counter the increasingly liberal Republican Party then following Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

Gallivan and Ranzenhofer will most likely survive their trip to Lorigo’s woodshed. State Chairman Mike Long ultimately controls endorsements in their multicounty districts anyway. And they both know their overall strong ratings give them the upper hand.

After all, what’s Lorigo going to do? Endorse a Democrat?