Opinion: New York is flawed but still more of a democracy than America

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A man crosses a nearly deserted Fulton Street in the financial district in lower Manhattan during the outbreak of novel coronavirus in New York City.
REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

In several previous columns, including my first for this paper as well as last week’s, I’ve noted that the vast majority of us never really had any say in the picking of the American president. Of course this is due to the primary calendar and the electoral college, but I think it’s also because the country we live in is simply too large to be governed both coherently and democratically any more.

The other countries with more than 150 million inhabitants — China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, and Bangladesh — are all dictatorships or basket cases. The next three countries on the list are Russia (a dictatorship and a basket case), Mexico (an advanced narco-state), and Japan, which is a functioning country but also one where a single party has held power for more than 60 of the last 65 years.

It used to be that it was helpful to be a large country, because large countries could afford large armies, which prevented being conquered by other large countries and allowed one to conquer small countries. But the last time two large countries fought was the United States and China in Korea in 1954. Since then, the paradigm has changed: the United States has been losing wars to smaller countries for 50 years, and the ones we won — like Grenada — weren’t even worth it.

We’re past the age where few people cared about democratic legitimacy and leviathan states existed to protect their subjects from conquest. Now, governments best protect their citizens by being responsive to them. And the most responsive governments are in relatively small states.

Which brings us to the multi-state council, the group of seven northeastern states combating the coronavirus together, which last week I identified as potentially our best level of governance going forward. Several states, like Delaware or Rhode Island, are probably too small to function on their own. But are other states too large to be democratic?

New York might be too large. The Empire State’s government seems imperial, where the governor is very powerful relative to other states’ and generally holds power for a long time. Four of the last nine governors were in office for over a decade.

At this moment, it’s hard to imagine Gov. Andrew Cuomo not winning a fourth term in 2022. He has the state Democratic Party firmly in his control, and no Republican has been elected statewide since 2002.

I don’t think the state should split up, but we need a bunch of democratic reforms. In the long-term, we also deserve some democratic say over the multi-state council, which currently consists of three appointees per state. Right now, it’s worse than the electoral college, but at least we don’t have to worry about the South.

Nick Rizzo is a Democratic District Leader representing the 50th Assembly District and a political consultant who lives in Greenpoint. Follow him on Twitter @NickRizzo.