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The Primary Challenege

Tomorrow’s founding fathers meet in a bar, plot to destroy state government

Last Tuesday in a Tonawanda dive bar, several members of Primary Challenge, a political action committee, practiced their right of public assembly and discussed the overthrow of New York State’s government. No militias or bombs were proposed, but the best alternative weapon was discussed: a large amount of money. The organization believes that with $24 million dollars, they can implement Project 2010, rallying the citizens of New York to rise against their crooked government and pass a referendum calling for a state constitutional convention. By means of that convention, the current state government, and all our state’s problems, would be eliminated.

Pitching this ambitious plan to the roughly dozen attendees at Gene’s Junkyard Bar and Grill was New York native and Primary Challenge founder Leonard Roberto. He explained that the inherent injustices of the New York state political system have gotten so out of hand that the development of a third-party platform has become almost impossible. It happens that the platform Roberto and his followers want to create is quite extreme, calling for the elimination of state income and property taxes and the development of an extremely localized, county-focused government. It’s not a platform that many would support, but it’s the wild pitches that best test our system of politics, and in Roberto’s experience, it’s not performing very well.

Not only do New York political reformers have to deal with flagrant gerrymandering, but Roberto insured that the committees and boards that govern our state politics have more allegiance to the two major parties than to American law. He told two horror stories. In one, he had a petition thrown out over a technical issue regarding a cover sheet. In the other, other he claimed that the New York State Board of Elections tried to charge him $2,000 for a voter registration list. Not only is charging that price a crude ploy to keep the little man out of politics, it’s also illegal. In 1995’s case of Schultz vs. The New York State Board of Elections, it was decided by the State Supreme Court in Albany County that the price for a list of registered voters cannot exceed its cost of reproduction—a price Roberto didn’t get until he threatened a lawsuit.

In the face of such bureaucratic shenanigans, Primary Challenge’s exploits into politics sometimes come across like a high school basketball team taking on the Harlem Globetrotters, and Project 2010 is a last-ditch shot from half court for the win. But the folks at Gene’s Junkyard Bar and Grill don’t seem to understand how long a shot it is. Twenty four million dollars may seem like a hefty amount to get their message out, but that’s not even half the money raised for the 2006 Hillary Clinton Senate campaign. And she ran on a well-established platform that called for nothing that approached radical change.

But at the bar, Roberto’s plan seemed well received and supported. Those present compared their mission to the Founding Fathers’ initial murmurings of revolution. The immense wealth and power weilded by our Founding Fathers extreme was not mentioned.

Eventually one of the attendees asked what would happen to state-run programs such as Medicare while the entire state government was rearranged. Roberto paused, then responded, “We’re getting ahead of ourselves, that’s plan two. Plan one is elimination of the current state government.”

Another attendee mentioned the possibility that a constitutional convention might produce a government worse than the one we have now, to which one man muttered, “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“How could things possibly get worse?” someone said, cutting off any invocation of Robespierre. Some haughty chuckles followed, then the conversation turned to marketing Project 2010. Some suggested dumbing down the message into a simple no-tax platform, to appeal to the “average Bud-drinking American.” (Most of the founding fathers at Gene’s, by the way, we’re drinking Labatt Blue.) The conversation devolved to complaints about taxes at this point, and Roberto’s plan—aiming for the stars with a stick, and when there are so many perfectly fine beehives to knock down—was forgotten.

geoff anstey

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