The collapse of the governor of New York, David Paterson, amid a controversy over his role in an alleged domestic violence case that involved one of his top aides -- compounded by a new scandal over his receipt of free World Series tickets -- may not seem to have much to do with Harold Ford Jr.'s decision not to run for Senate. But they are related in a way that gets less attention that it should. In a healthy political system, candidates have their flaws aired and discovered before they get elected. That's much harder to do if there's little or no real competition.
The 5.8 million Democrats in New York State outnumber the 2.9 million Republicans by a margin of about 2 to 1. In the 2006 election in which Mr. Paterson came to power as Eliot Spitzer's running mate, Mr. Spitzer's campaign spent $33 million, more than ten times what was spent by his Republican rival, John Faso.
Granted, Republicans such as Rudolph Giuliani and George Pataki have managed to get elected in New York. And granted, once the Democrats get into office, the New York Times has done an impressive job of helping to tear them down with investigative reporting. But before the Times tears these guys down, it also builds them up. Mr. Faso, who even the Times had described in a 2002 editorial as "thoughtful," "able and decent," never really got traction in that 2006 governor's race, which the conventional wisdom expressed in the Times's coverage held, in essence, was over before it began.
That 2002 Times editorial describing Mr. Faso as "thoughtful," "able and decent" was an endorsement of his opponent in the campaign for state comptroller, a Democrat, Alan Hevesi. Mr. Hevesi ended up pleading guilty to a felony for using a state employee as his wife's chauffeur, and resigned from office. Mr. Spitzer, who Mr. Faso ran against in 2006, resigned after getting caught frequenting a prostitute. And now Mr. Paterson has announced he won't run for election to the office he found himself in by default in the first place, and he is under pressure to take the further step of resigning from office.
That's the context for Mr. Faso's current advice that the presumptive 2010 Democratic candidate for governor, Andrew Cuomo, needs a real challenge, and a campaign that involves some real scrutiny rather than just a coronation. The same could be said for Senator Gillibrand, and, for that matter, for Senator Schumer, who is also up for re-election in 2010, especially given the way that some of the taxes on high incomes and high health care premiums in some of the health care bills would clobber New York.
The point is that competition is good, not just in business, but in politics, too. It gives voters more information and better choices. And it might -- not always, but sometimes -- filter out the bad politicians before they reach high office.
Update: Karl Rove, in the Wall Street Journal, manages to write a whole column on the advantages of gerrymandering districts to favor Republicans: "The average winner of a competitive House race in 2008 spent $2 million, while a noncompetitive seat can be defended for far less than half that amount. Moving, say, 20 districts from competitive to out-of-reach could save a party $100 million or more over the course of a decade." And here we had been under the impression that in a democracy, it was the voters who got to choose the politicians, not the politicians who get to choose their voters. We'd rather look at it from the perspective of what's best for the country or the state than from the perspective of what can save the political parties the most money.