Upon invitation from the Upstate (New York) Conservative Coalition (UCC), I delivered a speech on December 4, 2012 the subject of which was separating Upstate from Downstate New York. The resulting new state would become the fifty-first state of the Union. You can either read the transcript or listen to the speech, both are respectively posted on PJFOTN. It was so well received, after a lengthy question and answer period, the audience offered two standing ovations for which I was grateful since my youngest son Carlo and my oldest friend David were in attendance.
On that evening I spoke not only from years of research and conceptual development, but from the heart. I truly believe that the differences between New Yorkers who live within the sphere of New York City’s direct influence, i.e. economic, cultural and social, and Upstaters are so profound, to remain married is as destructive as living with an abusive spouse. In my overly long speech, I made the case for an amicable (as far as that can ever be) divorce.
A divorce has profound implications. It is always hurtful on some level. The best the parties can hope for is that the settlement be fair. Sometimes, when lawyers are not involved, the two parties can iron out better arrangements on their own, but one or both must begin the process and it is not an easy thing to broach. Recognizing that someone must in this case, I proposed a convention of representatives from every Upstate county at which the formal declaration of the intent to separate could be put forward and the outline for a subsequent convention for the process of separation would commence. I did not propose it at the time, but a constitutional convention would run concomitantly with the legal formalities of separation.
After my speech, several people approached me and asked how they could help drive the idea along. We traded emails and I told them I would communicate on the details of what I’d been calling “Project 51″ since 2008 (although my research and writing on separating the two regions has been ongoing for about twenty years). One of those individuals, John Bergener who is now co-chairman of the UCC along with Ben Potiker, contacted me later ostensibly to discuss what I proposed, but then declared my proposal would not work and that he had one which would, two autonomous regions under the aegis of the same system we already have in New York, the very system from which Upstaters want their freedom. He essentially wanted to piggyback on something already in the works. In other words, he wanted to forego the tedious process of starting from the bottom and working his way up on his own. Incapable of finding a forum for his idea, he simply wanted to co-opt mine, a kind of intellectual boorishness usually reserved for those who define plagiarism as “borrowing without asking”.
I don’t mind someone coming up with a similar or alternative plan regardless of how unprecedented, implausible and ill-conceived it may be, but I do take issue with someone who “borrows” someone else’s work without the honesty and decency of citing its origins. Last week it came to my attention that Mr. Bergener did an interview with the Washington Times in which he put forth his idea of dividing New York in two. It was immediately clear from the interview, Mr. Bergener “borrowed” the Project 51 concept as his own going so far as to use almost the exact language for its justification as what was in my speech.
Mr. Bergener’s idea for dividing New York into two autonomous regions is based on his erroneous conclusion that it is impossible to divide it into two separate states regardless of the fact that the former has never been done while the latter has. His plan is based on sly legal subterfuge, a kind of sleight of hand where bending a simple concept to fit the prevailing legal structure is preferable than a straightforward declaration of purpose. What he proposes is precisely what Americans have come to hate, obfuscation, circumvention, muddying the waters, unnecessary complexity and the resulting confusion that comes with it. In this way he believes he can move his plan forward by skulking under the radar and without any conflict aside from some minor political disagreements that will be settled with an accommodating wink here and there to Downstate power brokers who understand it is all for show rather than a split of substance.
The result of the autonomous regions plan would be worse than what we have now, one state divided into two districts with two governments, two sets of bureaucracies, two state capitols, two legislatures, two executives, but all ultimately working under the rules and regulations of the one same government we have now. It would be like a divorce in which the community property is divided equally but remains under the control of one or the other spouse. In short, his brilliant plan is to add more government to New York without divesting any real control, something I believe 99% of Upstate New Yorkers would find as offensive as a skunk in the kitchen.
Should Mr. Bergener make as much of an effort looking around at similar movements in other states, what he would find is none of them have proposals on the table like his, and for one very good reason, they want a real divorce, not an arrangement with benefits.
In every state where there is talk of separation, it is to form a new state. People realize the truth of the old apothegm, “all politics is local”, the more so as they see their authority and power being stripped from them by every level of government. At no time in human history has there been an effective “arrangement” between an abusive government and the abused through the addition of another level of government. True power must reside with the abusive government and with it the potential and willingness to oppress if for no other reason than to preclude another outbreak of liberty fever.
Separatist movements throughout the country are certainly not new, but the present volume speaks to a level of frustration that is indeed unprecedented. In California there is a proposal to carve the state into six new states. Few believe it has a chance, but there is another movement which seeks to separate northern California from Southern California and it may have wheels.
In my speech, I stated the reasons for separation were not so simple as a level of frustration with the command Downstate politicians have over the entire state or that Upstate is, like colonial America, effectively unrepresented in the state legislature as a result. I said the formation of a new state would be an exercise in creating a government based on what we know works and avoiding that which doesn’t. All the information we need to do that is right in front of us. We know states like New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and California, run the way they have been for almost their entire existence, do not work. My proposal starts from the vantage of seeing how states like Texas do work well, if not perfectly.
My proposal centers on creating a state with a constitutional limitation on the size and scope of government including the formation of a part-time, unicameral legislature and an executive so severely limited to managing, he or she would have no legal authority to rule. Everyone, including governor, legislators, judges and bureaucrats from villages to towns, cities, counties and the state would be term-limited. Most of all, the foundation of our new state would be an unprecedented devotion to the promotion of private personal and commercial enterprise with extremely limited governmental authority over them; a place so welcoming of enterprise no other in the world would be like it. The new New York would be an example to the country, if not the world, of what can be accomplished through a reaffirmation of America’s founding principles.
I asked the audience to imagine a state based on the enterprise of its people, one that would be there to help those who could not help themselves, but one that would also encourage enterprise in all its forms by steadfastly supporting and protecting the individual’s right to pursue enterprise unfettered by an overreaching government. In effect, I proposed a new state based on the very same principles our Founding Fathers wrote into the Constitution only ours would have in its fundamental legal document an inviolate, iron-clad provision which would make participation in politics so filled with onerous, tedious, ill-compensated work, few but those who saw the sacrifice as a solemn duty would attempt it.
People like John Bergener, who feel no remorse when it comes to using the work of others as if it was their own, are almost always lacking when it comes to the substance of their proposals. They churn out reams of paperwork, use arcane language and concepts, twist the words of statutes and opinions, warn against the futility of any other idea but their own and make every attempt to bury in rearranged language the work of others so as to make themselves look like statesmen rather than political hacks on personal missions of aggrandizement. What they fail to understand is the salesman’s credo, Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). Not that the consumer is stupid, but that the salesman must remind himself of his own stupidity in trying to make a simple concept like liberty so complex only he understands it.
After discussions with people from all over New York, the idea of separation is rather popular on its face. Talk to them about two autonomous regions and they tune out almost immediately for several reasons, one in particular, they almost always see a snake hiding in the woodpile. Upstate and Downstate New Yorkers may be separated by a thousand different things, but they are unified in one regard, healthy skepticism.
Mr. Bergener said my plan had no chance because it had no legal basis, but that his did. I responded that there was no legal basis for the colonists to declare their independence from Great Britain either, but they did. More to the point, the very arrangement Bergener, Potiker and the UCC seem to have embraced is almost the same system which was in place when the colonists declared their independence. If taxation without real representation has a contemporary home, it is certainly cozy, comfortable and confident in New York State. Either Bergener, Potiker et. al. failed American History or they simply don’t comprehend the idea of independence.
This is not a screed disparaging the general UCC membership. I’ve met some of them and other concerned Upstate citizens as well. They are more than decent, law-abiding New York patriots who desperately want what is best for their communities, state and country. Sadly, most of them are like me, in the winter of our years, necessarily more concerned with new diagnoses by our doctors than prescriptions for Upstate’s political health. And, like a lot of concerned people, they are more than willing to spend an hour a month participating in a meeting while leaving the work to those who have the time and willingness to perform it. But that kind of laxity always…always leads to inviting people like John Bergener to husband efforts on the organization’s behalf for which its members have not given their informed support.
Mr. Bergener’s plan is, for lack of a more appropriate word, Byzantine. If there is a plan to save Upstate New York from additional indifference and abuse of Downstate politicians, it must be the simplest of them all, independence as a wholly separate state. Everyone, from those with the loftiest intellects to people of common interests immediately understands that.