Although reform or repeal of New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws was an issue in the Empire State's gubernatorial campaign, incumbent Gov. George Pataki gathered enough popular support to easily swamp the opposition. With 99% of precincts reporting, Pataki won a plurality with 49% of the vote, while Democratic challenger Carl McCall got 33% and independent candidate Tom Golisano, who in October called for outright repeal of the Rockefeller laws, came in with 14%. In bad news for drug reformers, neither Marijuana Reform Party candidate Tom Leighton nor Libertarian Party candidate Scott Jeffrey managed to crack the 50,000 vote barrier. If they had managed to get above 50,000 votes, the two parties would have been granted ballot lines for the next four years.
Leighton 22,500 votes, less than 1%, while the Libertarian's Jeffrey scored only 9,076. It seems likely that the Golisano effort, funded with $65 million of Golisano's personal fortune, sucked the air out of the campaign for all minor parties. Along with the Marijuana Reform Party and the Libertarians, the Right to Life Party, the Green Party, and the Liberal Party all failed to earn ballot status this year.
At least Leighton got a nice plug from Richard Brookhiser, senior editor at National Review, writing in a column in the New York Observer in the days before the election. He contrasted the MRP with the Conservative Party, which Brookhiser feels abandoned its ideological principles in supporting Pataki (principles quite divergent on many issues from the generally liberal MRP). Parties like the MRP are needed to keep a focus on such issues and can force more prominent candidates, such as Golisano and McCall in this case, to devote attention to them, Brookhiser wrote.
While both McCall and Pataki called for Rockefeller law reform during the campaign, and Pataki even offered up a few concessions to the Democratic-led legislature, reforms have been talked about but not enacted for the last three years. Whether an emboldened Pataki will be willing to negotiate further with the Democrats remains to be seen. Neither reform proposal draws strong support from groups such as the Kunstler Fund or Drop the Rock, a grassroots campaign to repeal the Rockefeller laws.
McCall, the first black major party gubernatorial candidate in state history, never caught up to Pataki in the campaign funding race and was largely abandoned by the national Democratic Party as it became apparent that his was a lost cause. He was also abandoned by many traditional Democratic voters, the New York Times reported. Pataki, for his part, continued his evolution from conservative crime fighter to northeastern Republican liberal, touting social programs during his administration and claiming a willingness to address Rockefeller law reform, even if his proposals left most drug reformers lukewarm at best.
Golisano, who became a billionaire as head of Paychex, the payroll administration company, and who, despite calling himself "the only true conservative in the campaign," made a radical call for repeal of the Rockefeller laws, sounded a theme similar to Wisconsin's Ed Thompson in defeat. In his concession speech Tuesday night, Golisano warned the major parties to watch out. "If we achieved anything," he said, "it's for the next several years, the two-party system in this state has got to keep their eye out on us, because we're going to be watching them."