Everybody loves an underdog. And as New York's Democratic primary concludes today, you can't help but root for Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu, who are running for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, respectively.
Photogenic, smart, and well-educated, they may have little experience in government as incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo suggests, but their policy stakeouts, if not their chutzpah, on important topics are things that a lot of small business owners are likely to relate to. Among other things, they want to fight corruption and crony capitalism, break up monopolies and set a level playing field for entrepreneurs by keeping the Internet open.
As Cuomo is expected to win handily today, their campaign is also a good lesson on pushing out powerful new ideas, and fighting on against the odds.
Teachout Against Corruption
Take constitutional law professor Teachout's 2009 Cornell Law Review Article "The Anti-Corruption Principle." In it, she lays out how fears about corruption are actually a fundamental principle of the U.S. Constitution.
It is not an overstatement to say that the framers of the Constitution saw the document as a structure to fight corruption. Once having decided on the importance of a federal constitutional structure, their primary task became building one that would limit corruption.
Over the centuries, and reaching its apex in the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling on corporate election spending from 2010, the efficacy of the Constitution in fighting corruption has been worn away, Teachout argues, and that needs to change. In that way, she seems politically aligned with the likes of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and the populist rage she embodies against big banks. There's no small irony then, in Teachout facing off against Cuomo, who has allegedly stifled his own anti-corruption commission.
Wu on the Web
Similarly, Wu has shown himself in the vanguard on one of the key policy debates today, namely net neutrality, a term he coined and which he's written about in academic journals for more than 10 years. In a seminal work from 2003, Wu identified the conflict between large broadband providers and the public's own interest in an environment that fosters innovation, as critical in the coming decade.
How right he was about that. After a year of furious controversy and debate, The Federal Communications Commission is expected to rule by the end of the year on whether Internet Service Providers can carve up access into fast and slow lanes, depending on how much people pay.
Wu's work has been vital to entrepreneurs such as Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit, who introduced and endorsed the Teachout-Wu ticket Monday at Meetup headquarters in New York. At the gathering, Ohanian said:
This is one of the leaders and pioneers who worked to help make my career possible. I was able to live the American Dream with a buddy of mine and two laptops in a little apartment to build something that is now one of the top websites because of the work that Tim did.
It was also at Meetup, just a day before the election, that Teachout and Wu released their technology policy platform, which Teachout said would help put New York State on par with California for innovation through broadband infrastructure upgrades. They added that a commitment to net neutrality in the state would encourage innovation by decreasing the cost of technology development.
Looking to the Future
If that seems a little late to start staking out important campaign territory, it's also a sign that Teachout and Wu are continuously evolving, and in ways that may help create more progressive policies in the coming years. As Teachout told the Washington Post yesterday:
New York has really thrived both upstate and downstate when there are tens of thousands of small businesses all representing their different creative impulses. But in the past decades we've seen a radical shift toward a consolidation of the economy. At one point it was the banks. Now it's cable--and the banks. And for either good or ill, I think this is a time that places high demands on citizens. The rapid consolidation of power, both in politics and economics, really requires a lot of us.
Those seem like smart words that strike a popular nerve today, particularly as the economy struggles to recover and small business owners express the sentiment that the odds are increasingly stacked against them. And they could be particularly instructive to Cuomo, whose well-funded campaign has dismissed Teachout and Wu at every turn. Cuomo will probably want to incorporate some of Teachout and Wu's ideas as he competes in November, unless he wants to risk alienating a community of vocal voters: entrepreneurs.