Profile in Courage

State Senator Roy McDonald of Saratoga County apparently has decided not to run an aggressive re-election campaign on the Independence Party line after losing a closely-contested primary for the Republican nomination.

What a shame. We need more people like Senator McDonald in Albany, and in every facet of civic life. 

Mr. McDonald, you may recall, was one of only four Republicans in the Senate to support same-sex marriage last year. Without those votes, the bill would have failed, and marriage equality in New York would have been postponed.

All four Republicans bucked their party’s leadership and, in some cases, their spiritual leaders to do right by their fellow human beings who happen to be gay. Two of them, to the credit of their constituents, won renomination in last month’s primary. Another chose not to run for re-election.

Mr. McDonald faced an aggressive challenge for re-nomination for only one reason: his support for gay marriage. His opponent, Kathleen Marchione, made opposition to marriage equality the centerpiece of her campaign. She was declared the winner in late September, after two weeks of counting and recounting.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose support for marriage equality changed everything, reached out to Mr. McDonald and offered to support him if he chose to continue his campaign on the Independence Party line. “You stood up for your principles, for equality and for a population long victimized,” the governor told the senator. Mr. Cuomo’s public support for Mr. McDonald was just the sort of principled, nonpartisan politics the governor promised to bring to Albany.

Mr. McDonald has not said whether he will accept the governor’s endorsement and move ahead with a third-party campaign that very likely would be quixotic. At this stage of the game, however, with the election a month away, it would seem that the senator’s days in Albany are over.

What’s worth noting is that he was absolutely prepared to pay a price for his vote. When he announced in advance that he planned to support marriage equality—the announcement came at a critical time on the eve of the vote—he summed up his thought process in a few well-chosen phrases. “You get to the point where … you try to do the right thing,” he said. “You might not like that. Well … I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it.”

We’ve become accustomed to political leaders who will say anything, do anything, vote any way in order to retain their hold on their office. We’ve come to expect elected officials to tailor their so-called beliefs and principles in accordance with the latest polling data.

It’s worth remembering, however, that in New York in 2012, there is a state senator from Saratoga County who believes that principle is more important than merely hanging on to the power and privilege of office.

There is no chance that the senator’s example will be replicated a thousand times over in Albany. But perhaps one legislator, or two, or a dozen, will find the courage to go and do likewise. That would surely change the culture of Albany, one vote at a time.