Newly-minted New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is engaged in a political and ideological charm offensive — moving left from the centrist (and in some cases Republican-lite) position she occupied as a member of the House.
Gillbrand, who was a National Rifle Association ally during her term as a representative from upstate New York, is now saying she will work with New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, a potential 2010 Democratic primary foe, to pass gun-control legislation.
And, under pressure from Latino legislators, the senator who was appointed last week by New York Governor David Paterson to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacant seat has begun to moderate anti-immigrants stances that led the newspaper El Diario to editorialize: “If Gov. David Paterson wanted to deliver a slap to immigrant New Yorkers, he effectively did so with his appointment yesterday of Representative Kirsten Gillibrand.”
It seems that Gillibrand, concerned about the threat of a Democratic primary challenge and the potential loss of progressive support in a fall race, is showing some willingness to move away from her Blue Dog Democrats stances.
Labor unions, which will be key to Gillibrand’s success or failure, should seek some clear commitments now on trade policy.
As a member of the House, Gillibrand voted with the Bush administration for trade legislation and amendments that were harmful to workers, farmers, the environment and communities in the U.S. and countries with which it trades.
For instance, in 2007, in one of her first trade votes as a member of the House, Gillibrand backed the Peru free trade agreement that was ardently backed by the Bush White House. She did so despite the fact that her more responsible Democratic colleagues — including upstate New York members such as Maurice Hinchey and Louise Slaughter — argued and voted against it.
Speaking of free trade agreements along the lines promoted by the Clinton and Bush administrations, Hinchey has said, “Because they hold our trading partners to much lower standards than are required in the United States, FTAs cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs and erode the bargaining power of our workers.”
Of the Peru agreement, in particular, Oregon Congressman David Wu said, “I regret that I cannot vote for this bill tonight because it does not put human rights on an equal footing with environmental and labor protections.”
In urging a “no” vote on the Peru plan, Michigan Congressman Dale Kildee said, “I appeal especially to my fellow Democrats not to turn their backs on those American workers who suffer from the export of their jobs. They want a paycheck, not an unemployment check.”
Gillibrand rejected that appeal as a member of the House.
She needs to be pressed, now, to make a clear commitment to oppose trade deals that disregard human rights, worker rights and the best interests of communities in the U.S. and abroad. And the labor unions that the new senator will soon be asking for endorsements ought not tender them until they are certain Senator Gillibrand will cast more responsible trade vote than did Congresswoman Gillibrand.