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Reform Jewish Voice celebrates 10 years of political activism

Group meets with Krueger on RHA, campaign finance and minimum wage

Sen. Liz Krueger spoke to advocates from the Reform Jewish Voice of New York, telling them to continue to rally on behalf of the Reproductive Health Act, campaign finance reform and a minimum wage increase. Krueger, a reform Jew herself, says her identity as a Jewish woman has been questioned due to her progressive stance on social issues. Photo by Amanda Verrette.
May 14, 2012
The Reform Jewish Voice of New York state celebrated its 10th anniversary with a lobbying session in Albany, talking to legislators about three main issues: the Reproductive Health Act, campaign finance reform and a minimum wage increase.

"Before 10 years ago, the only [Jewish] voices were the men in the black hats. And they were here frequently," said Honey Heller, co-chair of the Reform Jewish Voice of New York state. "And our views on virtually all issues were very, very different."

Heller says her organization "schlepped" letters to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, advocating on behalf of the legislation.

"There's a traditional conservative voice and ours is a more progressive voice on social net issues, things relating to women," she said. "We realized it was not a progressive Jewish voice."

Rabbi Jennifer Jaech, co-chair of the Reform Jewish Voice of New York state, says the progressive voice is often lost. "Lawmakers hear from religious groups advocating against legislation." she said, "We want the progressive voice."

Sen. Liz Kruger, D-Manhattan, spoke to the group about her own Jewish identity in the Legislature.

"I'm a proud reform Jew myself and only a couple times up here in this town have people challenged whether I was a Jew based on their identification of Jews," Krueger said. "That never happens to me when I'm at home in New York City, but it was fascinating when we were fighting for same-sex marriage and I had a few Rabbis tell me that I wasn't Jewish. And I was like, 'well, since my rabbi will do weddings once we get them passed I don't think you actually get to tell me what Judaism's law is when it comes to the right of people to get married.'"

Krueger is a co-sponsor of the Reproductive Health Act (S.2844/A.6112), which would afford women the right to make personal, private health care decisions, including the right to choose or refuse contraception and access to abortion care. The act takes abortion law out of criminal law and puts it in public health law.

Krueger said the political climate regarding women's health is unstable and susceptible to change.

"The 'crazies,' as I describe it are moving from state capital to state capital, so we need to make sure that when they get to Albany – and they will and some of them are already here in the Legislature – that it is very clear that we are not going back. We are not reversing New York state's great history of protecting women's reproductive health and families rights to reproductive decisions between themselves and doctors and not the government," she said.

Minimum wage was another topic of interest to Krueger, who says an increase is a win-win for the entire economy.

"There are some people who will tell you this will decrease the number of jobs that are available in the economy, I think the expression used by Dean Skelos is these are 'job killing proposals.' The research is clear. Increasing the minimum wage at the levels we are discussing in the bills floating around the Legislature would do no harm to the economy, not decrease the job opportunities for people who are currently or looking to, move into the labor market at the minimum wage level," she said. "We are way behind where it was when it was first established if you adjust for inflation."

Krueger identified the third issue, campaign finance reform, as the greatest threat to democracy. "I believe there is no greater threat to the future ability of this country to hold a concept of democracy as our model of government than the exploitation and abuse of money in politics," she said, "between the Citizens United case at the Supreme Court level and the outrageous amounts of money that can be provided through New York state's wild wild west model of campaign finance."

According to Krueger, citizens have the right to control the electoral process and "even the playing field."

"I have had lobbyists tell me that if I don't kill bills that I have put in, they will do harm to me," Krueger said. "And I have had lobbyists tell me I need to submit bills on behalf of specific clients. And I have had lobbyists tell me they control this town, nobody should be confused about whose title is whose. It's a fascinating wild wild west up here."

Krueger told advocates if legislators do not listen in regards to reproductive health or minimum wage, to try again on campaign finance reform "because if we got campaign finance reform, we would also see changes in people's positions on reproductive health, on minimum wage, on an endless list. I have had legislators tell me, even as I debated them on the floor of the Senate 'well, I don't really agree with this, I'm just voting for it because …' fill in the blank 'told me I needed to,' or so and so 'told me they were going to underwrite my campaign if I did so.' It's not even very subtle up here."

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