Funny Thing ... Politics

It has been amusing, if a little dizzying, trying to keep up with the barrage of criticism being leveled  at Gov. Eliot Spitzer over his proposal to make driver's licenses accessible to illegal aliens in New York.

Republicans have been issuing daily — in the case of Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, almost hourly — press releases about how the plan will be prohibitively expensive, undermine security efforts and make New York less safe. (Trust me; I'm a longtime driver in this state. Plenty of people out there with licenses make New York less safe.)

Tedisco is downright rabid in his opposition to the plan, which, in its current incarnation, would provide licenses with three levels of identification, one of which would be made available to illegal immigrants as a form of ID that could be used for driving, but not for air travel.

When Spitzer first announced his intention to make driver's licenses accessible to illegal immigrants, the better to register and monitor them, it was Tedisco who suggested Osama bin Laden would be popping champagne corks over the news. (We can't imagine why; bin Laden doesn't drive.)

Since then, the Schenectady-area Republican seems to be staking his political career on the issue. (He is, after all, a career politician, having first been elected to the Assembly in 1982.) He has made the TV rounds, largely on compliantly conservative outlets hosted by the likes of Brit Hume and Glenn Beck. He has claimed Spitzer has “taken hundreds of thousands of dollars away from my district for children and families who don't have health insurance” in retaliation for Tedisco's opposition. And, lately, he has picked up the pace.

In the space of less than 24 hours one day last week, we received no less than five e-mails from his office. One was a release detailing a hearing in Rochester on the proposal — a non-partisan, fact-finding hearing, judging from the headline: “Assembly GOP Hosts Public Hearing on Spitzer's Unlawful Driver's License Plan.”

Turns out Tedisco isn't the only lawmaker who can work himself into a lather over the plan. Check out Assemblyman Robert Oaks of Macedon: “In the hands of the wrong individual, a New York driver's license is a powerful tool that can be used to commit horrific crimes and acts of terrorism.”

Wait'll the Hollywood directors catch on:

“Careful boys, he's got a driver's license!”

“Throw out the driver's license and come out with your hands up!”

“Is that a driver's license in your pocket — or are you just glad to see me?”

The Tedisco Anti-Spitzer's-License-Plan Press Mill also alerted us that:

• A similar hearing was scheduled for Buffalo.

• Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, with whom Spitzer made the agreement for the three-tiered licenses, is actually opposed to the plan.

• The gloves were coming off. This one was headlined: “Tedisco to Spitzer: Cease and Desist on Driver's Licenses for Illegals or You Will be Served.” (Careful, Eliot, that sounds like a threat. But what the heck; tell him if he's serving, you'll have a margarita.)
• It was time to drag other Democrats into the fray: “Tedisco to Hillary: Make Up Your Mind!” (Tell him you'll have a margarita, too, Sen. Clinton.)

And get this — as I was sitting here typing — yet another press release: “TEDISCO: GOVERNOR SPITZER, YOU ARE SERVED!” Turns out it's legal papers, and not margaritas, the good Assemblyman had in mind.

“In anticipation of Governor Eliot Spitzer not rescinding his unlawful plan to give illegal aliens driver's licenses,” his office writes — Jeez! Tedisco can't even wait for his own deadline! —  “(Tedisco) today said he will file a lawsuit to stop the plan from going forward.”

And that's where things stood as the deadline for this column arrived. For all I know, Tedisco is sitting outside the governor's mansion in a tank by now.

Spitzer has a share of the blame in this imbroglio. He has been woefully inept at making the case for the new licenses, and standoffish about engaging his critics in any real discussion on the matter. All of which adds fuel to the fiery rhetoric of critics like Tedisco.

It's been a long, messy matter. But there is a bright side: If the license plan is eventually defeated — and that's not a bad bet — we can look forward to three more years of entertaining e-mails from the office of Minority Leader and potential gubernatorial candidate James Tedisco.

Kevin Frisch is managing editor of the Daily Messenger in Canandaigua, N.Y. Contact him at (585) 394-0770/Ext. 257 or by e-mail at KFrisch@ MPNewspapers.com.