WATCHING THE TV ADS attacking the candidates for Congress in the 20th Congressional District, you’d think two no-‘count cartoon characters are running. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The district covers all of Columbia County on its way from Dutchess County up to the heart of the Adirondacks, with a spur through the Catskills into central New York. We are currently represented by an energetic, moderate Democrat and former businessman, Scott Murphy of Glens Falls. His challenger is an equally energetic, recently retired army colonel, Chris Gibson of Kinderhook, a Republican. Both candidates are serious, thoughtful people; each is qualified to hold this high office. The groups funding the TV attack ads that portray them otherwise prey on the fears of people unwilling to pay attention.
But polls say that some people remain undecided. That’s a hopeful sign, and here are some thoughts for their consideration.
Start with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), commonly called the “economic stimulus package.” Mr. Gibson says it hasn’t worked. Mr. Murphy voted for it. Technically the nation has emerged from the last recession. But unless you work on Wall Street, you know that business hasn’t boomed and employment has hardly budged.
Would this county have been better off over the last year or so without its share of the $620 million that came into the district from the ARRA? Mr. Gibson says tax cuts would work better. This Congress did pass the president’s tax cut. But while targeted tax cuts, like the ones Mr. Murphy supports for the middle class will help, they won’t fund desperately needed sewage treatment plants like the one in Hudson. It took stimulus funds to do that.
Similarly, how could Greenport have paid for improvements to its water/sewer infrastructure without federal funds? Is that Greenport’s problem? Maybe, but then who’s responsible for the health and safety of all the people who don’t live there but flocked to the opening of the new TJ Maxx store there last Sunday? And what about the “structurally deficient” bridge that carries Route 9G over the Roe Jan Kill between Livingston and Germantown. Stimulus funds, not tax cuts, pay the private companies fixing it.
As for unemployment, Mr. Murphy has the unenviable task of trying to prove what didn’t happen — that local job losses would have been worse without federal funds. But look at the Hudson City School District. It laid off over 40 people this spring, many of them teachers. Then federal funds arrived and 12 jobs were restored. If there had been more assistance in this crisis, fewer jobs would have been lost. Perhaps politicians critical of stimulus aid should explain why laying off so many educators at once improves education.
Mr. Murphy and Mr. Gibson share an enthusiasm for alternative energy and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. They both have a pragmatic view of what’s possible. Mr. Murphy acknowledges that these steps are part of our responsibility to address the threats posed by global warming caused at least in part by human activity. Mr. Gibson attributes global warming to sun spots. That’s a startling assertion. It suggests he values ideology over scientific consensus, and that’s a troubling lapse in judgment.
On healthcare, Mr. Murphy voted No on the first reform bill and then worked to make what he believes is a better law. Mr. Gibson wants to repeal that law and start over. Improve it, yes. But why repeal a law that protects children from being denied coverage because of a preexisting condition? Why force seniors to pay more for overpriced drugs? Why prevent parents from paying for coverage for their young adult children?
More than these practical points, the continuing struggle to deliver universal healthcare in this nation sums up the stakes in this election. Mr. Gibson would hand control of healthcare back to private insurance companies. But why can’t America take on big, humane domestic programs and make them work just like Social Security in the Great Depression, veterans’ care after World War II, Medicare in the turbulent 1960s. Those lasting achievements are not the product of private enterprise. They are the works of leaders who had faith that the people of this country can turn great ideas into reality. I believe American government can still do great things for its people. I believe that Scott Murphy has a similar faith in this nation. That’s why I’ll vote for him on November 2. I ask you to join me.
Saland for state Senate
COLUMBIA COUNTY is the tail of the dog in the state’s 41st Senate District. The district covers all of this county and over half of the geography of Dutchess County, including all the major population centers. There are more than four times as many voters in Dutchess as here, which explains why both the candidates for the seat live there.
Twenty-year incumbent Steve Saland, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Didi Barrett. In a politically volatile year, Mr. Saland finds himself no longer a shoo-in for the seat he has occupied for so long. Registration has shifted to favor the Democrats, and Ms. Barrett has proved a strong and well-financed campaigner.
With all his years in the Senate and 10 years in the Assembly before that, it’s surprising that Mr. Saland remains noticeably outside his party’s inner circle. That could be a liability, but this election it helps after last year’s mini-coup. In that escapade, Republican leaders cut a deal with the two most obviously reprehensible members of the Democratic majority in order to grasp power for a short period. The effort benefitted no one except the two amoral Democrats, who promptly sold out their newfound GOP friends in an even sleazier deal with their fellow Democrats.
Ms. Barrett, who has a record of service in the non-profit sector, faced a steep learning curve when she entered the race, because she has not previously served as an elected official. But she has been a quick study and understands that jobs and economic development are the key issues. She has stressed agriculture and tourism, broadly defined, while Mr. Saland tends to place greater emphasized reducing regulation and increasing tax incentives, arguably a more pragmatic approach.
Her distance from government also exempts Ms. Barrett from any connection with the stench of Albany government, and she has vowed to vote for Senate leaders “committed to reform.”
She is also running for a seat in a legislative body woefully short of women members and especially women in positions of power. And Mr. Saland should adopt her position in support of marriage equality.
Despite all the positive factors, voters in this district must consider one issue beyond Ms. Barrett’s control but directly related to her candidacy. The Democratic leadership of the state Senate is ethically unfit to remain in office and yet its members are likely to return to power if Democrats win a majority in the Senate next week.
Republican leaders politically debased themselves in the coup, and their own recent leader was convicted of misdeeds while in office. What makes the behavior of the current Democratic leadership exceptionally deplorable is that their schemes, as outlined last week by state Inspector General Joseph Fisch, were conducted in full knowledge of all the previous scandals. In that respect, the Democratic leaders have set themselves above the law and any reasonable standard of ethical behavior.
By sending another Democrat to Albany, regardless of how well qualified or intentioned, the voters of the 41st risk giving the Democratic caucus in the state Senate the opportunity to resume their leadership posts. That must not happen.
Steve Saland is an honorable and capable lawmaker. He has spent a career serving the people of the region. He works hard for the 41st District and has accomplished a great deal. He has deserves to be returned to office.