EDITORIAL: For primaries, one pass, one choice

IT’S A GOOD THING there is no perfect politician. Even pretending one might exist leads to trouble. Better we should pick from among the deeply flawed people among us–ones who reflect our own failings. They remind us that everybody can be replaced.

Democrats and Republicans in Columbia County have the chance to help choose their party’s candidates for national office next Tuesday, June 26 in primary elections. Republicans statewide will pick a candidate to run for U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. The GOP hopefuls are: Wendy Long, a lawyer and former congressional aide; Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, a former financial executive; and Congressman Bob Turner, a retired broadcast executive and Army veteran.

The Republican contest has played out around the state, and I can’t offer an informed opinion about the candidates except to say that Ms. Long has included us on her email list, and to judge from that imperfect measurement, she has waged an energetic campaign. She was also a featured speaker at this year’s county GOP picnic, and local Republican leaders support her.

Neither major party has a lock on imperfection. But if there were a prize for the candidate who sends the most email in this primary, the award would surely go to Joel Tyner, the Dutchess County legislator seeking the Democratic Party line on the November ballot in what is now the new 19th Congressional district.

The district includes all of Columbia County and all or parts of 10 other counties. Mr. Tyner started running for the office last year when it wasn’t clear how the district would look, but it was clear that he would face a tough challenge from the incumbent representative, Republican Chris Gibson of Kinderhook. The Democratic primary June 26 pits Mr. Tyner against Julian Schreibman, the former chairman of the Ulster County Democrats, a former prosecutor and assistant general counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Schreibman is the candidate supported by most of the party leadership in the district.

Rep. Gibson defeated first-term Democrat Scott Murphy two years ago in a district that stretched into the Adirondacks and where voter registration was heavily Republican. But this new 19th District has a much smaller GOP plurality and a big bloc of independent voters who helped elect a Democrat to Congress for almost two decades.

In what can sound like a single run-on sentence, Mr. Tyner reels off his positions, calling for increased taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, banning the natural gas extraction method called fracking, curbing the excesses of Wall Street and support for small farms rather than corporate agriculture. He frequently invokes Franklin Roosevelt and criticizes Barack Obama for proposing deep cuts in social programs, though he backs the president’s reelection. He believes he can win the primary because he is motivating the party’s activist base, much as the tea party did on the right in the last election cycle.

Mr. Schreibman’s positions address many of the same issues but they’re framed in practical terms of programs and bills, an acknowledgement of how things actually get done in Washington. The principles come unburdened by the dogmatic certainty that too often characterizes Mr. Tyner’s approach. Mr. Schreibman leaves the door open to discussion and inclusion, which is one way people get elected in divided districts.

With little money and no backing from his party, Mr. Tyner’s mounted a credible campaign staffed by volunteers. But Mr. Schreibman has been more effective in winning the type of political and financial support it takes to get elected. Like it or not, that’s the measure of political campaigns.

Mr. Tyner’s blunt talk can be refreshing, and he might make the contest more amusing if he faced Mr. Gibson. But the election of a representative to the Congress of the United States shouldn’t hinge on entertainment value but on substance and accomplishment. And in a democracy, someone who listens and learns is better suited for high office than someone who has all the answers at hand.

Mr. Gibson has proved a formidable campaigner with a record he’s eager to place before voters. It should not go unchallenged, but that will require an opponent of comparable intellect, temperament and conviction. The 19th District will benefit from the debate between two successful people with outstanding records of public service. Although I sit on the sidelines in primary contests, I urge Democrats to select Julian Schreibman as their candidate for Congress.

 

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