EDITORIAL: State office primaries fail us all

WOULDN’T IT BE NICE to live in a representative democracy, a place where We the People could express our will by directly electing the members of our state legislature? Nah! I’d rather live in New York State.
There will be primary contests next Thursday, September 13, to determine the Republican candidates for the 43rd Senate District (see accompanying editorial), which includes all of Columbia County, and to pick the Democratic and Working Families candidates in the 107th Assembly District, which takes in Kinderhook, Chatham, and the Northeast corner of the county from New Lebanon through Hillsdale as well as most of the towns in Rensselaer County and a couple in Washington County. Despite the size of these districts, history suggests that very few people will participate in the primaries. In large part that’s because New York is what’s called a “closed state”; the law permits only the members of a party to vote in that party’s primary. Some people argue that’s the way politics should work. I say Phooey!
This approach encourages lock-step ideology and an inflexible approach to governing, so it’s small wonder voter disillusionment and skepticism mounts while turnout dwindles with each new election cycle. This state needs a complete overhaul of its election laws starting with the opening up of primaries to all registered voters. Party bosses hate the idea, but the change might rescue our form of government.
Feeling better now that I’ve vented, it’s time to consider one of the choices those select few voters will make for the rest of us: the 107th Assembly District, where Cheryl Roberts of Austerlitz faces both Keith Hammond of Poestenkill and Mr. Hammond’s fiancée. Really.
Mr. Hammond, a Democrat, has a long record of public service that includes his local Planning Board, Town Board and three terms in the Rensselaer County Legislature. He describes himself as “your low middle class guy” and does have a feel for issues like toxic waste dumps and the loss local of services that keep his neighbors awake at night. He talks about the burden of school taxes, although when asked what he would do about them, one of his solutions is a farfetched plan to have the public elect school superintendents. While we’re at it, should we elect our doctors and nurses too?
Mr. Hammond could not persuade the Democratic leadership of his county or Columbia to back his candidacy. But as he tells it, the Working Families leaders in Rensselaer did back him until officials of the statewide Working Families organization overruled their local colleagues and endorsed Ms. Roberts.
As a Democrat, Mr. Hammond was not eligible to petition Working Families for a position on the ballot. But Brenda Mahar, his fiancée, is enrolled in Working Families. So with fewer than 60 valid signatures, she got her name on the ballot opposing Ms. Roberts. Once two names appear on a ballot, party members have the opportunity to ignore the choice between the two women and write in somebody else’s name… like, say, Mr. Hammond’s. And that’s the plan.
Mr. Hammond is thumbing his nose at the party that spurned him. It’s legal and a perfect example of how distorted our election laws have become. I’d root for him to win as a write-in candidate if his actions didn’t exhibit such poor judgment. He’s exploiting the rules in a desperate attempt to further his own career rather than change the game. That’s not how a person starts on a path that leads to cleaning up the mess in Albany. It’s a credential for fitting right in.
Fortunately, Democrats and Working Families voters have an excellent alternative in Ms. Roberts. Her background in environmental matters will carry great weight in campaign debates and in the legislature, should she be elected in November. She knows the strains on municipalities because she has worked at all levels of government. She was also a respected town justice, someone clearly aware of the problems facing all sorts of people.
Ms. Roberts has played by the rules, as screwed up as they are. And on that basis she has convinced the leadership of two parties that she is the superior candidate. The party leaders chose wisely, and I urge Democrats and Working Families voters to support her in the September 13 primary. There’s no guarantee that she will win the seat, only the promise that by choosing her the two parties will have picked the best candidate.

Comments are closed.