GHENT–The new 107th Assembly District, redrawn this year in the redistricting process that follows the national census every 10 years, includes 21 towns, including six in northern Columbia County: Austerlitz, Canaan, Chatham, Hillsdale, Kinderhook and New Lebanon. The district also covers most of Rensselaer County and two towns in southern Washington County.
The two candidates running for the seat in the Assembly are Republican Steve McLaughlin, who currently represents a s district that includes some of these towns, and Democrat Cheryl Roberts, a former Austerlitz town justice. Mr. McLaughlin also has the Conservative and Independence Party lines on the ballot. Ms. Roberts also appears on the Working Families line.
State legislators, who receive a base pay of $79,500 a year, are considered part-time employees and may conduct other business while serving.
Rensselaer County is where the great majority of active voters in the district live–nearly 80%. And Republicans hold a slight plurality overall in the district, with about 30% of all registered active voters.
What follows are separate recent interviews with both candidates, who were asked what they think are the important issues in this race.
The election is Tuesday, November 6.
Steve McLaughlin, 49, is completing his first term in the Assembly and seeking reelection in a redrawn district. Two years ago Mr. McLaughlin, a Republican, defeated incumbent Tim Gordon, a member of the Independence Party who caucused with Democrats. Assemblyman McLaughlin says this year he’s running on many of the same issues he rain on two years ago: jobs, mandate relief, education and corruption in Albany.
He says the last two years he has accomplished several of his goals and been very vocal about issues like corruption. Mr. McLaughlin said that he supported the 2% property tax cap as a “bi-partisan effort with Governor Cuomo leading the way.” He tried to add mandate relief for businesses and school districts in that legislation but that was cut. He says he has new bills “queued up” for the coming term if reelected. He also says that while in Albany, he voted on legislation to put millions of dollars back into state aid for local schools.
The assemblyman doesn’t hold back when talking about Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-64), calling him “the most corrupt man in Albany.” But he believe that being in the Republican minority hasn’t been an impediment to passing important laws in Albany and he feels that many of his colleagues in the Democratic majority have trouble passing bills that do not get approval Speaker Silver.
The redrawn map of election districts statewide signed into law this year by the governor created the new 107th District, which includes more of Columbia County than the district that Mr. McLaughlin currently represents and has more Republican and Conservative voters than his current district.
He has been named to the “Circle of Friends” for the New York State Farm Bureau and says supporting farmers is an issue with for campaign.
Before winning his seat in the Assembly, Mr. McLaughlin, a resident of Melrose in Rensselaer County, worked as a loan official with Citizens Bank, but he says he left the bank six months ago and now works for a solar panel company called Monolith Solar Associates. He says that working in green energy has not changed his political views on energy, which are that he supports alternative energy as long as it saves money for taxpayers.
“We are not going to fuel the entire county on solar energy,” he said.
As for his views on the controversial natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, Mr. McLaughlin says he supports moving forward with it in this state, but moving forward carefully. He says he voted Yes on a bill to study how fracking might impact public health. “You can proceed with caution, but you proceed,” he says.
As for other bills, he voted against recent measures to raise the minimum wage and a bill called the Fair Pay Act, calling them flawed bills that did not make economic sense for the state. He says he supports raising the minimum wage but he says the bill introduced with the approval of Speaker Silver last January included wording to raise the wage every year based on inflation, making the bill what Mr. McLaughlin calls “a job killing piece of legislation.”
As for the state fair pay act, which would make it illegal for an employer to discriminate between employees on the basis of sex, race or national origin by paying different wages, Mr. McLaughlin says: “It flies in the face of economic reality.” He says that equal pay rights are already protected under federal and state laws.
His big push in a new term, he says, will be to “take the boot off the necks of businesses owners,” by cutting mandates that make running businesses and creating jobs in the state difficult.
Cheryl Roberts, 49, a Columbia County attorney, is running as the Democratic challenger against Steve McLaughlin for the 107th District Assembly seat. Ms. Roberts, who is of council at the law firm Rapport and Meyers LLP in Hudson, serves as city attorney for the Hudson and was an elected judge for three terms in the Town of Austerlitz. She resigned her judge post when Hudson Mayor William Hallenback appointed her corporation council, or city attorney.
Ms. Roberts said in a phone interview that she is the only lawyer who has worked under three different Hudson mayors. She plans to continue working for Hudson and for the law firm if elected to the Assembly.
She also represents the Village of Chatham Board and the village Planning Board in dealings with the proposed Price Chopper supermarket building on Route 66.
Ms. Roberts says that the big issues for her in this campaign are jobs, supporting middle class families, and the environment. She supports both the Assembly majority’s proposal to increase the minimum wage and the proposed Fair Pay Act, which would make it illegal for an employer to discriminate between employees on the basis of sex, race or national origin by paying different wages.
On raising the wage bill, she says, “We need to raise the minimum wage, but you can’t do that without helping small business.”
Ms. Roberts says, “I support the millionaires tax,” which would extend the tax surcharge on individual New Yorkers earning over $1 million annually. She says that additional state revenue would go to schools and for tax breaks for the middle class.
As for the environment, Ms. Roberts led a team that won a case before a state Supreme Court judge allowing a central New York town near Cooperstown to ban hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, the controversial natural gas drilling process. She opposes fracking unless it is subject to state hazardous waste laws, and even then she would rather look into other sources of clean energy, mentioning Solaqua, a solar power enterprise in Chatham. “I see that as a risk management issue and the risks are too big,” she said of fracking.
She says she a strong supporter of farmers, and has worked with the Columbia Land Conservancy and is very familiar with laws to protect farmland through non-profits like the conservancy.
If elected, Ms. Roberts promises she will work to bring integrity back to Albany, saying she will take on the sexual harassment issues in her party. “It’s all too common, and it needs to be addressed,” she says.
She supports Planned Parenthood, listing the community programs and services that organization provides. “They do such much good,” she says.
She also has high praise for the Chatham School District, which her two daughters attended. “Rural schools have to get their fair share of state aid,” she says.
Cheryl Roberts’ campaign website is http://cherylroberts2012.com.