GHENT–The race for state Senate in the 43rd District is between first-term incumbent Kathleen Marchione, running on Republican, Conservative and Independence Party lines and Brian Howard, the Democratic and Working Families candidate.
The 43rd District was redistricted two years ago and now includes all of Columbia County, most of Rensselaer and parts of Saratoga and Washington counties. But population of the district lies at the north end, with more than 75% of all the voters in the district living in Saratoga and Rensselaer counties combined, with only 20% in Columbia County.
The registration figures show a substantial advantage for Republicans, but as with most parts of the state registered voters not enrolled in any major political party comprise the third largest voting bloc in the district.
The Senate has been narrowly divided between the two major parties for the last several years, and for the last two years Republicans have been in charge with the support of a small group of conservative Democrats called the Independent Democratic Caucus voting with the GOP.
Profiles of the two candidates and what they say about the issues follow.
Brian Howard the Democratic and Working Families candidate for state Senate in the 43rd District is a former history teacher, principal and school superintendent. He was an educator for 40 years, including a decade-long stint as principal of Chatham High School. Mr. Howard says that his two main issues are education–“I want to fully fund it”–and campaign finance reform.
He describes his work as a superintendent as “excellent preparation” for the work of a state senator. As a superintendent, he says, “You have to pass budgets every year. You have to make tough decisions regarding budgeting and staffing. And you also have to know how to work with people to get things done.”
After he retired, Mr. Howard served as an interim superintendent in the Berlin and Troy districts, which were “in disarray,” according to Mr. Howard. “In Berlin, I was the fourth superintendent over a three-month period…. We got people to work together, address the problem, and set the stage for the next leader to come in.”
Mr. Howard is strongly opposed to certain elements of the Common Core curriculum program as it’s played out in this state, especially the testing of elementary students. “Parents and teachers and principals… felt they were never listened to.” He was interim superintendent in Troy when the Common Core “was thrown at us. And I will say it was singularly the worst case of introducing and implementing a program I have seen in 40 years.… You have to go back and you have to start over again. And it’s going to take a full five years to get this right and put it in place,” he says.
As for testing in the elementary grades, he fault’s the state Education Department for imposing two-and three-hour, end-of-year exams, saying “It doesn’t fit the attention span. It causes stress. It’s ludicrous. And you don’t learn anything from it. You have to do what’s known as formative testing. Those are short brief periodic tests throughout the year, and the teacher gets immediate feedback.”
Citing the confusion surrounding the Common Core, he calls it “just a list of standards,” adding, “I don’t ever want to have a system that doesn’t have standards.” The real issue, he says, is “the testing and holding teachers accountable for things they have no control over.”
Mr. Howard says that the property tax is “not the way to finance education,” calling it unfair. “In the neediest communities, where people have nothing, the property tax just makes it more and more depressed.”
He acknowledges that he isn’t proposing “the perfect way,” to fund education, but he says one place to start might be the $300 million in the state budget for tax credits for “people who make large donations of up to a $1 million to charter schools.” The credits can also apply to those who donate to public schools, “but if you look at the record, that doesn’t happen,” he says. He’s not opposed to credits, but he says that if the state has $300 million, no matter where it comes from, using it to fund public education means “$300 million less in property taxes.”
Mr. Howard also pointed to industrial development agencies as another area where spending and waste can be reduced. “Basically they’re authorized to give tax exemptions to businesses that come into New York State or expand to New York State to create jobs. And that’s not a bad idea. But there’s zero accountability there. This employer said they’re going to create 300 jobs. Reality: 100. But they’re getting the full tax exemption with no responsibility.”
On campaign finance reform, Mr. Howard says, “We’re going to lose one person, one vote. Because there’s piles of money coming in, and what can happen is… they buy up all the advertising space and they just repeat and repeat the loop in the media market so nobody else is heard.”
He prefers a system that limits a candidate and the groups supporting the candidate to spending no more than $100,000 and requires the candidates to debate a minimum of four times. “Do that and take it out of attack ads, character assassination, and you get the issues and you lessen the influence of the deep pocket people.
Addressing the SAFE Act, the state gun control law, Mr. Howard says, “I would not have voted for it because they rammed it through and made a sham.” He said the legislature should have had the opportunity to debate the measure.
There are parts of the SAFE Act that have to be revised and changed. I am a gun owner. I have a pistol permit. There are some things that actually penalize law-abiding, productive good people. They are target shooters, they are collectors, they are hunters. They should not be paying penalties.
“Do I support the idea that we should have regulations to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill? Yes. Do I support the idea that we should make it harder for criminals to [buy guns]? Yes,” Mr. Howard said.
On the Marriage Equality Act, an issue that helped catapult Ms. Marchione to victory in the 2012 Republican primary over former state Senator Roy McDonald, Mr. Howard said, “I would vote for it in a second. Roy McDonald did the right thing. I would also add that he had courage—that’s rare in politics. And he was the subject of an extraordinarily vicious and low character assassination campaign.”
“You have adults, taxpayers, responsible, contributing, and you, the government tell them who they can choose as partners, who they can marry, who they can love, who they can raise their families with?” said Mr. Howard. “This is so invasive that I have a problem with it.”
Incumbent State Senator Kathleen Marchione is running on the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party tickets. She has been involved in politics for 33 years.
“I started campaigning when I was 24 years old. Campaigning is part of what I’ve done for many, many years.” She was first elected as Halfmoon town clerk; then Halfmoon town supervisor; then Saratoga county clerk.
Ms. Marchione was elected to the State Senate in 2012 after winning a primary battle against incumbent Republican Roy McDonald. She described that as “one of the most expensive campaigns” in New York State Senate history. Her victory in that race was widely attributed to Mr. McDonald’s vote in favor of the Marriage Equality Act, which legalized same-sex marriage in New York.
Ms. Marchione opposed the act and says her position on same-sex marriage has not changed. “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. I certainly believe in civil unions,” she says.
But she says, “When I ran two years ago, I kept trying to let people know that I wasn’t running only because of the gay marriage issue. I talked much more about many other things.”
Ms. Marchione says that the pieces of legislation that are most important to her have been the three bills introduced to repeal the SAFE Act state gun control law, none of which have succeeded. “I believe the SAFE Act was passed in the middle of the night without any input. It was a bad law—the process was worse.”
On education, Ms. Marchione says, “I fought long and hard relative to the gap elimination. It has caused such difficulties in our schools. There’s not enough funds, programs have been cut, positions have been cut.”
Of the issue of high voltage power lines running through Columbia County, Ms. Marchione says, “Certainly we don’t want to be used as a speed bump. We want to make sure that people are protected, properties are protected.”
Ms. Marchione did not appear for the first scheduled debate with Democratic opponent Brian Howard but did debate him this week. Ms. Marchione says that this is because in her last campaign, there was only one debate during the primaries and one debate during the general election. “My experience was there was one debate.” She described hearing complaints from constituents that the debate was too far away. Ms. Marchione did attend the October 28 debate in Rensselaer, saying before the event that it was because it is “in the center of our district.”
Of campaign finance reform, Ms. Marchione says that “true and real campaign finance reform comes by transparency.” But, she says, “I don’t agree with having to have taxpayers fund my campaign.”
When asked what she would most like to say to Columbia County voters, Ms. Marchione said, “We sponsor an annual event called the Golden Gathering that provides free healthcare and wellness services [for seniors]. We have 75 or 80 vendors that came in. People could have their flu shot, and it’s just a fun day. Zumba. The Philmont singers were there. A car show. Just a really important day for seniors in Columbia County.”
Ms. Marchione also listed several organizations for which she has either secured funds or restored grant funding that helped: fund the Tri-village Fire Company; hire a “victims’ advocate” at the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office; equip two divers for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office; bring five automatic external defibrillators to Hudson; support the Legal Project, “a fellowship where law graduates come in to help represent victims of domestic violence”; fund the sewer system in Kinderhook; authorize the Town of Stockport to move money from reserve accounts so the funds could be used to pay water and sewer costs; authorize the Town of Canaan to use property outside their district for a school extension; offer a $5,000 tax credit to businesses that hired a veteran and a $10,000 tax credit to businesses that hired a disabled veteran.