DOES THE DATE NOVEMBER 6 sound familiar? It’s a Tuesday six months away. It’s Election Day 2018, but it might as well be next week for all the politicians seeking public attention, voter support and money.
Residents of the north and east Columbia County just voted in special elections last week for members of the state Assembly in two seats left vacant by the resignations of former Assemblymen Pete Lopez (102nd) and Steve McLaughlin (107th). And though the outcome of the race for the 102nd Assembly District was a cliffhanger, last week’s contests feel like ancient history. It’s going to get more confusing.
Here’s a taste of what’s happening now:
• The day after the special Assembly election Senator Kathy Marchione (R-43rd) made big news by announcing that she would not seek reelection to another two-year term. Her district includes all of Columbia County as well as most of Rensselaer County and parts of Saratoga and Washington counties. She won election to her first term in 2012 and her conservative views, her focus on constituent service and a hefty plurality of GOP voters have returned her to office two more times.
• Before Sen. Marchione made her decision known, Columbia County Democrats were excited about the prospect that Ghent resident Koethi Zan, a lawyer, author and community activist, was about enter the race for the state Senate. But Democrats now say Ms. Zan is delaying her decision because of Ms. Marchione’s withdrawal.
• Control of the Senate will be determined by races in a few key districts, including here in the 43rd.
• Marc Molinaro, a Republican, is Dutchess County executive. Until March of this year said he was happy in his current job. Then he changed his mind and quickly wrapped up support around the state to become the presumptive Republican candidate to challenge incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo for governor this fall.
Mr. Molinaro was a state assemblyman before he became county executive. His district included much of southern Columbia County. He remains popular here across party lines for his environmental record.
• Whatever his support upstate, it’s difficult to see how a Republican could beat Governor Cuomo, who is popular in New York City and has already raised millions of dollars for his reelection. But when actor and activist Cynthia Nixon recently decided to challenge Governor Cuomo for the Democratic nomination, the political equation changed. Ms. Nixon already has the endorsement of the Working Families Party and if both she and Mr. Cuomo remain in the race, they could split the Democratic and progressive vote, which might create a path for Mr. Molinaro to win.
• Mr. Molinaro might have coattails that could boost other GOP candidates on the Columbia County ballot in races for the three seats in the Assembly and the one in the state Senate.
If we’ve learned anything in the last two years it’s that the most predictable of races can produce the most unpredictable results. That’s not reassuring in a state with a government where decisions on the most crucial issues, including the budget, are made by legislative leaders and the governor in secret and rushed to a vote, where ethics investigations turn into cover-ups and where lawmakers can hold outside jobs and those who do that can mask what they’re paid.
We need roads and bridges repaired; we need water and sewer systems upgraded; we need opioid addiction treatment centers. The state can’t fix everything, but it would help if we believed the leadership of the state Senate and Assembly would clean their own houses and the governor would join them in creating a truly independent body that could investigate and expose alleged ethical violations.
Forget about political heroes coming to our rescue. It won’t happen. Voters are the only heroes in this struggle for better government. If we want change, we will have to demand it from every candidate at every town meeting, campaign event and call-in, every letter to the editor, every social media connection. It means refusing to take Yes for an answer when a candidate is asked whether he or she supports open budgeting and tough ethical standards. Ask instead what the candidate will do and how it will get done.
Columbia County voters might have an outsized role in this fall’s state election. We won’t all agree on the candidates best able to achieve the types of reform needed. But we must press all of them for action plans and hold them accountable for what they say.