Political endorsements: Gibson, Tkaczyk, Riccardi

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Congress- Chris Gibson

Congressman Chris Gibson has been a strong advocate for our region’s interests and should be re-elected. He has devoted much of his time to rural and agricultural issues, helping to shape the federal Farm Bill. He has opposed utility rate increases for our area.

Gibson is not an ideologue. He has earned the praise of environmental groups and has been named one of the most independent Republicans in Congress. While he has been on the wrong side of some very silly votes (such as suing the president), he is not the extremist wolf in moderate sheep’s clothing portrayed by his opponent.

Sean Eldridge, the challenger, speaks often about the need to fix the “least-productive Congress ever.” But the mere election of a Democrat will not make Congress more productive. That would assume many other districts follow suit, Democrats win the House and Senate, and can carry out their platform with or without Republican support, as in 2009-10— the results of which were repudiated by voters in the 2010 midterms. Since that time we have had a divided government, unable to compromise. Unlike the parliaments of Europe, our government requires more than a simple majority to change its tack. As Gibson noted at the Lake Katrine debate, our system requires consensus and compromise to make changes, else the status quo remains. If it were true, as Obama supporters claim, that the nation supports the Democratic platform and Republican opposition is not only unprecedented in its intransigence but represents a minority viewpoint, Republicans would be punished at the polls for the stances they’ve taken.

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Take the “Koch Brothers Pledge,” for example, of which Gibson is a signatory. It is an agreement not to support climate change legislation resulting in a net tax increase. Do pledges like these inhibit action? Yes. Did Gibson sign the pledge to ensure he would receive campaign contributions? Doubtless. Campaigns are absurdly expensive and he is facing an independently wealthy opponent. Nevertheless, the pledge is cannily worded; most Americans know we should be doing more to slow down climate change, but it’s unlikely they would support proposals that would increase taxes or energy bills to do so. That is the case with other issues. Democrats say the polls show the public supports their proposals. What the polls actually show is that Americans want more government than they will pay for.

The answer is to, as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert put it, restore sanity. Political rhetoric is all about exaggerating the faults of the opponents, spinning hyperbolic scenarios of what will transpire if the other guy wins. The country will go off a cliff. The American Dream will die.

For Democrats, this nightmare consists of Republicans, acting in the interests of unscrupulous corporations, supported by hordes of Bible-thumping, Walmart-shopping, racist rednecks who vote against their self-interest, transforming the nation into a Banana Republic. For Republicans, the nightmare is the continued triumph of the victim-agenda, the erosion of economic liberty, work ethic and personal morals, in the face of legions of lazy people with an endless list of grievances and desires, the solution always being to “tax the rich,” though tax-hikes (or stealth taxes, like increased fees and mandates) always end up affecting struggling middle-class entrepreneurs who are already hanging by a thread in the face of constantly increasing costs in a stagnant economy.

One result has been more people opting out of politics in general, as both candidates seek to make the other unacceptable and both succeed. Turnout is low. The fastest growing set of voters, with a plurality in Ulster County, are not members of any party. They like to think of themselves as politically independent, but in practice they are independent of politics, much less likely to pay attention to government activities between elections or even vote in non-presidential years. The other result has been an increase in extremism among the remaining adherents of both parties.

Our endorsement for Congressman Gibson is an endorsement for a moderating force in Congress, not the House GOP platform. He will undoubtedly take some votes with which we disagree. But we believe he is essentially a pragmatist. He is not ambitious. If elected, he has promised to run only one more time, limiting his terms to four. As representative of a swing district with only one more election ahead of him, he is free of the pressure to do favors for party leadership and the fears of being outflanked on his right in a primary. He is energetic and engaging, important attributes in a legislator, a position which consists not only of taking votes but sponsoring legislation, building coalitions, and handling constituent issues. He is learned, with several degrees, including a PhD in history. He brings firsthand experience to foreign affairs and defense issues from his service as an Army colonel— experience that allows him to speak frankly about the limits of military power and possible cuts to defense without fears of being labeled “soft on terror” or other such nonsense, which, in our increasingly veteran-light Congress, others try to insulate themselves against. Congress needs more representatives like Chris Gibson, from both parties.

What to make of opponent Sean Eldridge? Perhaps it undermines our argument to say this, but we concede he is in the right on many issues. Were we, the editorial board of Saugerties Times, made benevolent despots of the United States of America, we would enact campaign finance reform, some variant of cap and trade (with tax rebates to offset energy cost increases) and implement something like the Buffet rule or, perhaps less gimmicky, simply return capital gains taxes to their former level.

We agree that campaign finance is one of the most important issues. So much of what is corroding public faith in government stems from the corrupting influence of money in politics, real or perceived. Unfortunately, as a spokesman for this cause, Eldridge leaves something to be desired. Campaign finance needs to be addressed, but not by someone whose position in the race comes entirely from independent wealth achieved through marriage. Our reaction to this is, “Sure, you want to limit contributions, but in the meantime you’re free to use your fortune to attack non-wealthy candidates, who need that support from outside groups to have a fighting chance.” If this is our reaction, a similar reaction can be anticipated in fellow legislators, were Eldridge elected. Legislators are not simply human voting machines; they must have credibility with their colleagues on the issues they advocate or they will not be effective.

Then there is the carpetbagger issue. Eldridge, 28, and husband Chris Hughes, millionaire co-founder of Facebook, first bought a home in the Hudson Valley several years ago. Eldridge planned to run for Congress in the 18th Congressional District. “We put down roots, [this is] where we want to have a family,” he said of Garrison in 2012. After Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney won the seat, Eldridge and Hughes bought a home in Shokan and Eldridge quickly set up his campaign. His candidacy was not challenged by any Democrat. When asked if he moved here to run for office, he says no, he moved because he loves the Hudson Valley and wanted to locate his business in Kingston. This answer seems disingenuous. Plenty of young people need to move to another part of the state or country for a job opportunity. Perhaps he thought it was politically unacceptable to say this, but for us, straight talk on this question would have gone a long way.

His experience as an investor in local businesses also gives us pause. It seems calculated to win support. Move to a district, hand out some money, win a congressional seat. Had he lived here a few more years, investing, serving on local nonprofit boards, speaking about issues in a context other than running for Congress, making connections with local Democrats, this would not be an issue. We don’t believe you have to be from the Hudson Valley to represent it in Congress, but you should live here for awhile.

In person, Eldridge is impressive. He is eloquent and poised, genuine and intelligent. It is easy to see why he was such an effective advocate for same-sex marriage as political director for Freedom to Marry. But he seems a little too much the spokesman, as though he could be making the exact same case, with the same words, in the same way, in any district in the country. His local citations — investing in Bread Alone, the SUNY New Paltz 3-D printing center, serving on the board of Scenic Hudson — have the ring of hastily assembled extra-curriculars on a college application. On these issues, we’re inclined to give Eldridge the benefit of the doubt and chalk this up to urgency. He means it when he says he didn’t want to wait to get involved.

Eldridge could do anything he wants. We hope he sticks around. Regardless of whether he plans to run for office again — and his chances as a Democrat will be much better in 2016 — our area would benefit from his enthusiasm, political skill, and desire to give back and be involved.

 

State Senate- Cecilia Tkaczyk

First-term State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk has been a tireless advocate for schools, bringing the experience and expertise of a former Board of Education member to questions of funding and curriculum. Overall, her knowledge of issues like health care, gun control, taxes and economic development exceeds that of her opponent, George Amedore, whose statements on these issues have tended to be insubstantial. She should be re-elected because she would be more effective.

Tkaczyk’s advocacy helped increase state aid in recent years, offsetting the local property tax burden. Although money does not necessarily equal a better education, in general, the state should be shouldering more of the burden for schools because property taxes are too high.

We did not sit down with either candidate for this race, so we looked websites, previous articles, mailers and watched a webcast of an editorial board by a local daily. We found Amedore’s arguments unconvincing. For instance, on the subject of school aid, Tkaczyk said she went to Albany because she was frustrated her school district was faced with cutting A.P. classes or kindergarten. She succeeding in getting more aid. Amedore countered by saying in 2009-10, when Democrats controlled the Legislature, aid was cut, and we cannot go back to one-party rule controlled by NYC Democrats. This is illogical. First, Tkaczyk wasn’t there. Second, that was the depth of the recession. Third, the argument that voting for Tkaczyk would send the state back to one-party rule is incorrect because Tkaczyk is the current incumbent, and Republicans are in control. Also, that argument, however weak, could be made against voting for a Democrat on all issues, not just school aid. The only answer, other than reflexively voting Republican, would be to separate Upstate from the city and Long Island, an intriguing proposition not without some merit, which we will not consider here.

On the minimum wage question, Tkaczyk directly answered the question: $10.10. OK, fine. Amedore did not directly answer the question, instead deriding any figure that could be tossed up as a possible minimum wage as “not a very good wage” and would not give a figure he thought appropriate. Instead, he said the minimum wage should not be raised unless the state also reduces the tax burden on businesses which must pay the wages. Avoiding the question, yes, but a valid point of view. Unfortunately, he goes on to invoke his experience as a small-business owner to offer a fact his “opponent probably isn’t aware of”— that a $10.10 employee actually costs a business-owner $23 or $24 due to withholding taxes. This is incorrect. The actual number is around $17.

On education, Tkaczyk said high standards are needed but Common Core’s implementation was mishandled, which was why she voted against the reappointment of members of the Board of Regents. Amedore said teachers should be given more freedom to teach, and that too much of the proposed teacher evaluations were based on testing, though he seemed unaware that the number was 20 percent and, when told, was okay with it. Amedore did make good points about the need for apprenticeship programs. We agree, “college for all” has not proven to be a good strategy.

On the subject of abortion, Amedore charged that women’s equality legislation supported by Tkaczyk is extreme because it would allow abortions by non-doctors up to the day of birth. The law actually would only make state law equal to federal law, which allows procedures to be done by nurse practitioners at any time during the pregnancy if the mother’s health or life is in danger. Abortion is a sensitive issue capable of drawing categorical, extreme views, but this proposal is hardly extreme. He also said New York State conducts the most abortions in the country, which is not correct.

Is this nit-picking? If one were a supporter of the GOP platform, one might view any particular candidate’s ability to articulate the platform as a superficial concern. We have a different view. Democrats and Republicans represent two opposing but equally important civic virtues— collective and individual responsibility. Efficient representative government competently balances these two concerns by neither burdening individual liberty nor neglecting those in need. A government dedicated to either orientation which is not efficiently and competently run will fail.

Politics is the art of the possible. Candidates who say they will take “politics” out of the process are either naive, disingenuous, or don’t know the meaning of the word. In government, as in business, manifest competence, the ability to make persuasive arguments, a reasonable temperament, informed experience, dedication to the job, clarity of purpose and, not to be underestimated, stamina, are all important to success — success, in this case, being representation of our part of the state. In this view, we believe Tkaczyk is the superior choice.

 

Governor- Andrew Cuomo

It is hard to be enthusiastic about a politician like Andrew Cuomo, so clearly ambitious, so obviously adept at the dark arts of politics, so apparently without any higher motivations. But the state is better for his leadership. It was adrift in 2010, more so than usual, and has found its bearings.

We applaud his efforts to consolidate local governments. One reason the state is so highly taxed is the preponderance of little villages and districts, dating back to the 19th century.

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On-time budgets are not in themselves important but are symbolic of a return of order. As when they said of another Italian leader, “he made the trains run on time,” the implicit idea is that the trains weren’t the only thing he whipped into shape.

Astorino’s main idea seems to be to point out the net outflow of residents from New York, which he blames on taxes. It’s unclear what he plans on cutting, but, like a 2010 Paul Ryan, he seems to want to take a hatchet to the state budget. That is not the answer. New York State does not need to become South Carolina, or even North Carolina. That is not our fate. The goal should be a better-run version of New York State.

Regarding fracking, Cuomo’s “I’m not a scientist” act is clearly a stalling measure. But while that leaves us feeling bemused, Astorino’s enthusiasm and certitude for fracking is worrying. Clearly, there are consequences to fracking. The question is whether cheaper natural gas is worth it. On this point, we don’t mind waiting a little longer to see what happens in other states.

As for third-party candidates, Hawkins is worth a look, or rather, the party’s Green New Deal, a sprawling program of public spending that includes a $15 minimum wage, public jobs for all, new infrastructure, free college at state universities, big tax increases for the wealthy, and so on. In other words, Scandinavia. It would be interesting to see such policies in action in America. Perhaps they would work and we would all be happier, as the studies seem to suggest. But they would best be applied in cities (like Seattle) or states (like Vermont), and not by a lone executive, but only after the election of other like-minded representatives. Hawkins, who has been unable to win election to Congress or Syracuse City Council, has his sights set too high.

Perhaps were the current Democratic incumbent less competent or more ideological we would hazard a vote to simply cut taxes everywhere and see what happens. But while Cuomo is available, we will stick with him.

Watch the lone governor’s debate

 

Family Court– Riccardi

Judicial elections, like highway superintendents, are mainly job interviews. We find Gilda Riccardi to be the most impressive candidate for this position. She has experience as a nurse, in international law, as a prosecutor in Manhattan in sexual abuse cases, and has spent the last decade as a court attorney in the Family Court, tasked with many of the same administrative duties as elected judges. Riccardi was rated “highly qualified” for the position by the Ulster County Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Committee, and opponent Keri Savona was rated “qualified.” Riccardi has more experience, and more diverse experience, than Savona, who heads up the Department of Social Services legal unit.

 

Other

Pete Lopez is running unopposed for the Assembly and Julie Dunn is running unopposed for town receiver of taxes. No endorsement for State Supreme Court, comptroller or attorney general.

 

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