Pete Lopez returns calls from his cellphone while driving around his scattered Assembly district. He’s a busy state legislator. This past Tuesday he headed from his home in Schoharie County to a meeting in Windham, another meeting in Delaware County, and then some time in his Albany office.
His 102nd Assembly District includes all of Greene and Schoharie counties, plus several towns each in Albany, Delaware and Otsego counties. Plus the single Ulster County town of Saugerties.
“I was there just before Christmas,” said the former Eagle Scout and longtime political aide and county clerk now starting his sixth term in the state legislature. “I’ll be having a town-hall meeting in town this winter, but will also be in Ulster County for a BOCES meeting in the next week or two.”
Lopez’s job brings him to other parts of Ulster County as much as to the town he represents. That’s the nature of what he does, attending events in Kingston or at the college campuses in New Paltz and Stone Ridge.
What’s on his calendar, issues-wise, for Saugerties in the coming year?
“First off, I’ve got to say that Saugerties is a great town, a very engaged community with so many different cultures and ideologies,” the assemblyman answered. He spoke about helping town improve its access to the Hudson River for both conservation and recreational purposes. He repeated his longstanding emphasis on job creation and job protection, particularly along the Kings Highway corridor and in the village.
“I reach out to people,” Lopez said. “I want to work with the chamber and local officials. It’s critical, the jobs issue is. People want to stay, and they want their young people to have a future.”
Lopez shifted his attention to the importance of “creating partnerships across the county, across the region.” He works with the state’s regional economic councils, he said. His sprawling district encompasses four such regions: Mid-Hudson, Capital District, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier.
In terms of education, he emphasized his interest in maintaining a balance between educational quality and the state tax cap. “I’m helping schools learn how to promote programming not just for college but jobs right out of school,” he said. “We need to be strengthening the workforce.”
Taking issues as they come
Lopez lost contact for a moment in his driving. He called back and began talking about how he opposed pipeline plans under and along the Hudson River, seeing no benefits from them.
“I take community issues as they come, with most of them arising as part of my constituent work,” he said. “I enjoy helping people with planning issues, with government regulations. I try to be available. I try to get to Saugerties regularly for town-hall meetings, forums, and I have a district office quite close, in Catskill.”
What did he see as the major issues for the region and state in 2017?
“I think we’re going to have a few challenges,” Lopez replied. “My emphasis is on ensuring a strong economy for people.”
The assemblyman described the Cuomo administration as having two minds regarding small business, on the one hand pledging help and on the other pushing up the minimum wage. Lopez feels the latter should have included a differentiation between basic and ‘training’ wage levels.
“What the governor does often ends up hurting the people who need help the most,” he said. “This minimum wage will be a $15-billion hit against small businesses.” He believes, in classic Republican fashion, that it’s better to work towards a stronger economy rather than create individual social programs.
Blooming where you’re planted
Lopez also talked at some length about “inside-baseball” political battles looming in Albany over the coming months, which he feels have been exacerbated by the governor’s “calculations” regarding a legislative pay raise.
“Playing games with salaries is going to make things tough for him,” the assemblyman said of the governor. “Also, his splitting up of the state-of-the-state address into regional presentations instead of in front of the whole legislature, that’s some sort of divide-and- conquer mode of operation.”
Finally, we brought up Lopez’s short-lived run for the GOP nomination for Chris Gibson’s congressional seat last year. What happened? And did he have eyes on other higher other offices, such as the state senate?
“You bloom where you’re planted,” he replied. “I try to do the best I can serving my community. I’m honored when I’m asked such questions. My dad’s cancer pulled me out of the congressional race. And I’m not the sort who goes out stepping on or running people over to advance.”
The assemblyman is proud of his reputation as a consensus-builder and a nice guy. “Always looking for higher office, that’s a false god,” he said. “You should be in there for the right reason.”