Sunday, November 11, 2018

2018 Elections: An Adirondack Council Perspective

Adirondack Council logoThe polls are now closed, most of the votes have been counted, and there were winners and losers. In Washington, power is once again split between the Republicans and Democrats, while in New York, Democrats will take over control of the Senate, putting the state under one-party rule. As the largest non-partisan organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of our Adirondack Park, the Adirondack Council keeps a full-time presence in Albany advocating for policies and resources that will benefit the Park’s waters, wildlife and communities. We are willing to work with any and all elected officials to make the Adirondacks a better place, regardless of party affiliation. What follows is a comprehensive review of federal and state election results from this year. Winning candidates begin their terms in January.

Background

The 2016 election ushered in President Trump and sustained a Republican majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives at our nation’s capital. At the state level, Governor Cuomo has enjoyed large margins of victory in his last two elections. Democrats have enjoyed a healthy majority in the Assembly for decades. In the Senate, Republicans partnered with as many as eight members of the breakaway Independent Democratic Caucus over the last two years to hold a majority until the Governor brokered an agreement to reunify democrats this April. For the last year, there has been significant speculation that a voter turnout would favor democratic candidates for the House of Representatives and carry down-ballot races including the competitive State Senate races.

Results in Washington

The Democrats have taken the majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years, with somewhere between 225 and 235 of 435 seats as the votes continue to be tallied. Because Democrats will likely exceed the minimum vote total needed for a majority (218) vote by 10 to 20 seats, they will be able to lose a few votes if needed from time to time if they choose to pass bipartisan legislation. In theory, it means that Washington can avoid a gridlock situation, where they cannot afford to lose any votes from their diverse caucus of democrats representing a full spectrum of urban and rural districts. The Speaker will be determined by a vote of the members of the house when the new term begins in January, though the odds on favorite is current minority leader Nanci Pelosi. In the Adirondacks, Elise Stefanik defeated Tedra Cobb 56.7 percent to 41.8 percent in a race that grew more competitive over time but seemed to cool off in the final days. It is worth noting that both candidates touted their environmental credentials on the campaign trail, vying to be the policymaker with the strongest environmental record.

In other notable House races, Democrat Antonio Delgado defeated Republican John Faso in a hotly contested Hudson Valley race, 49.8 percent to 47.6 percent. Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi defeated Republican Claudia Tenney in a nail-biter, 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. The Assembly’s Democratic Majority Leader Joe Morelle (Rochester) easily won his bid to replace the late Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, setting up what will be an important decision for the Assembly: who will replace him as the second most powerful democrat in the lower house? Will the State Assembly keep with tradition and select an upstate democrat to the post, or will they look elsewhere?

In the United States Senate, Republicans picked up at least 3 seats give them a more comfortable majority. As with the Democrats in the House, the fact that the majority is held with a margin that allows them to broker deals with democrats that may result in losing a few votes from the most staunch Republicans. In New York State, Kirsten Gillibrand was re-elected to a second full term in a 66.6 percent to 33.4 percent victory over Republican Chele Farley. Since the Democrats did not take the majority, Senator Schumer will be the presumptive minority leader.

With the Democrats now controlling the House of Representatives, they have gained the capacity to counter anti-environmental Trump budget and legislative initiatives, but not anti-environmental executive actions or judicial appointments. In Washington the question is: will this new change in the House majority drive some bipartisan deal making and compromise or result in gridlock as the House considers investigating the president for ethical violations?

Results in New York State

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul easily defeated Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and his running mate Julie Killian 59 percent to 36.8 percent. It is worth noting that Governor Cuomo did not win any Adirondack Counties, despite his success in promoting tourism and economic development for Park communities.

In the race for the position of Attorney General, the State’s top lawyer, Democratic candidate Letitia James won over Republican Keith Wofford 61.9 percent to 35.7 percent. James has most recently served as New York City’s Public Advocate, and will replace Barbara Underwood who took over the post in May of 2018 when Eric Schneiderman resigned amid scandal. Barbara is the first woman to serve as attorney general in the history of our state. Attorney General-elect James has publicly committed to fight attempts by the Trump administration to roll back environmental protections… a welcomed position by those of us fighting acid rain and climate change.

Democratic incumbent Tom DiNapoli easily won a third term as New York’s Comptroller, defeating Republican Johnathan Trichter 66.6 percent to 31.7 percent. As our state’s chief fiscal officer, Mr. DiNapoli has a record spanning ten terms in the state Assembly that demonstrates a commitment to protecting our environment. Recently, Comptroller DiNapoli was a leader of the successful appeal to ask Warren Buffett to remove junk oil tank cars from the Tahawus rail line in Warren and Essex Counties.

Democrats Take Majority in State Senate While Strengthening Their Hold on the Assembly

With help from the Governor, Democrats have taken the majority in the state Senate by as many as eight seats, holding the largest majority since 1912. For the first time in history, a woman will serve as a legislative leader in New York State, shattering a long-standing glass ceiling. The Democrats have campaigned over the last year on election reform and women’s reproductive rights, but it is safe to say that they will start slow as they organize their majority rule and make staffing changes in the legislature. Their comfortable majority will allow for occasional dissenters within the party, which enables the house to negotiate more freely with the Governor and Assembly. For the Adirondacks, the changes in NY may provide opportunities for more progressive pro-environmental legislation, but make it harder to secure budget dollars as priorities are likely to turn to funding expensive projects such as the rehabilitation of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (NYC Subway).

In the Adirondacks, Republican Senator Betty Little was re-elected to an eighth term, defeating Democrat Emily Martz 65 percent to 36 percent. Republican incumbents Jim Tedisco, Joe Griffo and Patricia Ritchie all won re-election with ease. The race to replace retiring Senator Kathy Marchione ended with Halfmoon Councilwoman Daphne Jordan beating Saranac Lake native and former Cuomo staffer Aaron Gladd 54 percent to 46 percent.

Democrats in the state Assembly have enjoyed a very comfortable majority for decades, and that is no different the day after the election. In the Adirondacks, Republicans Dan Stec , Mary Beth Walsh and Ken Blankenbush sailed to victory. Democratic incumbent Carrie Woerner soundly defeated Republican Morgan Zegers 57 percent to 44 percent in a race that grabbed national attention with a youthful challenger (Zegers is 21 years old). Robert Smullen defeated Keith Rubino in the race to fill the seat of retiring Assemblyman Marc Butler. Assemblyman Butler served the 113th district covering Herkimer, Hamilton, and portions of St Lawrence County for 12 terms. Billy Jones ran uncontested in a district covering Clinton and Franklin Counties, which has historically proven competitive. Assemblywoman Addie Jenne will not return to office, having been defeated by Republican Mark Walczyk 54 percent to 46 percent.

Some are speculating that the Governor may use the current legislature to host a “lame duck session” before the year’s end to approve agenda items like legislator pay raises, New York City speed cameras and county tax levy authorizations that were left on the table in the end of the 2018 legislative session. With the Senate holding the responsibility of confirming Gubernatorial appointments, Andrew Cuomo may try to use a currently divided senate majority to fill the 6 vacant or expired seats on the Adirondack Park Agency board with nominations.

The Adirondack Council and others support nominees that honor the legislative intent of the Adirondack Park Agency Act. Nominees should together bring conservation, land use, environmental law, planning, rural economics and natural science expertise to a carefully balanced board and together reflect the state’s interest in preserving Adirondack waters, wildlife, wilderness and communities for current and future generations.

Ballot Initiatives

While there were no statewide ballot initiatives in New York, there were a couple of environmental initiatives in other parts of the country worth watching. In Washington State, behind a heavily funded anti-campaign, voters defeated what would have been the nation’s first carbon fee, 56.3 percent to 43.6 percent. This proposal would have generated upwards of $1 billion annually by 2023, with spending decisions being made by a Governor-appointed board. In Arizona, voters rejected a constitutional amendment to require electric generating facilities to get half of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. That measure was also defeated 69 percent to 31 percent, unofficially.

Conclusion

It is still too early to predict on a more granular level what changes we will see with relation to policy and funding for environmental protections in the Adirondacks. A Democratic majority in the State Senate brings hope to some that Park’s environment will stand to benefit, while others are concerned that the Adirondacks will no longer be a priority for financial investments by downstate elected officials. In Washington, some argue that gridlock will ensue with a divided congress, while others suspect we could see some bipartisan deal making on common ground topics like infrastructure. What are Governor Cuomo’s Adirondack priorities for his third term? Ultimately, it is all speculation at this time. One thing is for sure: the Adirondack Council looks forward to partnering with all newly elected and re-elected policy makers to make the Adirondack Park the best it can be for current and future generations.

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Kevin Chlad

Kevin Chlad is Director of Government Relations of the Adirondack Council, a privately funded, not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park.

The Council envisions a park composed of large wilderness areas, surrounded by working farms and forests and vibrant, local communities.

The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action. Council members and supporters live in all 50 United States.




One Response

  1. SLMPDefender says:

    Thank you Kevin for this detailed overview of election results and for your unbiased analysis.

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