New York’s congressional delegation ranks sixth in the nation for its votes on key clean energy and environmental legislation according to the the national League of Conservations Voters’ 2009 National Environmental Scorecard. For 30 years, the National Environmental Scorecard has been used to rate members of Congress on environmental, public health and energy issues.
The 2009 Scorecard includes 11 Senate and 13 House votes dominated by clean energy and climate but also encompassing other environmental issues such as public lands, water and wildlife conservation. In New York, 20 House members and both senators earned a perfect 100 percent score in 2009 – more than two thirds of the delegation. U.S. Rep. Chris Lee, representing the 26th District in Western New York, had the lowest score in the state, at 14 percent. New York’s average House score was 88 percent, up from 81 percent last year. New York’s average House score ranked sixth in the U.S. Scott Murphy of the 20th Congressional District earned a score of 88; John McHugh (previously of the 23rd CD) scored 67 with his congressional replacement Bill Owens garnering 100 percent so far. The New York delegation scores are as follows. The full 2009 National Environmental Scorecard can be found at www.lcv.org/scorecard.
After eight years of wars, terror warnings, environmental destruction, corporate and political corruption, and general cultural excess ending in a systematic collapse of the country’s financial system, 2009 opened on more than a few notes of remorse, albeit with unmistakable chords of optimism and hope for new beginnings and a new president. His list was long. (click the cartoons for larger images.)
The first order of business for the Obama administration was to continue flooding the wrecked economy with massive stimulus programs courtesy of generations yet unborn. Some of the stimulus money eventually trickled to the north country via Albany.
Politically, it was a year of cascading dominoes, initiated in Washington and winding up inside the blue line. After Hillary Clinton upgraded her senate seat for first class in the State Department, Governor Paterson chose Kirsten Gillibrand from the 20th congressional district as New York’s junior senator. That move set off a battle for the once-reliable GOP house seat in a race between a conservative Democrat from Glens Falls, New York’s Assembly Minority Leader (visiting from a neighboring district), and a third party candidate. On April Fools’ Day—the morning after the election—the narrowest of margins for Democrat Scott Murphy triggered a recount battle that carried through Tax Day, past Passover, beyond Easter to the end of April when Republican James Tedisco finally conceded.
By the time Murphy took the oath of office, much of the stimulus pork was gone, replaced by swine flu.
Following the special election in the 20th, A similar chain reaction was prompted in NY’s 23rd CD after moderate Republican Congressman John McHugh was promoted to Army Secretary.
GOP leaders, eager to avoid a repeat of mistakes which led to defeat in the 20th, opted against importing a high-profile male candidate from a neighboring district, in favor of a home-grown moderate female candidate. Conservatives in the party (and Glenn Beck) had other plans, ultimately replacing Republican Dede Scozzafava with a high-profile male candidate from a neighboring district. With predictable results.
Still, for a region at the receiving end of impending federal and state budget cuts, the warmth of the national media spotlight was a memory to cherish.
Check back at 10:00 AM today for the second half of the 2009 Adirondack year in cartoons.
Matt Funiciello sent us the following report on Scott Murphy’s trip to the north country last week. Matt writes a regular blog that can be found here.
I went to visit Scott Murphy on Tuesday morning. The new Congressman was opening the doors of his new congressional office in Glens Falls, N.Y. Located at 136 Glen Street, it is just around the corner from my own cafe. About 65 people were gathered to voice concerns and ask questions of the 20th District’s newest representative. Murphy appeared calm and thoughtful as he answered all the questions asked of him for about 45 minutes. He first spent twenty minutes talking about his initial 7 weeks in the House and extolling the virtues of the Credit Card Reform bill and the Mortgage Reform bill which he voted for. He also spoke at length about his support of the recent (and controversial) Energy Independence bill. One citizen critic opined that the bill was a boondoggle designed to put carbon-trading credits under the control of Wall Street bankers.
Murphy noted that there were pluses and minuses to the bill and pointed out that, in New York state, we spend far more for power than other states because we have already done so much to clean up our power sources. He cited, as well, the credits that were negotiated right before the bill passed concerning “woody biomass”. These credits, he said, will favor pulp and paper mills like Finch-Pruyn, located in Glens Falls, which he specifically mentioned.
Although many questions were asked, a reasonably large number of people were in the crowd to voice their support for a Single-Payer Health Care plan (HR 676, Improved and Expanded Medicare For All). We were there to ask Mr. Murphy why he has not signed on as a sponsor to the bill. John Thomas, from Hartford, asked him to define single-payer as he saw it and Peter Lavenia, co-chair of New York state’s Green Party asked why he would not sign on as a sponsor.
Murphy said that, “I haven’t decided which of the various bills that I am going to vote in favor of or against.” He went on to say that he was looking at access to health care for those who don’t currently have it but also the retention of “choice” for those who do. Further, he said that Americans “have the most expensive system with the most mediocre result.”
David Nicholson, a Vietnam Veteran, was holding a sign that read, “Rub Out The Two Party Mafia” and a compatriot of his had one that said, “Washington. You’re fired!” I spoke to Nicholson prior to the event and he said that he wanted to ask about whether or not Murphy would support the HR 1207, the bill Ron Paul and Denis Kucinich have sponsored which would allow for proper auditing of the Federal Reserve. They did not have a chance to speak directly with Murphy before he took the event indoors, so after pledging my support (as a businessman, an employer and a person who grew up under a single-payer system) to HR 676 and urging him to consider supporting it, I asked if he would support Ron Paul’s bill.
He maintained, as many elected officials have, that an independent firm already audit’s the nation’s bank, but he also said that he would not be against further auditing being done directly by the General Accounting Office to allow for better oversight of the privately-held bank that has literally made $2 trillion disappear right in front of lawmakers’ eyes.
He had made an earlier statement about troop withdrawals from Iraq under Obama and I asked how he felt about the historical number of mercenaries that were being deployed to replace the soldiers now headed from Iraq to Afghanistan. I asked if this switch, along with our 14 permanent military bases in Iraq, could really be looked at as any sort of meaningful “withdrawal”?
Murphy responded, “As we are bringing our troops back, there are also people that are hired by the U.S. and by Iraqi Security Forces to provide security and, my hope is that, over time, we’re drawing that (number) down as well.”
Lastly, I asked him why our state’s dairy farmers are still being forced to deal with subsidies and price controls in an age when people are starting to eat real food and are getting used to paying what it is actually worth. I also asked his position on N.A.I.S. (the National Animal I.D. system which would have every farm animal tagged and coded for federal oversight).
Murphy said he has spoken with many dairy farmers and that he spent several days trying to figure out all the nuances involved in our “anachronistic” system of dairy pricing. He said that he was working towards answers but that it was a very complicated issue.
As for the tagging of every egg, chicken, cow and piglet, he said that it is not something “the agricultural community is very excited about” and that he would not support it “at the current time”.
Provided he is confirmed, which seems very likely, John McHugh’s elevation to Secretary of the Army means another special election fight here in the Adirodnack region. I railed here about the failure of local media to accurately report on our last Special Election, that for Kirstin Gillibrand’s 20th Congressional District seat. Outlets as varied as NCPR and the Glens Falls Post Star united in declaring from the beginning that there were only two candidates – not surprisingly they were those from the two major parties, two other candidates were all but ignored as irrelevant. During the 20th race local political writers and editors even blatantly defended their undemocratic actions on the grounds that they were the arbiters for all of us as to which candidates were “legitimate” and “relevant.” All the local media’s nonsense and anti-democratic proclamations raised a constant barrage from local blogs who attempted to hold them to account. One response from Brian Mann at NCPR seems to have been a regular attack on bloggers for destroying the profits of local newspapers. His argument, expressed regularly by others in the old media business as well, is that the loss of our local newspapers will destroy our democracy. I know – it’s downright funny to actually argue that the loss of today’s local newspapers will actually hurt democracy!
Of course their arguments are ridiculous at best, self-serving and disingenuous at worst – but that’s what we’ve come to expect from local media. And why not, they are almost entirely owned by corporate interests, and if not, they have been educated on the corporate journalism model. Never mind that newspaper circulation reached a peak in 1993, long before blogs and other news aggregators existed; in fact, before the internet was any sort of real force in our lives (and not coincidentally at the height of both corporate media control and the power of their corporate two-party system). If the internet means the death of an old corporate media tied to the two parties that have dominated politics since the rise of corporate control of the presses, then good riddance.
Maybe I’m wrong – maybe a 23rd Special Election will prove to be the election that local media actually reports fairly and proves their worth. Maybe we’ll actually see an investigative report on the election that’s not tied to support for one of the corporate candidates. Maybe local media will cover all the candidates equally. It’s not likely, but it would be nice. Let me offer some advice – right now there are no candidates – when one announces, begin covering them, as each new candidate emerges, cover them equally until such time THEY say they are no longer a candidate. That’s called fairness, it’s a major tenet of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
So far, the Albany Project been the best provider of news and information about the potential upcoming 23rd Special Election. Here is a round-up of the reporting so far to show some of what’s already happening. First the old style media:
The Times Union’s Capital Confidential blog provides a list of Republican and Democratic potential challengers (let the bias begin).
Cap Con on what their 20th CD corporate candidate Democrat Scott Murphy thinks.
NCPR’s Brian Mann on how the race will be a repeat of the Republican-Democrat bruiser (there’s your first sports metaphor from me Brian) in the 20th CD.
The Zach Subar and Nathan Brown of the Leader-Herald let us know that McHugh’s Republican Chief of Staff won’t run – thanks guys – are their any other Republicans who won’t run that we should know about?
Now for the local independent blogs:
The Albany Project lets us know through actual reporting that their are 103,847 voters enrolled (out of 392,006 total) who are not designated as Republicans or Democrats (including three Socialists!).
On this Tax Deadline Day 2009, residents of New York’s 20th Congressional District are stuck in unrepresented limbo. Two weeks after the balloting in the special election to fill the house seat, both sides have doubled-down, adding lawyers and recount strategists to their campaign payrolls. The lawyers have been challenging absentee ballots right and left (mostly right). Of the votes cast at the polls on Election Day, Republican candidate James Tedisco held a 65 vote (.04%) edge over Democrat Scott Murphy. And that right there is about where the pavement ends. Here are a few signposts to look for on the rest of the journey: Timing is Everything Though the partisan challenges make too spongy a foundation for solid analysis of the numbers, in most counties Murphy seems to have increased his margins in the absentee count over the Election Day machine count. One possible explanation for this phantom trend may be in the timing of the votes: any number of absentee votes may have been cast before the last week and a half of the campaign when Tedisco surged on his efforts to associate Murphy with the AIG executive bonuses.
The Saratoga Stakes Domestic absentee ballots—due last week—have been tabulated and reported in eight of the ten counties in the district. The other two counties, Saratoga and Washington (both containing Adirondack voting precincts) have withheld progress reports while the ballots are being tabulated, awaiting a full and final tally.
Of the 6726 absentee ballots returned throughout the district, Saratoga County accounts for 1842 (twenty-seven percent). Capitol Confidential blog reports 714 (thirty-nine percent) of Saratoga’s absentee ballots have been challenged and must await a court ruling on their validity before being counted. The importance of every other skirmish in the recount hinges on the resolution of these challenges and the count of these votes. On Election Day, Tedisco won the machine count in Saratoga County with over fifty-four percent of the vote. If he manages to increase that margin in the absentee count (defying Murphy’s possible edge in early votes) then he may win the race without resorting to other stratagems. If not, go to plan B . . .
Pray for Reinforcement On Monday, Tedisco petitioned to prolong the period for the return of military ballots to the district. Bear in mind this would not extend the postmark deadline for military voters—that was and remains March 30th. Apart from signaling a dim faith in the Pentagon’s capacity to fight two wars and deliver mail in a timely manner all at once, there seems to be little advantage in this maneuver other than the buying of time. Which brings us to the final signpost.
When in Doubt, Stall Tedisco has pretty much put his career on the line in this race. It has already cost him his minority leadership position in the New York Assembly. If he loses here, he will be increasingly vulnerable to a challenge in his Assembly district should he stand for reelection. Fundraising for his next race will be tough enough without having to deal with the enormous debt this race will dump on him (which he will have to deal with even if he prevails). In short, Tedisco has nothing to lose by playing this recount out as long as possible, raising as much GOP money as he can while the national spotlight remains on him. Even if it means letting the residents of New York’s 20th Congressional District go a few more weeks or months without representation in Washington.
UPDATED @ 1:00 PM In the cliffhanger race for New York’s 20th congressional district seat, sixty-five votes separate Leader Scott Murphy from James Tedisco, with between six and ten thousand absentee votes yet to be counted. In the northern block of the district, inside the Adirondack Park boundary, conventionally regarded as reliable conservative turf, order was somewhat upended by yesterday’s vote. In Essex, Warren and Washington counties, Scott Murphy took 51.5% of machine votes cast in towns inside the Blue Line. Murphy found strongest support up north where he won Keene and North Elba by 69% and 60% respectively, and the town of Dresden on the east shore of Lake George where he took over 55%. Jim Tedisco’s best showing in this region came in the towns of Schroon and North Hudson where he garnered 59% of votes cast, and Stony Creek where 57% favored the Republican/Conservative. Turnout across Essex County was 26.5% of registered and active voters.
Saratoga County was the only Adirondack County in the district for which town-by-town results were not available.
* All votes for the town of Fort Ann, which straddles the park boundary, were included in our count.
Candidates for New York’s 20th congressional district battled to a draw last night, extending the month-long special election campaign by two weeks at the very least. With 100 percent of the voting precincts reporting from the tripod district that covers portions of ten counties, Democrat Scott Murphy led Republican James Tedisco by 65 votes, out of a total of more than 154,000 votes cast by machine. The results do not include write-in votes or paper and absentee ballots. Absentee ballots will be counted on April 7, with ballots received by overseas military personnel to be counted April 13. The bottom line of this election, as viewed on this April Fool’s Day: Expect a recount that is longer and more expensive than the original campaign.
On the eve of tomorrow’s special election to represent New York’s 20th congressional district, there seems no better metaphor for much of what is wrong with our dysfunctional political system than the sort of hysterical ambivalence embodied by our culture’s obsession with team sports, on full display this week in the beer-belching economic machine that is March Madness. Whether it is the NCAA tournament, the Stanley Cup, World Series, or the Tyrannosaurus Rex of all contests, the Super Bowl, Americans seem pre-disposed toward 2-sided SmackDowns. Put any of these spectacles up against, say, Track and Field’s 4X400 meter relay, or the Iditarod for market share and you have, well, no contest. Judging from the cable listings alone, one could easily conclude that the American mind cannot readily grasp concepts which stray too far from the basic formula of one protagonist versus one antagonist.
In a similar vein, our political culture, as determined by the two dominant parties (with the solid backing of the same media that profits from sports spectacles) has decided it is not in the best interest of the American body politic to stray too far from one donkey mascot versus one elephant mascot. Nowhere in recent memory has this proscription against political outsiders been more crassly played out than in the special election for New York’s 20th congressional district seat. Given its 30-day duration—a calendar that reduced the importance and influence of big money donations—this race should have been wide open to any registered party that could field a qualified candidate. Instead, in a race where the major party candidates were picked by handfuls of party operatives behind closed doors, the only registered third party candidate in the race was held to the standard used for a regular cycle election, the collection of 3,500 meticulously recorded signatures of registered voters from within the district.
This sort of princess-and-the-pea standard invariably leads to the predictable farce of a political sideshow where the handmaids of one of the two major parties launch salvos of legal challenges to the third party petitions and the Board of Elections (comprising—you guessed it—Republicans and Democrats) eliminate enough signatures to disqualify the candidate. Genuine Banana Republic electioneering.
Perhaps it is time for our elected representatives, who claim to represent a constituency of which a full third identifies with neither major party, to remove their heads from their respective caucuses and vote for substantive electoral reform, and restore the free market of political ideas and speech that should be the aspiration of any true democracy.
In the meantime, the best any of us can do as citizens is take time to inform ourselves of the issues and the candidates positions, and take the time to hold up our end of the democracy contract. Cast your ballot.
There is an opportunity in the last days of any close, high-stakes political race to gain a clear view of the strategies and, by inference, the internal polling of each campaign. The professional political consultants attached to each candidate reveal their cards on the final weekend when they announce the campaign appearances for the closing days. That moment has arrived in the race to succeed Kirsten Gillibrand in New York’s 20th Congressional District. And the schedule for Republican James Tedisco will interest voters in the district’s Adirondack lobe. The Republican candidate will hold a rally today at 1:30 at the Northwoods Inn in Lake Placid, followed by a walk down Main Street. From there he heads to the Noonmark Diner in Keene (3:30 PM). In a district stretching nearly 200 miles north to south, it is a matter of significance when a candidate invests precious time in the sparsely settled northern reach of the district.
The reason for Tedisco’s eleventh-hour Adirondack schedule may be found in the opinion poll released by Siena Research Institute on Friday.
While Democrat Scott Murphy holds a 2-to-1 lead over Tedisco in Essex, Warren and Washington Counties (combined), that breakdown includes Murphy’s hometown of Glens Falls where it is fair to infer support skews more heavily toward the Democrat. Also missing from the 2-to-1 statistic is the size of the undecided vote. While eight percent of voters across the whole district have not yet settled on a candidate, in Essex, Warren and Washington counties ten percent of voters remain undecided. As with the concentration of support for Murphy, quite likely fewer voters are undecided in the Glens Falls vicinity, leaving a larger percentage up in Essex.
The other area of concern for Tedisco in the north is the three percent of voters who backed the now withdrawn candidacy of Libertarian Eric Sundwall. This figure increased one percentage point since the last poll two weeks ago while Tedisco’s support has slipped by the same margin. In terminating his campaign, Sundwall threw his support to Murphy.
A footnote to Tedisco’s announced schedule: While he will be joined today by Freda Solomon (widow of the former Representative Gerald Solomon) on the stump at West Mountain Ski Center in Queensbury, he is scheduled to appear solo in Lake Placid and Keene. Conspicuously absent is popular State Senator Betty Little, who endorsed Tedisco despite reported dissatisfaction with his selection as the Republican’s standard bearer.
UPDATE: The Post Star reports that Senator Little did accompany Tedisco and Freda Solomon in Queensbury on Sunday.
National media have framed the race for New York’s 20th congressional district seat as the pivot point on the National Republican Party’s path to resurgence. However, recent opinion polls of likely voters show that this might not be the slam dunk the party wants or expects. In fact the numbers continue a trend which has already become well-established over the course of this decade. If the trend continues, the GOP — fresh off a well financed loss in the same district — may be fulfilling Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. And while New York Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco’s hijacking of the Republican nomination may have been more a reflection of personal ambition than of party strategy, The RNC has bought into his dream quite conspicuously. If Tedisco and state and national party leaders are unable to stem the momentum of the rising Murphy campaign, this race may well become a showcase not of a political movement making a comeback, but of one coming undone altogether.
The Adirondack Daily Enterprise is first out of the box with the news that two people have filed objections against the nominating petitions of Libertarian candidate for the 20th Congressional District, Eric Sundwall.
The objections were filed by Laurie Kelly Sickles of Ballston Spa and Donald J. Neddo of Waterford, according to state Board of Elections Public Information Officer John Conklin. Conklin said each is a general objection, or a statement of intent to file a more specific objection, which they have until Wednesday to do. Neddo, 75, is a member of the Halfmoon Conservative Committee who ran for party state committee membership in 2008. He was formerly a school board member in the Waterford-Halfmoon school district. He was also responsible for organizing a number of rallies in support of the Iraq war in 2003, which he stopped doing after admitting that he had lied about having served in Korea when he is, in fact, not a veteran, according to the Times Union of Albany.
Sickles is a real estate agent and a member of the Ballston Spa Education Foundation.
Conklin said Sundwall had around 7,000 signatures on his petitions this year.
A new poll sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shows a tightening of the contest for New York’s 20th congressional district seat. The survey of 400 likely voters, taken February 24-25th, shows Republican James Tedisco ahead with 44% followed by Democrat Scott Murphy with 37% and Libertarian Eric Sundwall with 4%. Fifteen percent of those surveyed had not yet made up their minds. Balloting is slated for March 31st.
Democrat Scott Murphy, running in the special 20th Congressional District race, made stops yesterday in Schroon Lake, at Rivermede Farms in Keene Valley, at Whiteface Mountain, and in Lake Placid. The Lake Placid event was billed as a reception for supporters and public party officials. The two dozen in attendance at Mr. Mike’s Restaurant included Lake Placid Mayor Jamie Rogers and Trustee candidate Jason Leon, both running in village elections on Tuesday, March 18.
The congressional hopeful kept his remarks general, reiterating his wish to serve the district on the agriculture and financial services committees. On environmental matters, Murphy said he would like to see more federal money directed to Adirondack Villages to help improve water supply and treatment infrastructure. While praising Lake Placid’s economic growth of recent years, he cited the residential development of open spaces which the village has experienced as a potential threat to the health of Adirondack waters.
The first debate for New York’s 20th Congressional District will take place in Saratoga Springs this Tuesday, four weeks before the March 31st vote. Before the media turn their focus exclusively upon the candidates, their war chests and attack ads, let’s take a moment to contemplate the peculiar 10-county district itself. And — more broadly — the process by which such a tortured political boundary is created.
With $12.5 million in campaign disbursements, the 20th CD became notorious last year as one of the country’s most expensive house races. While it held the number one position in November, by the time the last campaign finance reports were in, it had slipped to second place behind California’s 4th CD, which lumbered in at $16 million plus. The high cost of the once stable Republican district owes to the perception among state and national GOP leaders that the defeat two years earlier of John Sweeney by Kirsten Gillibrand was an aberration. Grim prospects for Republican victories elsewhere made the 20th — with a 67,456 active voter advantage in party registration — appear to be as good a GOP redoubt as any. Throw in a wealthy, self-financing Republican candidate and a district that encompasses at least four media markets and you practically guarantee a broken spending record.
In a state that has become infamous for gerrymandered congressional districts, the 20th — stretching from Saranac Lake in the north to Millbrook and Hyde Park in the south, to the Southern Tier town of Sidney in the west — might best be viewed as three panhandles in search of a pan.
A slight detour here for those who have forgotten high school civics class: congressional district boundaries shift every decade following the decennial census and reapportionment by congress of the 435 house seats among the 50 states. The process of drawing boundaries to encompass equal numbers of constituents is left to the legislatures of individual states, a smooth enough drill if your legislature is, well, functional.
In Albany, however, the last three redistricting cycles have coincided with legislatures divided by party and geography. In the case of the last redistricting in 2000-2002, deeply divided. Consequently, a map of New York which naturally breaks down into neat, logical regions has been jig-sawed into a puzzle of pseudo-fractals and jagged rorschach blots.
All of this is about to change. With both houses of New York’s legislature and the executive branch held by the same political party for the first time since the 1970s, the redistricting machinery is about to run a lot faster, and might just result in a long-overdue return to cohesive districts in the wake of next year’s census.
Redistricting is a quintessentially political process and there are basically three rules for a single political party remapping congressional districts:
Rule #1: Keep your party’s incumbents safe. If reapportionment robs your state of one member of its delegation (as will happen to New York in 2010), make sure the seat is pulled out from under someone from the other side of the aisle.
Rule #2: Divide and conquer. If a geographically unified base of support for the opposing political party can be distributed among separate districts with larger safe populations of your own party, get out your meat cleavers.
Rule #3: If that hostile voting block is too large to be safely subsumed by friendly districts, then isolate and ignore it.
How these rules will affect the future of New York’s 20th Congressional District will largely depend on the outcome of the balloting on March 31st. One thing is certain in any case. With the special election this year, and an immediate reelection campaign in 2010 followed by a brand new race for a potentially radically redrawn district in 2012, this contested terrain will continue to be very expensive property for the incumbent.
Come back tomorrow for the Almanack’s modest proposal for a redrawn congressional district that neatly encompasses the entire Adirondack Park.
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
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