Four Orange legislators will forgo reelection

Four Orange County legislators – the current Republican and Democratic leaders, and the last two Democratic leaders – plan to bow out this year when elections are held for all 21 county Legislature seats.

Chris Eachus, a New Windsor Democrat who’s been on the Legislature for 12 years and led the Democratic caucus in 2014 and 2015, confirmed this week he won’t seek reelection in November. Eachus, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat Republican state Sen. Bill Larkin in 2012 and 2016, said he took seriously the arguments he made in support of term limits in his campaign last year. So he decided to term limit himself – to invite new faces and new ideas.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that politicians, as a body, are not going to impose term limits on themselves,” Eachus said. He didn’t rule out running for another office in the future, but said he had no immediate political plans.

Melissa Bonacic, a Greenville Republican who has served four, four-year terms on the Legislature and has led the Republican majority since 2010, announced weeks ago that she won’t seek another term. “It truly has been an honor and a privilege to represent the people of the 2nd Legislative District,” she said by email this week. “As to the future, I can only say that I will keep my options open.”

Jeff Berkman, a Middletown Democrat who’s been on the Legislature since 1998 and is its second longest-serving member, announced on his weekly talk show on WTBQ radio station on Wednesday that he won’t run for re-election this year. Berkman, who represents most of Middletown, led the Democratic minority for five years, passing the torch to Eachus in 2014.

“It’s been an honor to serve the people of Middletown and Orange County,” Berkman said Friday. He said that he had considered stepping aside for a while, and that he’s now exploring new opportunities.

Matt Turnbull, a Hamptonburgh Democrat who’s been a county lawmaker since 2012 and is in his second year as party leader, also has said he won’t run for reelection. He has been active this year in recruiting Democrats to run for the Legislature, which Republicans have ruled every year except one since that body came into existence in 1970.

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Former Rep. Chris Gibson coming out with book

Former 19th Congressional District Rep. Chris Gibson will release a book this October.

The book is titled “Rally Point: Five Tasks to Unite the Country and Revitalize the American Dream,” according to website of the publisher, Twelve. A description of the book from Hachette Book Group says Gibson “looks past the 2016 election, past the finger pointing and conventional political thinking, to focus on clear, primary principles that conservatives must debate and defend to protect the future of America.”

Gibson, a Kinderhook Republican and former colonel in the U.S. Army, decided not to run for a fourth term in Congress last year. He had said he was considering a run for governor but later decided against it. He instead took a job as a visiting professor at Williams College.

Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, won the 19th district race in November 2016.

According to the description of the book from Hachette,  Gibson in his book will provide “incisive and frank analysis of the current political environment, including President Trump, and provides a roadmap based on time-tested Founding principles to help unite our country and revitalize the American Dream.”

Gibson, 52, released his first book, “Reforming the National Security: Decision Making Process at the Civil-Military Nexus,” from Ashgate Publishing Limited in 2008. He waived royalties from the book, according to a financial disclosure statement.

The release date of Rally Point is scheduled for Oct. 3 this year.

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Maloney predicts big changes in 2018 elections

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney had some advice for fellow Democrats about reconnecting with voters in the wake of last year’s elections during his interview with the Times Herald-Record editorial board on Tuesday.

Maloney pointed out that he won re-election in November in a district that Donald Trump won, and argued that New York’s 18th District shares some of the same characteristics as places in the U.S. in which Democrat candidates are struggling and in which the voice of an anti-establishment outsider resonated.

“So I live this challenge every day,” Maloney said, “and all I can tell you is I think the most important thing the party can do is show up in a way that’s authentic, and speak from the heart, and let people know that you’re working for their best interest.”

Maloney argued that party labels are becoming less important in American politics than a candidate’s authenticity, and that voters care as much as about about “what’s in your heart” as individual issues.

“That’s where the party needs to move,” Maloney said. “The party needs to move into a relationship with working- and middle-class people who can look at our party and say, those guys are going to do something good for me, and it’s as simple as that.”

He foresees big changes on the horizon, none if it directed by party bosses in Washington. Instead, he said, it’s coming from “flat, organic” movements, the same clashing forces that propelled Donald Trump into the White House and then spawned the grassroots Indivisible movement to fight his agenda after he took office.

“I think you’re going to see millions of individual people come out like you did in the women’s march and a lot of events since, and say, we’re deeply worried about where our country is going, and we want something better than what the president is giving us,” Maloney said. “And out of that you’ll see new leaders and new organizations and new blood, and I’m very excited about it.”

He predicts an “interesting” 2018 election cycle, one that with a lot of energy and turnover. He had gotten a firsthand look at some of that energy the night before, when he spoke to a large, fired-up audience in Kingston about the Republican health bill that their own congressman – Rep. John Faso – helped the House pass in a 217-213 squeaker.

“There may be some twisted metal and some broken glass, so everybody better buckle up,” Maloney said. “Because I think we’re in some interesting times, and the stakes are really high on things like health care where the damage to our communities can be severe unless we get organized and active and show up.”

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Faso, Maloney react to FBI director’s firing

Two congressmen from the mid-Hudson Valley have both suggested independent investigations into Russia’s election tampering in the wake of the firing Tuesday of FBI director James Comey by President Donald Trump.

Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who represents Orange County as part of the 18th Congressional District, compared Comey’s firing Tuesday the so-called Saturday Night Massacre.

“For the second time in U.S. history an American president has fired the Director of the FBI. It’s a Tuesday night massacre. This raises as many questions as it answers and the public deserves a real explanation from the President,” Maloney said in a statement.

The Saturday Night Massacre was when President Richard Nixon in 1973 accepted the resignations of the attorney general and deputy attorney general after they refused to fire the special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation. The solicitor general at the time finally obeyed Nixon’s order and fired the special prosecutor and dissolved the special prosecutor’s office.

“I only have two words – independent investigation,” Maloney said.

Rep. John Faso, a Kinderhook Republican who represents Ulster and Sullivan counties as part of the 19th Congressional District, called the firing in a statement Wednesday both “unsurprising and shocking.” He said if the new FBI director isn’t acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, an independent investigator should be called to takeover the ongoing investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence last year’s presidential election. Here’s Faso’s full statement:

“It is unsurprising in that his actions relating to the Clinton email matter caused major controversy on both sides of the political aisle. He appeared to assume a decision making position which would have been better left to his Justice Department superiors. His statements the other day before a congressional committee regarding Huma Abedin’s emails were perhaps the final misstep he has made in this regard.

“However, the firing was shocking in that the FBI has an ongoing investigation into Russian efforts to influence the US elections last year. The public must have absolute confidence that the FBI investigation will be thorough, and result in a complete resolution of that question regardless of the outcome. The facts must be known.

“Therefore it is incumbent upon the administration to nominate a new FBI director who will be someone of unquestioned integrity and experience, acceptable to both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, to lead this critical agency on the Russian investigation and all other matters coming before it. If the nominee does not pass that test, then the only alternative in my view would be the selection of an independent investigator to get to the bottom of this matter once and for all.”

 

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Former Cuomo press secretary considering run against Faso

An Ulster County native and former deputy press secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he’s seriously considering a run for congress against Rep. John Faso.

In a Medium post on Monday, Gareth Rhodes, 28, said he’s considering a run in the 19th Congressional District, with a tagline that says it’s time to “repeal and replace John Faso.” He’s also released a spiffy-looking campaign website complete with policy statements dealing with immigration, the environment, healthcare and jobs.

In an interview Monday, Rhodes, a Democrat, said he began considering a run in March after Faso, R-Kinderhook, took a vote on a Republican healthcare bill that ended up getting pulled before a full floor vote.

“That was the last straw,” Rhodes said.

Faso and Cuomo have publicly gone head to head several times over the healthcare issue and an amendment supported by Faso that could impact the state’s Medicaid funding. You can read about that fight here.

Rhodes said he told the governor’s office about his idea to run but the motivation to run was his own.

“This was my idea,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes grew up in the Town of Esopus in the Bruderhof community until he left it at 18, graduated Kingston High School in 2006 then worked in Marlboro in a local deli and a company that drilled drinking wells. He then attended CUNY City College, graduating with a four year degree in 2011.

Rhodes worked as a deputy press secretary for the governor’s office from 2011 to 2015, until he began attending Harvard Law School. Rhodes said he just completed his second year at Harvard but will be taking a leave of absence for his third year as he considers a run for congress. He said he currently lives in Kerhonkson, in the Town of Rochester.

According to a profile on a CUNY website, Rhodes also did internships with now-retired Congressman Charles Rangel, the White House and with Cuomo – both when he was state attorney general and in the executive chamber.

Rhodes joins what’s already a crowded Democratic field of candidates looking to challenge Faso. Rhodes entrance into the race would have four Democratic candidates in the race, two of which have already raised significant funds despite the election not being until November next year.

Records from the Federal Election Commission show that his campaign treasurer is Holly Giarraputo, a campaign compliance expert who’s clients include two Hudson Valley-based political action committees and the campaign of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat representing the 18th Congressional District just south of of the 19th.

You can read my past stories on who else is running in the 19th here and here. The 19th district includes all of Ulster and Sullivan counties.

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Dems hold 9,000-voter enrollment edge in Orange

Registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by about 9,000 voters in Orange County at the end of March, a tiny increase in the enrollment edge held by a party that used to be so deep in the minority that Republicans commanded a 17,000-voter advantage as recently as 20 years ago.

That lead gradually diminished, and Democrats first inched into the majority in 2009. As of March 31, the count stood at 79,948 Democrats and 71,100 Republicans.

Party leaders and elected officials are now preparing for the next round of county elections this fall: contests for four-year terms for county executive, district attorney and county clerk, and for four-year terms for all 21 Legislature seats. Interviewed this week about the county executive’s race, Orange County Democratic Chairman Brett Broge cited a few factors that diminish the significance of the Democrats’ enrollment edge in county races, including other parties in which voters are registered. One is the Conservative Party ranks, which effectively can be added to the Republican column. Others are the numbers of Independence Party and unaffiliated voters, which he argued are often conservative-leaning voters.

The county had 4,237 Conservative voters and 11,701 Independence voters at the end of March. It also had 1,095 Working Families voters and 647 Green Party members, generally an asset for Democratic candidates. A huge variable, though, is the block of unaffiliated voters, or “blanks”: 49,318 voters.

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House bill renews fight over NY counties’ Medicaid costs

Call it Round 3 in the bout between Rep. John Faso and Gov. Andrew Cuomo over relieving New York counties of their share of the state’s Medicaid costs.

The conflict started in March, when Faso championed an amendment to the Obamacare replacement bill that was intended to secure the votes of balky Republicans in New York’s House delegation. The proposal would force New York to end its longstanding practice of having its counties pay part of Medicaid’s cost – an idea Faso had campaigned on in 2016 as a form of property-tax relief. It set off a bitter, week-long war of words with Cuomo, who argued the $2.3 billion in annual spending that counties would shed would simply fall to the state and result in other tax increases or cuts in Medicaid services.

That round closed with the House Republicans yanking their American Health Care Act because they had too few votes to pass it. But the freshman congressman and Democratic governor laced up their gloves again in April when Faso introduced a standalone bill to do the same thing – drop the counties’ Medicaid costs – with five New York colleagues as co-sponsors of the legislation.

The latest round was more muted, though the circumstances were potentially more consequential. The American Health Care Act, back before the House in amended form and with the New York Medicaid provision intact, passed on Thursday in a 217-213 vote. The legislation, or some version of it, must now be taken up by the Senate.

In a statement after the House vote, Faso rebutted criticism of the Republicans’ bill and concluded by touting his provision to end New York counties’ Medicaid costs by 2020.

“For a typical homeowner or commercial property owner residing in the 19th District,” he wrote, “Medicaid costs represent over 40 percent of their county property tax burden. New York’s Medicaid spending dwarfs that of most other states. For instance, New York spends more than Texas and Florida combined, even though these states have more than double our population. The provision I authored will bring much-needed property tax relief and keep people and jobs in Upstate New York.”

That is not how Cuomo saw it. His statement deploring the Republicans’ bill included this passage:

“Sadly, some representatives in New York have sold their vote and turned their backs on the very constituents they represent. This bill is a targeted assault against our values, punishing New Yorkers because we support women’s reproductive rights and including the Collins/Faso amendment which would devastate the state’s health care industry, put millions of New Yorkers at risk, and increase the total cost of this bill on New York to $6.9 billion.”

New York has shared Medicaid costs with its counties since the U.S. inaugurated its health insurance program for the poor 51 years ago. Traditionally in New York, the federal government has paid 50 percent of the bills, and the state and counties each have paid 25 percent. The counties’ share has steadily dropped since the state capped their payments in 2011 and took responsibility for any expense increases. The counties now pay about 13 percent, and the state covers 36 percent.

Cuomo and House Democrats from New York – including Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring – have argued the federal government should reimburse the state for the counties’ Medicaid cost share if it wants to ease the property-tax burden on county taxpayers in New York. The House members introduced a bill called the Empire State Equity Act last month to have Washington give New York an additional $2.3 billion in Medicaid.

 

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Senate passes bill to limit leadership terms

The state Senate passed a bill this week that would let leaders and committee chairmen in both the Senate and Assembly serve no more than eight years in those positions, the third time it has tried to codify for both chambers a limit it adopted for its own house through a rule change in 2009.

The eight-year limit in the two-line bill would apply to the temporary president of the Senate and the Assembly speaker; the majority and minority leaders in both chambers; and all committee chairmen. The bill’s sponsors include George Amedore, R-Rotterdam; John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope; and Bill Larkin, R-Cornwall-on-Hudson.

“Establishing term limits for legislative leaders and committee chairs will empower more members of the Legislature, leading to a more well-rounded, representative government that is able to better serve all New Yorkers,” Amedore said in a statement.

Amedore, whose district includes part of Ulster County, also has reintroduced a term-limit bill that would allow senators and Assembly members to serve no more than 12 years, or six two-year terms. “New voices and ideas bring about a fresh perspective and new solutions to the issues we face in our communities,” said Amedore, a housing developer who served five years in the Assembly and is in his third year as a senator.

The Senate passed the eight-year limit for leaders in a 49-9 vote on Tuesday. Bonacic, in a statement afterward, said, “The Senate has for years adopted voluntary term limits for committee chairs and legislative leaders. I encourage my colleagues in the Assembly to pass this bill as soon as possible.”

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Assembly passes environmental bills for Earth Day

The state Assembly passed several environmental-themed bills this week on their first work days after Earth Day last Saturday.

A few were non-controversial and cleared the chamber with little opposition. One, co-sponsored by James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, and Frank Skartados, D-Milton, would require the owners of ships and trains carrying crude oil through New York and the owners of crude-oil storage tanks to prove they are insured for the costs of any cleanup and decontamination if the oil spills. That bill, which also passed in the previous legislative term, is a response to the escalating volume of crude oil being transported across New York and other states.

Another bill that passed overwhelmingly, a perennial measure that dates back to 2009, would require the state Deparatment of Environmental Conservation to compile a list of communities to be deemed “high local environmental impact zones” because they face a plethora of pollution, such as toxic chemical releases and  poor air quality. The purpose is to protect residents of such areas from more polluting businesses by looking at the cumulative impact of what is already there.

“A sound natural environment is the foundation of a healthy society and a robust economy,” Skartados said in a press release about the bills the Assembly passed on Monday and Tuesday. “With our region facing so many environmental and health threats, we must take proactive action to safeguard our residents’ well-being.”

Skoufis said in his own statement about the legislation: “Our water and land are precious resources that need to be preserved and protected for future generations. We’ve unfortunately seen firsthand the damage contamination can do to our drinking water and soil, and we need to guard against any more incidents of this kind.”

Skartados was a sponsor of a more controversial bill involving wetlands that passed in a 93-50 vote, with Skoufis; Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh; and Karl Brabenec, R-Deerpark among the opponents. That proposal would give the DEC jurisdiction over any wetlands of one acre or more, a huge increase in oversight for an agency now limited to wetlands of at least 12.4 acres. It’s meant to address an oversight gap caused by a Supreme Court ruling that limited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ wetlands jurisdiction.

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Senate passes eight bills to fight heroin/opioid crisis

The state Senate passed a raft of legislation on Monday to combat the heroin and prescription-pill epidemic by outlawing a whole new crop of drugs, including those developed in labs with slight variations from banned drugs in order to circumvent the law.

Among the drugs targeted in six separate bills were new derivatives of fentanyl, the powerful painkiller that is often mixed with heroin and was the cause of Prince’s overdose death in 2016; Xylazine, a veterinary drug that dealers also are adding to heroin; and an increasingly popular, sythetic opiate known as “Pink” and said to be eight times more powerful than heroin. The bills also would classify as controlled substances several drugs other than opioids, including Alpha-PVP – known as “Flakka” or “Gravel” and similar to methamphetamine – and synthetic  marijuana varieties such as K2, Spike 99, Spice and Yucatan Fire.

In a press release about the legislation, Senate Republicans noted that Xylazine has “emerged as a new threat in the state’s battle against the heroin epidemic because the heroin-Xylazine combination is so potent that it can take multiple doses of naloxone to revive an overdose victim, and even this regime is not guaranteed to be effective.”

In addition, the Senate passed two bills that would require hospitals to tell doctors when one of their patients has overdosed on painkillers the doctors prescribed; and that would enable medical providers to share patients’ electronic medical records.

“The Senate Republican Conference has taken important steps to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic, and this package of bills builds on that work,” Senator John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, said in a statement about the legislation. “I’m pleased to have supported these bills because I know they will have an impact in our communities.”

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