Being an upstate Republican in the minority of an Assembly chamber controlled by downstate Democrats can be a thankless task, one that entails a constant uphill struggle for political relevance. It’s not impossible to do the job effectively, but it does require some diplomacy and finesse.
In the 101st Assembly District, incumbent Republican Brian Miller has managed to find that balance by advocating for his own conservative values with tact, and without alienating voters or potential partners in government who don’t see eye-to-eye with him. He’s an intelligent public servant who understands the problems facing the state and district, and his willingness to ask tough questions about budget priorities will be useful as New York attempts to climb out of the fiscal morass caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Miller, who fell ill with COVID-19 himself in the spring, also takes the virus seriously and has encouraged the public to follow health protocols to limit its spread.
Miller has demonstrated the ability to “disagree without being disagreeable,” and has distinguished himself from his opponent, Chad McEvoy, without stooping to ad hominem attacks. There’s a lot to like about the 46-year-old McEvoy, an affable man with a relevant resume and moderate politics, and perhaps we haven’t seen the last of him. But for now we see no reason why Miller shouldn’t retain his job.
In the 121st Assembly District, incumbent Republican John Salka came to office talking a big game about how he could effectively represent the district by bargaining in a bipartisan manner with downstate Democrats who control the state’s purse strings. Salka won the seat on his third attempt by ousting Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson, the longtime chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee. The district lost clout with Magee’s defeat; the Agriculture chairmanship is now held by Donna Lupardo of Binghamton. But with Magee nearing his 80th birthday when Salka defeated him, it was about time for a change, and we initially had some optimism about Salka.
Salka has since taken a frostier, confrontational tone, and it’s unlikely his gruff demeanor will win him allies in the chamber who could help him advocate for the district. And frankly, his attacks on challenger Dan Buttermann ring hollow. Salka claims that if Buttermann wins, the Democratic majority “will always expect an upstate Democrat, especially a freshman, to fall into line. If not they will primary that candidate. I have seen this and have no reason to believe it will be any different in the future.”
Salka offers no examples, and it’s worth pointing out that the seat was held for nearly 30 years by Magee, a centrist, pro-gun Democrat who ran with support from the National Rifle Association and voted against the SAFE Act. At any rate, Buttermann is no extremist. He is a known commodity in Oneonta city politics who notes that in 3rd Assembly District candidate Steve Polgar, a Democrat and Oneonta native, he has a potential downstate partner who understands the district’s needs. Buttermann is smart, level-headed and deserving of The Daily Star’s endorsement in this race.
In the 126th Assembly District, longtime Assemblyman Gary Finch is retiring after his 10th term, and a worthy heir has emerged in John Lemondes, a fellow Republican. As a farmer and former Army colonel with a pair of master’s degrees, Lemondes is eminently qualified, and he has thus far abstained from mudslinging against his opponent, Cayuga Community College professor Dia Carabajal. Lemondes points out that his military experience entailed working with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and he promises to reach out to Democrats in his district and the Assembly.
A bit of advice for whoever wins this race: Carabajal seems to blame the state’s fiscal woes entirely on tax loopholes for the wealthy, while Lemondes focuses solely on wasteful spending. But given the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, the state may have no choice but to impose a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes, at least in the short term, so let’s favor pragmatism over ideology for now. Regardless, if Lemondes wins as expected in this Republican-leaning district, the seat will be in capable hands.