ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Marijuana legalization. Protections for abortion rights. Making it easier for child molestation victims to sue their abusers.
Those are just some of the long-debated liberal priorities that stand to gain new steam in New York state if Democrats prevail in next week’s elections to the state Senate, now the Republicans’ last stronghold in this heavily Democratic state.
Democrats like their chances, thanks to predictions of a “blue wave” of voters eager to push back against President Donald Trump and other Washington Republicans.
Democrats have a 66-seat majority in the state Assembly and have occupied the governor’s office for 12 years. The GOP holds on to the Senate by the thinnest of threads - a single, renegade Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who crossed his own party to give the Republicans an effective one-vote majority. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York state by more than two to one.
“We need a Senate that will protect New Yorkers - not simply bury their heads in the sand,” said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers, who now leads the Democratic conference and stands to lead the entire Senate if her party prevails on Tuesday.
Republicans are aggressively defending their tenuous grip on power, arguing that Democratic control would lead to higher taxes and a focus on New York City, the center of Democratic power in the state, at the expense of upstate New York. Senate Leader John Flanagan called Senate Republicans the “firewall” protecting the state from one-party control.
They also point to the last time Democrats briefly won the Senate, back in 2008, a period marked by infighting and an eventual coup that saw two Democrats join with the GOP to topple a Democratic leader of the Senate. Many of the senior lawmakers involved were later convicted on various corruption charges.
“Senate Republicans are the last bastion of hope for our taxpayers,” Flanagan said. “We will continue to be the voice that protects taxpayers by controlling spending and lowering taxes.”
The fight is playing out in several districts on Long Island, the Hudson Valley and the Albany area, where insurgent Democrats are looking either to knock off Republican incumbents or pick up seats left vacant by a wave of Republican retirements this year.
Republican Senate candidate Daphne Jordan is running to replace her current boss, Sen. Kathy Marchione, who represents a large district that includes areas east of the Hudson River and north of Albany. Jordan, Marchione’s legislative director and a local town councilwoman, said Republican, Democratic and independent voters all tell her they worry one-party control in Albany would raise the cost of living and hurt the economy.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher for upstate this year,” she said. She said she’s not too worried about an anti-Trump effect helping the Democrats. Voters, she said, “are more concerned with what’s going on in the state.”
Her opponent, Democrat Aaron Gladd, is a former Army platoon leader who has worked as a political aide for Republicans and Democrats. He said that while some voters ask about party control in the Senate, most just want an independent representative who works for the district.
“People are tired of politics and empty promises,” he said. “It’s about the issues. People are fed up and they just want good people in office.”
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been criticized in past elections for not doing more to assist Senate Democrats but this year is helping to raise money and campaign for the party’s Senate challengers. He said Trump and other Washington Republicans make it all the more important for blue New York to unify to push back.
“We need a Democratic state Senate because our only hope is when they pass their lunacy in Washington that we can undo it by passing different laws in the state of New York,” he said at a campaign rally on Long Island last week. He cited abortion rights as a particular area of concern: “They overturn it (Roe v. Wade), we’re going to need to pass a law in the state of New York reinstating it and a Republican Senate will not do it.”
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