Watch the unedited interviews with each candidate on NYVT-TV here: Andrea Smyth and Jake Ashby
From abortion rights, bail reform, the economy, gun control, democracy and the present state of politics, it was all on the table as the 43rd State Senate candidates sat down with the editorial board of the Granville Sentinel and Whitehall Times.
The district’s current senator, Daphne Jordan, is retiring at the end of the year, as the most recent re-districting actually placed her home outside the district and she decided not to challenge the sitting senator, Jim Tedisco.
That resulted in the redrawn 43rd not having an incumbent in this year’s election. This enticed Assemblyman Jake Ashby, who currently represents the southern portion of Washington County, to ask for and receive the Republican nomination. Opposing him is Democratic Troy resident Andrea Smyth, who five years ago ran for Rensselaer County Executive against then Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin. McLaughlin won that race, resigned the Assembly and was replaced by Jake Ashby.
On Thursday and Friday last week the candidates answered a series of questions from the editorial board. The following is a synopsis of the questions and answers.
Stepping back into the political arena is inherently difficult and requires an enormous amount of time and commitment. So why take on the challenge? Smyth says there are a number of reasons. First, she believes she espouses the direction she feels the majority of the new district would like to see the state and the nation headed.
And, of course, there is always the money. In this case, the funding for the various programs and localities that comes from Albany’s coffers. It is a given fact that a member of the majority party has a better chance at legislation and financially favorable measures being approved than does a political minority member. Currently, the State Senate is Democratically controlled, and Smyth is a Democrat.
It is here where the two candidates have dramatically different points of view… Smyth is a supporter of a woman’s right to choose and does not support limitations on abortion. She also supports New York opening its borders to those who live in states that prohibit or limit abortion. She told the editorial board, “At many levels I do pledge that New York will be a reproductive health sanctuary.” Asked if the overturning by the U.S. Supreme Court of Roe versus Wade might energize women to support Democrats, she said “women need to vote in their best interest” and believes that women will vote this year in rates higher than past elections.
Re–energizing the Democratic Party
“The Democratic Party is on an upswing, shown best perhaps by the volume of young people choosing to become active in the party than in the past.” Smyth explained the abortion issue is a factor in this upswing but so is a fear that our democracy is under attack. “We are in trouble in our democracy right now,” she said, and she believe this also is a motivator for people to vote Democrat.
It’s not just Democrats that Smyth is hoping to reach with her message. She is looking to voters unaffiliated with any party as well. Smyth says they make up the largest percentage of voters in the district. She claims they are very informed, active and enrolling to vote in large numbers.
Smyth said she has lived through three recessions and feels the majority of the responsibility for recovery lies with the federal government, not the state. “In the past the Feds have managed a soft landing, and I hope they will manage a soft landing now.” As to New York State in general Smyth said “inflation is hurting our families and the elderly. We need an immediate infusion of cash so people can manage their household expenses.” Some of her other ideas are to extend the state’s gas tax holiday and place a moratorium on any price hikes in regulated industries, such as electrical and natural gas suppliers.
As to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s performance during these troubling economic times, Smyth said Hochul has done much to help individuals. She claimed one move had a dramatic effect, that being the lifting of the state’s hiring freeze imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Smyth said this will help keep unemployment low and labeled that as very important. The candidate also praised the Governor for starting to address “the stagnation in benefits offered to unions.” She claims this is another factor in economic recovery that will particularly benefit seniors. As to Gov. Hochul’s overall performance in office, she gives it a B+.
Lowering the farm overtime threshold
Smyth contended that the state Labor Department’s decision to reduce farm overtime from 60 to 40 hours over 10-year phase-in period is about trying to attract enough workers to further stabilize the agricultural industry. The state Comptroller’s Office recently released a report that called agriculture the third most stable industry in the state.
In terms of real money, the candidate believes farming salaries do not represent “a living wage, and farming needs diversity to survive. We must start thinking like that for the long term.”
Was the timing for the overtime threshold decision right? Maybe not, Smyth admitted. She claimed she understands the conundrum created by rising costs placed on farmers and the resulting increases in pricing for agricultural goods it will create. She says it is a directive that must be closely monitored.
Bail reform and gun laws
Smyth labeled bail reform the “bail versus jail debate.” She told the editorial board: “I know the law has to be revisited. We need to review the policies that are not working and fix what needs to be fixed.” The candidate further stated there are more resources in the law for what is called discovery (investigating the evidence) that could help in reformatting a judge’s limits of discretion in the setting of bail.
When it comes to gun control, in particular the “Safe Act,” Smyth said former Gov. Cuomo may have been too hasty. She says he had a habit of legislating by press release and creating the perception that everyone who needed to be consulted was not. She did not come out in opposition to the act but again feels there are components that need review.
As to the new concealed carry laws, Smyth says the legislation was patterned after a Texas law that set forth specifically where a weapon was allowed or not. She claims that law has already been vetted in federal court, but New York’s version was recently labeled unconstitutional by a federal judge. She admits New York’s law might have gone too far.
As to the argument the new concealed carry law actually punishes legal gun owners but does little to prevent crimes committed with illegal weapons, Smyth is in considerable agreement. She says it does little to address the problem of the volume of illegal guns on the street. The candidates added this law on the list of items to be revisited. As a side note, Smyth opened the discussion on guns by pointing out she does not understand guns, has never been a gun owner and never plans to be.
The last topic discussed during the editorial board session was the tenor of politics from the national level down to the most local races. Smyth said she grew up in a time when there were as many divisive issues as today, but people were kinder and while not always agreeing with their political opponents, there was always respect. She promised to debate Assemblyman Ashby’s politics, beliefs and voting record but not to engage in any personal attacks.
Why run for the Senate?
That was the first question asked of Assemblyman Ashby, as he had no opponent for a re-election bid. His answer? “We need balance. Look at where our state is right now, because of one party rule.” Ashby said he thinks Republicans have a decent chance at taking back the majority in the upper chamber to provide that check and balance, and he wants to be part of it.
Abortion and women’s reproductive rights
As with Smyth, we asked the Assemblyman-turned-Senate candidate whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe versus Wade re-energized the Democratic Party. He said it certainly has had an impact. He pointed out in New York State it is “settled law” and that abortion rights are not going anywhere. The only way he law could be changed would be by a constitutional amendment. As to abortion itself, Ashby said he is pro-life but certainly supports an abortion decision in the cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother.
How to fix the economy in the state was a question posed by the editorial board. Ashby’s answer: “We need to make New York a place where people want to live to grow their businesses and their families. We have been experiencing an exodus of people over the last several years and our goal should be to retain our residents and make New York a destination state.” He pointed with pride to New York’s public and collegiate system, but lamented that all too many people come here for a great education but then go elsewhere to pursue their careers and raise their families. Why? Partially because of the state’s tax burden. “We need to stop trying to balance our books off the efforts of private business.” He said until we confront that attitude it is difficult to view New York as business-friendly.
The state recently placed a $200 per employee surcharge on employers to help recoup some of the money spent on unemployment benefits during the height of the pandemic and the shutdowns it created. The Assemblyman railed against this, saying some people may say it is only a couple of hundred dollars but as a business owner going through payroll and expenses looking for ways to sustain and grow that business, this is a huge issue. “It’s another mandate and restriction placed on small business when we should instead be looking for ways to grow them.”
Some praise for Hochul
The editorial board noted that Ashby has a lot of criticism for what is wrong with the state, but does he feel Gov. Hochul has been helpful in some ways? The answer was yes, particularly when it comes to veterans. As an Assemblyman, Ashby went throughout the state pushing for the Division of Veterans Affairs to be elevated to a full state agency. That became a reality when the governor provided the needed funding in this year’s budget. He called the effort a team concept and a “huge step forward.” Ashby is an eight-year veteran of the Army Reserves with two overseas deployments in the Middle East.
This is one of Ashby’s major concerns in this campaign. He contends district attorneys and law enforcement should have been brought into the discussion right from the start and this clearly did not happen. He noted Democrats are realizing what they created as they call for a review and adjustments. He very strongly added that Republicans need to be part of this process. “Judges need discretion.” He feels this can come about through a bi-partisan process or even perhaps a full repeal of the legislation.
Crime and gun control
As to recent gun control laws, including the newly enacted conceal-carry revisions, the Assemblyman said “it has not had the desired effect.” He wants the gvernor and the Legislature to be willing to revisit the legislation with an eye toward some needed adjustments. He said it will “take a certain amount of humility to do that but if you don’t, the residents and the community you serve will see it as failed policy.”
As to concealed carry, he views it as a punishment on legal gun owners. Ashby said these legal gun owners are not the threat. “It feels like the Democrats are targeting these legal gun owners versus the people using firearms illegally. This is what you get when you have one party advancing legislation without the proper checks and balance.”
A lack of law enforcement
The Senate candidate raised the fact that many local police agencies are understaffed. He blamed a culture where law enforcement feels they are not backed by political leaders and some members of their community. This he says has a detrimental effect on morale and their effectiveness. He also pointed out the stress of the job during the pandemic. “It placed an enormous burden on their shoulders.” This combined with the impact of bail reform is driving qualified men and women out of the profession. Ashby is calling for changes to help foster an environment where police officers, first responders and health care workers feel appreciated and supported.
Farming overtime threshold
Ashby said the recent reduction of the overtime threshold in agricultural industries from 60 to 40 hours per week, phased in over 10 years, will have a profoundly negative impact on both the farm community and by extension consumers. “We need to look at this issued in a bi-partisan way and we need to do so quickly.”
Ashby said political division is a glaring issue that can be seen in both parties and prevents us from developing laws and policies that are good for all. He again referred back to one-party rule without checks and balances. The Assemblyman claimed we need to bridge the gap as both elected officials and a state or what we will see is continued legislation that is the result of division. “Your party is not always right and you have to be willing to work across the aisle or it’s never going to get done.”
About the candidates
Jake Ashby was raised in Castleton in southern Rensselaer County and still resides there with his wife and two children. While attending Siena College during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, he joined the Army Reserve, rising to the rank of Captain and served two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a humanitarian assignment in Africa. Upon his discharge he became an occupational therapist, eventually opening his own practice before entering politics. He replaced Steve McLaughlin in the Assembly five years ago.
Andrea Smyth and her husband are residents of Troy. She has three grown children who she says are her biggest supporters. She is the past president of the NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health, her own business that ran 100% virtually. She remains in that field today. Her first entry into politics came five years ago when she mounted a campaign for Rensselaer County Executive but lost to then Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin.
The NYVT Media editorial board on hand for these interviews included reporters Caton Deuso and Doug La Rocque, editor Jared Stamm and publisher Mark Vinciguerra. Granville Democratic Committee chair Mary Silitch was present at the interview with Andrea Smyth.