GHENT–The race for Assembly in the 106th District pits incumbent Didi Barrett, now completing her first full term, against Dutchess County Legislator Mike Kelsey.
The district includes the City of Hudson and the Columbia County Towns of Ancram, Claverack, Copake, Gallatin, Germantown, Ghent, Greenport, Livingston and Taghkanic plus nine towns in northern and central Dutchess County stretching south to the Town of Poughkeepsie.
In both counties Democrats hold a slight enrollment advantage over Republicans, but the number of voters not enrolled in any political party almost equals the total number of voters affiliated with each of the two major parties. That factor combined with the voters enrolled in minor parties–Conservative, Independence, Working Families and Green–makes the outcome of state races difficult to predict.
Separate profiles of each candidate appear below.
Didi Barrett, a Democrat also endorsed by the Independence and Working Families parties, is the incumbent member of the Assembly for the 106 Assembly District. She was first elected to the Assembly in March 2012 in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Marcus Molinaro, who became Dutchess County executive. She won a full two-year term in the general election of November 2012. Prior to that Ms. Barrett worked as a journalist and at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. She has a master’s degree in American Folk Art and has been a consultant for other non-profits. She also “started organizations for girls and women in New York City and then up here.”
Ms. Barrett describes herself as a “full-time legislator. I don’t do anything else to supplement my income.” she says.
In her time as a member of the Assembly, she is most proud of a bill “to protect patients with Lyme and the doctors who treat them.” She says the bill offers doctors and patients broader options of treatment and protects doctors from being harassed and sanctioned by the medical establishment, “which doesn’t acknowledge that there is such a thing as chronic Lyme at this point.”
Ms. Barrett voted in favor of the SAFE Act, the gun control legislation introduced by Governor Cuomo last year “because, as a mother, I felt strongly that if there was anything I could do to keep another parent from having to bury a child from gun violence, that was something I was willing to vote for. While it’s not perfect, I have said to my constituents that I am happy to have conversations to look at ways that we can improve it.”
I support the Second Amendment,” she says. “I very much advocate for our sportsmen and women and have voted against micro stamping. I made sure that we got crossbow hunting back in New York State.” But she does not believe that the SAFE Act is the “first step to confiscation” seeing it instead as a way to “keep guns out of the wrong hands.”
Addressing what she says is a frequent but unfounded complaint about the law, she says, “You can give your gun to your kids. It specifically says that passing down guns to family members is legal. I think there are strong feelings among parts of the community that are misrepresenting things.”
On the Unfunded Mandate Reform Act, which Ms. Barrett co-sponsored, she is critical of Governor Cuomo, saying, “When the governor introduced the property tax cap, the other side of that was meant to be serious mandate relief. He put together a task force but they never really came up with anything.” She says is Medicaid is one of the largest mandates not adequately funded by the state. “The state is supposed to be taking over a greater proportion of this. And I’d like to see that happen.”
One project she introduced and is still wants to pursue is to have special needs pre-kindergarten included in state funding. “At the moment, it’s the responsibility of the counties and… basically they’re told: You’ve got to do this, but you’ve got to pay for it.” She says the new state effort to provide universal pre-K should include special needs pre-K.
Of the closures of mental health facilities, Ms. Barrett says, “They’ve been closing way too many and we had a bill this year which I sponsored to basically tell them to stop…. The governor has this idea of regional centers of excellence, which I think is not the right way to go at all.
On education funding, Ms. Barrett noted that she has advocated for the repeal of the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment, which reduces the amount of state aid local school districts receive. “We’ve started the process in the budget this year and I definitely want to see that happen at a much more accelerated rate…. It was instituted at a time when there was a need and that need’s not there anymore and we need to fully fund our schools.”
Ms. Barrett takes a strong stance against raising taxes. “Nobody has ever asked me to increase taxes. Every constituent I’ve ever talked to, every doorbell I’ve ever rung, every diner stop I’ve ever held–they’ve asked me to reduce taxes. As we’ve seen, there’s a lot of waste, there’s a lot of duplication. There’s way too much silo-ing of different agencies. We need to do serious work in breaking down those silos.”
For more go to didibarrett.com or Ms. Barrett’s official Assembly website, http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Didi-Barrett .
Mike Kelsey is the Republican candidate running for the Assembly seat in the 106th District. He also has the endorsement of the Conservative Party.
Mr. Kelsey has been a member of the Dutchess County Legislature for five years, where he represents the towns of Amenia, Washington, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook. He is a lawyer and a part-time professor at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, where he teaches law and philosophy. Mr. Kelsey was a member of the Dutchess County Mental Hygeine Board for eight years. He also runs AWAY Adventure Outfitter and Guide Service, which designs kayaking and hiking trips.
“I’m not a typical politician,” Mr. Kelsey says. “It’s not going to be a career for me.”
Mr. Kelsey says his main areas of focus are mental health issues and his reason for running for the Assembly is that his “influence on guiding mental health services in our community is ineffective now because the powers have been taken away from the counties. The real opportunities for influencing mental health public policy is at the state level.”
He says that he is most proud of the legislative work he did in his first year to keep “mental health funding at the same level…. There was an effort to underfund the mental health clinics. I was able to fight it, resist it, and have the funding restored…. When the economy’s been bad and they need to cut budgets, they’re very quick to go after mental health dollars…. It’s poor public policy when we’re steering money from mental health, putting [mentally ill people] in our jails, so our property taxes are going up to fund jails.”
He says it was also important to him to get “a local law passed, which gave tax relief to low income disabled property owners…. There was some hostility at first [because]… when you give this person a discount, everybody else in the community is paying a little bit more to overcome that.”
Mr. Kelsey says that, if elected, he will attempt to reduce spending by reducing government staff and finding programs that can be better served by private businesses or non-profit organizations. “I have a record for cutting spending. We’ve removed departments, we’ve consolidated departments…The biggest expense in government is really labor. And government can’t be everything.”
He says he is not opposed to privatization, adding that non-profit organizations can sometimes accomplish things less expensively than government. Asked for examples, Mr. Kelsey points to “children’s services,” asking, “Is that something that government should be doing? Or is it non-profit?
“I worked in a mental health nonprofit” that received government money, he says. “We were not government employees,” which reduced costs.
Of the SAFE Act, the state gun control law adopted in 2013, Mr. Kelsey said, “I believe that the SAFE Act was passed in haste and I would work to have it repealed.”
He faults state legislators for their actions to “close state hospitals, privatize mental health industries, strip the counties, and take the money that was intended to offset closure of the hospital and help people.”
He says the state closed the Hudson River Psychiatric Center and his mother had been a patient there. “What got me involved in county legislature five years ago was mental health and that when my mom was hospitalized there [were no] mental health beds…”
Mr. Kelsey calls property taxes “an antiquated system,” saying, “I would prefer income tax over property tax or a hybrid. I’ve never said I will not raise taxes… Taxes are a necessity to live in a just society. And I think people are willing to pay a tax—whether it’s for roads, whether it’s for police—for services in the community. But they expect it to be spent wisely. So you need to root out the waste, you need to have the trust.”
But he says, “People have limits on what they can afford and when taxes get so high people… get to the point where they say: ‘I don’t need these services any more, I can’t pay any more.’ And we’ve passed that point.”
Mr. Kelsey says he has been working the county’s tax collection process, trying to make it more uniform.
On infrastructure, Mr. Kelsey says he has noticed in “a lot of bridges that are shut down” which he believes indicates the municipality couldn’t afford the repair costs. “In Dutchess, if there’s a bridge shut down or threatened to be shut down, people will cry bloody murder.
Mr. Kelsey opposes the Common Core curriculum standards and universal pre-kindergarten. “The reason [the Common Core] came about was money was waved—a carrot—and the state needed the money and took it and implemented the system.” He says legislators gave up their “responsibilities” by doing that. “Our education system could always use reform, but I think that it’s a local approach. It should be talking to parents, it should be talking to school board members, teachers.”
On universal pre-K, Mr. Kelsey says, “You’re expanding the role of government. You’re adding a whole other layer of education, which kids are already receiving. You have private businesses that provide nursery school and quite well… So now our taxes go up. We’re putting our daycare centers out of business to do this… I think it’s really just daycare at taxpayer expense.”
For more go to votemikekelsey.com .