GHENT–Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin is moving south, or so he hopes. He currently represents the 108th District, which includes the northern tier of towns in Columbia County. But in the general election this fall Mr. McLaughlin, who has decided to seek reelection to a third term, will run in the newly redrawn 107th District, which includes his current district’s Columbia County towns of New Lebanon, Chatham and Kinderhook, and now also takes in Canaan, Austerlitz and Hillsdale.
He will not be running in Stuyvesant, which has been lopped off into the 102nd District along with Stockport, but that’s another story. (And that’s only the Assembly districts. The state Senate redistricting means all of Columbia County will be part of the 43rd District, currently represented by Republican Roy McDonald.)
Assemblyman McLaughlin said he was not targeted in the redistricting process by the Assembly Democratic majority, which redrew the district lines after the last census with an eye toward partisan advantage, just as the Republican majority did in the Senate. His new district increases his GOP registration advantage by about 2%.
No Democratic challenger has yet announced locally an intention to run against Mr. McLaughlin, although there is time for a Democrat or independent to enter the race.
This is a quiet time in state government following passage of the state budget–on time for the second year in a row. That gives Mr. McLaughlin bragging rights and some time to introduce himself in the new parts of the district he hopes to represent and to renew old ties in the rest of the redrawn district, which stretches straight north through most of Rensselaer County and into southern Washington County .
Despite the improved odds his new district gives him, Mr. McLaughlin voted no on the redistricting bill. He said in an interview this week that the process was not open or fair, and he couldn’t support it.
He said that both Governor Cuomo and the legislature deserve credit for adopting a “functional” budget. But while the spending plan may be in balance at the moment, the larger issue of unfunded state mandates remains unresolved, he said. The assemblyman, who lives in Melrose, said that among the most burdensome requirements affecting school districts are the “Wicks Law,” a state statute governing the bidding process on construction projects over $500,000 that officials say raises costs for taxpayers and supporters say reduces corruption, and the “Triborough Law,” which maintains the terms of labor contracts with public employees even if a contract expires. Mr. McLaughlin believes Triborough reduces the incentive for public employee unions to settle on new contract terms.
The assemblyman also sees an unfunded mandate in the newly adopted teacher evaluation legislation, which he says requires districts to adopt a system of teacher evaluations that meets state standards but provides no money to pay for the systems.
He strongly supports cuts to the Medicaid program, a burden shared by the state and the counties.
Mr. McLaughlin is proud of his record of working across the aisle in the Assembly, where Democrats hold a commanding majority, and with the governor, a Democrat, though one who has been at odds with the party’s traditional base over the last two years. He acknowledges that it is difficult for his caucus to affect individual pieces of legislation, but he says Republicans can raise their voices to bring public attention to situations they believe are wrong. As an example, he says that pressure from the minority caused the majority to debate the budget bills in daylight sessions over several days rather than cast votes in the middle of the night for bills no one on the floor had read, a practice common in previous years.
One new state program he expressed “mixed feelings” about is the creation of Regional Development Councils. He approves of the concept of involving local officials and businesses in decisions about how funding is allocated, but he says, no new funding was put into economic development, it was only a matter of the state having “redirected” existing funds.
“One of the best things the state can do is start addressing the mandates,” he said, adding, “Start helping local businesses.”