Election leaves area with just 1 rep in any majority

After last Tuesday, most of the North Country has almost no elected representatives in the majority in any legislative body — one in Albany and none in Washington.

While the state Assembly remained in Democratic control and the state Senate flipped from a one-vote Republican majority to a significant Democratic majority, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties voted out five-term Assemblywoman Addie Jenne, D-Theresa, choosing Republican Mark Walczyk instead for the 116th District. Other than Democratic Assemblyman Billy Jones of Chateaugay, all of the other North Country Assembly members — Kenneth Blankenbush, Robert Smullen, Daniel Stec — are Republicans, as are the state senators. But what actual effect this will have remains to be seen.

“I don’t necessarily see it as a significant problem,” said Jack McGuire, associate professor of political science at SUNY Potsdam.

McGuire acknowledged that Republicans are limited in what they can do, but pointed out that even upstate Democratic members of the Assembly from cities such as Buffalo and Syracuse have different priorities that have to be balanced against the New York City delegation.

“If you’re an Assembly or Senate Republican, the worst thing about New York state is they really limit the influence you can have on the chamber,” he said. “(But) even some state aid is by formula, so that’s not going away anytime soon.”

As for the aid that is not assigned by formula, McGuire does not think its loss will do much damage to the district.

“All that stuff is getting votes for the incumbent,” he said.

Jilian Jaeger, assistant professor in the Department of Government at St. Lawrence University, Canton, said she thinks the impacts may be more severe.

“It will be interesting to see if Walczyk — a newcomer and in the minority — will be able to bring back the same level of pork that a lot of businesses and organizations in the North Country are used to,” she wrote in an email to the Times. “I think he is going to have more trouble enacting his agenda than he realizes, but I appreciate his optimism.”

Beyond pork, Jaeger said, she thinks the change in control could affect the overall North Country economy.

“I do know when Democrats last held power there were some severe changes to rural economies as many prisons were closed,” she wrote. “There could certainly be some changes to the way that tax dollars flow to various programs as well.”

McGuire sees the Senate flip as something that should have happened some time ago, delayed only by a number of Democrats who broke away to caucus with the Republicans. If Democratic control of both houses continues past the 2020 census, when the state representation will be redistricted, McGuire said he thinks it is possible the Democrats can hold power for a long time in New York.

“New York is becoming very much a one-party state,” McGuire said. “The Republican Party is really just a shell of itself.”

McGuire said he believes one-party rule is a negative for the state overall and that divided governance provides more of a check.

As for national representation, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand remain in the minority in D.C., and for the first time, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik will be in the minority as well. Jaeger said he thinks Stefanik may be able to turn this to her advantage, though.

“The sitting senators have experience being in the minority party, and Rep. Stefanik is familiar with serving a purple district,” she wrote. “For Stefanik it is definitely going to take some adjustments to figure out how you can be effective while in the minority, but she’s smart. If she wants to hold onto her seat in 2020, she will find a way to work with Democrats, which, honestly, could end up boosting her overall support in the North Country.”

As far as finances go, McGuire said he thinks not much will change.

“Schumer and the New York delegation have done a good job of bringing back New York’s share,” he said.

Because Stefanik is not part of the leadership of the House, her role will not change much, McGuire said.

“Unless something dramatic happens, I don’t think Stefanik is going to get removed from her committees,” he said.

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