Race begins for Little’s 45th Sen. District seat
GLENS FALLS — While North Country politicians are issuing valedictions to the now-outgoing state Sen. Betty Little, the political dominoes are starting to fall and the scramble to fill her seat in an election 11 months from now has begun.
Little announced Thursday that she is not seeking reelection in 2020, and that could result in open seats for the Assembly and Senate districts, if Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, decides to run for her seat.
The 45th state Senate district includes all of Warren, Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties and parts of St. Lawrence and Washington counties.
Democrat seeks to flip seat
Democratic candidate Kimberly Davis, of Plattsburgh, said she started her campaign in May with two plans. Plan “A” was for if she was running against Little, whom she said “would have been a formidable opponent.” She started plan “B” on Thursday.
“I want to thank Betty Little for her many years of service to the North Country,” Davis said in a press release. “I appreciate that she has served her constituents in the various elected positions she has held. Although we differ on political ideology, I respect her commitment to her constituents through her extended service in the New York State Senate and other public offices.”
In a phone call with the Enterprise, Davis said she does not think it is likely she will see a primary contention in her bid for the Democratic line.
“There are only three upstate Democrats in the state Senate,” Davis said. “We need to make sure that the Democrats from New York City and Long Island are getting the perspective from someone within their own party of the very real issues we have here that they kind of take for granted.”
One of those issues is cell service, which Davis said she does not have in her house. While she said some of her issues, like broadband, are similar to Little’s, others are different.
Davis said she supports stronger measures to combat climate change than Little has voted on, saying she would have voted for the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which passed this summer. Little did not vote for that act.
Tupper Lake village Mayor Paul Maroun said he believes the district will be difficult for a Democrat to win.
“It’s a conservative district,” Maroun said. “A lot of the people in this district aren’t in favor of a lot of the issues that the governor and the majority in both houses have passed so far.”
He said Davis would have to follow the liberal line on issues like gun control, prison reform and drug reform, which he said do not have support in the North Country like they do elsewhere.
“When you look at the (voter) registration, it isn’t as lopsided as people think it is,” Davis told the Post-Star.
As of Nov. 1, the district has 70,537 registered Republicans, 58,943 Democrats, 11,466 Independence Party members and 37,277 people with no party affiliation, according to state Board of Elections data.
“There are plenty of people in our region that vote for the person — not necessarily the party. I think when people see who I am, what I represent, my background; I don’t think they’ll have any problem in voting for me,” Davis said.
Little had not had a competitive race in years. She easily defeated Democratic challenger Emily Martz — 61% to 36% — in the November 2018 election. Martz was Little’s first major party opponent since 2006, when she defeated Tim Merrick by a 2-1 margin. She was uncontested in subsequent elections until 2016, when Green Party candidate Steve Ruzbacki mounted a challenge. He received 12% of the votes compared with 88% for Little.
Martz did not return a Facebook message on Thursday seeking comment about whether she had an interest in the seat.
Davis has served as Clinton Country treasurer since 2014. Davis said among her top issues are being responsible with taxpayer dollars.
“Taxes are too high. If someone wants to bring a bill that has an associated cost, they better tell me how they are going to pay for it. Waste and inefficiency in government cannot be tolerated,” she said in a news release.
Maroun said there may be a primary contest on the Republican line and that he is “looking at” running for Little’s seat in 2020.
Assemblyman to run?
Warren County Republican Committee Chairman Mike Grasso said Thursday he believes Stec will seek Little’s seat. He has talked to him in the past, and Stec aspires to move up to be a senator, Grasso said.
“Dan is ready to run for that spot,” Grasso said.
Stec was unopposed for reelection in November 2018 to a fourth two-year term in the Assembly.
“Dan is well-liked and has done a great job and has been a real voice for the North Country, so I don’t see anybody stepping up to oppose him for that seat,” Grasso added.
That being said, the county committees are going to be getting together in January to hold endorsement meetings, according to Grasso.
Stec declined to comment Thursday when asked whether he would seek Little’s seat.
“There will be a time in the not-too-distant future to talk about politics and her seat,” he said.
Stec did point out that his political career has followed a similar path to hers — starting in local government on the Queensbury Town Board for two terms, then town supervisor from 2004 to 2012 and then representing the 114th Assembly District for the last seven years.
Before being elected to the Senate in 2002, Little served in the Assembly. She was voted in through a special election in 1995 to replace James King, who resigned to become a judge. Little started her political career as a Queensbury at-large county supervisor.
Assembly seat in flux
If Stec were to run, it would open up his Assembly seat. Grasso said there have been a few people that have expressed interest. He has heard some rumblings that Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland, of Willsboro, may be interested.
Grasso said he had wanted to consider Rachel Seeber, but she was just elected to her old position as an at-large Queensbury supervisor.
Glens Falls Third Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer, a Democrat, has expressed interest in running for the position.
Braymer, an attorney, said Thursday she would make a final decision on whether to seek Stec’s Assembly seat early in the new year.
If she did run, Braymer said she would like to focus on increasing affordable housing, expanding cell coverage and working to retain and attract workers.
“One of the most important things is to bring the voice of the North Country to Albany,” she said.
The 45th district is the largest geographic state Senate district in New York and Maroun said that for whoever is running for Little’s now-opening seat will need a lot of money and will need to travel a lot of miles.
Being in the minority
Grasso said he was a little surprised by Little’s announcement as he had been talking with her throughout the year and she said she was still running.
“As far as I knew interested in retaining the seat,” he said. “I know she was with her family over Thanksgiving and we had a brief discussion. I think everybody in the family said ‘spend more time with us.'”
When asked about whether the Democrats taking control of the state Senate in 2019 for the first time in almost a decade influenced Little’s decision, Grasso said it probably did.
“I’m as sure being in the minority is no fun, especially when you have both houses and the governor with a very liberal tilt to it,” he said. “You’re constantly opposing what’s coming at you and you can do nothing about it.”
Little herself said at the press conference that this year has been challenging being in the minority.
Grasso expressed confidence that the seat would remain in GOP hands.
“I think this is a Republican district. Trump won it. I think the Democrats will throw money up here,” he said, adding that he cannot see voting in a Democrat to replace Little after the job she did representing the district.
Other Republican state senators have decided not to run for reelection, including George Amedore, of Rotterdam, in the 46th District.