Wood wants to be an independent voice in Albany
Evelyn Wood, who is running to represent the state’s 114th Assembly District on the Serve America Movement party line, is looking to make tough budget decisions, improve infrastructure and wilderness maintenance, and be an independent voice to Albany.
She is skeptical of hiking permits, wants to amend Medicare and bail reform, and fund bridge upkeep.
She is a 43-year-old lifelong Thurman resident who lives with her husband and two teenage daughters on the farm where she was born and raised. She was the town’s supervisor from 2010 to 2017, when she resigned amid acrimony with the town board majority. She is running for the Assembly seat that includes Essex, Warren and parts of Washington and Saratoga counties — currently held by Dan Stec, who is running for state Senate instead.
Wood’s opponents for the seat are Republican Matt Simpson and Democrat Claudia Braymer. The Enterprise will publish its interview story on Simpson Friday and Braymer Saturday.
Braymer said at a Saranac Lake rally in October that Wood, as a third-party candidate, would not have a “seat at the table” in the Democratic-led Assembly. Wood disagrees. She believes when third-party lamakers enters a gridlocked situation, they have the power of the swing vote to move legislation along. She said Republicans and Democrats alike would court her vote, involve her on both sides of the aisle and allow her to facilitate discussions.
“We need a third voice, somebody else to call them both out,” Wood said. “I’m guaranteed to do that because I can’t help myself.”
As a new, third-party member, Wood said she would not have much choice on the committees she is assigned to, but she would like to sit on the Environmental Conservation Committee and anything involving broadband high-speed internet.
She also is interested in forming a committee focusing on ticks and invasive species.
The state is currently in a multi-billion-dollar deficit, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and faces the possibility of large, sweeping budget cuts. In April, when the state Legislature passed the 2020-21 budget, it also gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his state Division of Budget sweeping powers over a “rolling state budget,” with the discretion to make cuts during the budget year if funds fall short.
Wood said the Legislature should not have given the governor those powers, but she has a route planned to return those powers to the Assembly and Senate “as soon as possible.”
She said the state’s deficit issue has been building for a while with no long-term solutions, and she questioned if federal assistance can help or not.
“It will Band-Aid it for now, but the bottom line is, if you don’t actually take a hard look at how you’re budgeting and what you need to do, once that federal money dries up, you’re still going to need the money to run it,” Wood said.
She said the state’s Medicaid program takes up a large portion of the budget gap with inefficiencies. She called the program “archaic.”
Wood opposes the state “raiding” certain budgets to make up deficits in the general fund.
“I think if we’re being taxed for something, that’s where the money ought to be going to,” Wood said. “The roads and bridges fund is being raided fairly regularly to balance the general fund.”
She is concerned about both bridges and roads, but especially bridges.
“Bridge inspections, last I knew, were fairly behind,” Wood said. “We do need to replace quite a few of our bridges.”
Mental health services is one area she thinks should be off limits for cutting.
“Honestly, we probably already don’t do enough,” Wood said.
Wood said she is glad Adirondack tourism promotion is working, saying the area needs it. However, she said increased use of the Forest Preserve requires increased management.
“DEC has been short on staff for a very long time,” Wood said. “We definitely need more boots on the ground. … If you don’t take care of what you have, you will lose it.”
Calls for more forest rangers are frequent, but Wood said the Department of Environmental Conservation also needs more “game wardens” (the official current term is environmental conservation officers), which she said is an overlooked position.
She is not fully decided on whether she supports requiring permits for the High Peaks Wilderness but is currently leaning against it. The High Peaks are supposed to be public land, which the entire state chips in to pay for with their taxes, she said, and she does not want to turn new hikers off from starting.
Wood said she would like to get rid of a tax, introduced in 2019, on laying fiber-optic cable along state highways. She said it “crippled internet providers” and their ability to lay cable to the “last mile,” from trunk lines to homes and businesses.
“We also should be looking at who we’re funding for broadband expansion,” Wood said. She said some companies are “cherry picking” where they build, leaving out underserved rural areas.
“I’m not super-fond of a single(-payer) health care plan,” Wood said. “I think that competition is good.”
Competition keeps rates low and allows for options for people’s different needs, she said, and single-payer plans range in quality.
Medicaid currently has restrictive rules about whether it will pay for a service, she said.
“Unfortunately, in the real world, people’s health care doesn’t always adhere to Medicaid rules,” Wood said. “When physicians are treating their patients, they need to do what is in the best interests of their patients, and that results in a lot of times, them not getting paid.”
Wood said that for adults, every wage should be a living wage, but not for students who are not providing for their own households. It is a “fine balance,” she said.
She is against raising the rate more than it is right now. She believes the $15-per-hour rate is “reasonable” for downstate New York but would be “crippling” to small and large businesses here.
She said when the starting wage gets higher, the difference between staring pay and long-term employee pay shrinks.
Wood said she would like to see the minimum wage handled nationally, with a regional approach.
Police, justice reform
Wood said she was the chair of the Warren County Public Safety Department for several years and worked with the sheriff department and jails. She said corrections officers are “unsung heroes.”
Wood said she believes there are “structural inequities” in the police and justice systems, but she said the bail reform passed at the beginning of this year did not address those flaws as well as it could have.
“The public has not been happy; I know I am not happy with it,” Wood said.
She said she would support repealing the reforms but believes it is more likely to be amended in parts. She said she would like to reduce the list of exempted offenses, as she believes people being released after being charged with certain “nonviolent” crimes may still be dangerous to the public. She noted, for example, that carrying a gun onto school property is currently on that list.
Wood said there are many times she has changed her mind on issues, but one example stood out. She said she ran for Thurman town supervisor on the promise of saving the town’s emergency medical services department, which was experiencing dropping membership and finances. She said this was an emotional issue in town, and she was determined to save it.
“It didn’t happen,” Wood said. “There was no way to keep it without seriously hurting the town financially. … When you’re the town supervisor, you’re the chief financial officer. Your job is to watch the tax dollars.”
In 2013, the town signed a contract for $50,000 a year to share services with the nearby town of Warrensburg. It is locked in at that rate, and she said the town is getting a higher level of service for less money. She said some people are still upset by this decision, but she stands by it.