NEW YORK—Incumbent New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Wendy Long are both female, and trained as attorneys, but that is where their similarities stop.
During a televised debate at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs Wednesday the contenders presented a sharp contrast in views on a variety of issues, including whether to open the state to the natural gas extraction method known as hydrofracking, jobs creation, gun control, and taxes.
Gillibrand said that hydrofracking is a significant economic opportunity and potentially clean source of energy. Yet, aligning with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, she said that before allowing it the process should be further studied to find out what “chemicals, concentration[s], and formulas” are being used by gas companies.
Gillibrand also said companies need to have agreements in place about how to treat naturally occurring elements found in the water culled from deep wells, such as radium.
Most importantly, she said, since the state has clean drinking water that two major industries—tourism and agriculture—rely on, the government should require companies to clean up wells after they’’re finished with them.
Long said, “All the concerns you cite are just phony concerns,” adding that hydrofracking has been happening for decades in states such as Ohio and West Virginia. “In West Virginia it’s called the gold rush,” she said.
“People of upstate need to get going with hydrofracking,” Long said. “It could spur what you talk about, but which isn’t happening, which is a manufacturing renaissance in this state. The price of energy could come down so much that we could get manufacturing actually going again.”
Long repeatedly attacked Gillibrand on her jobs record, saying she has created job legislation but hasn’t actually created jobs.
Gillibrand said upstate New York’s best work opportunities exist in its private and public universities and great manufacturing tradition. New York’s future is in advanced manufacturing, including nanotechnology, biotechnology, and energy technology, including wind, solar, and fuel cells,” said Gillibrand.
“That doesn’t get outsourced,” Gillibrand said. “We need to see made-in-America and we need to see it right here in upstate New York.”
Gun control sparked another exchange between the two, with Long pointing to Gillibrand’s support of Second Amendment rights when she was in Congress to the extent that the National Rifle Association gave her an A grade. But Gillibrand recently got an F grade because of her “180 flip,” Long said.
Gillibrand said she still supports the Second Amendment but after she became senator her interactions with New Yorkers across the state differed from those in her old district.
“I’ve been outspoken about common-sense legislation that could be bipartisan,” Gillibrand said. “That’s not about lawful gun owners, it’s about the criminals and giving law enforcement the tools they need to find them and to be able to make sure they are not bringing in guns from out of state.”
Long said the root cause of crime is criminals and that “you don’t solve this problem by hindering the rights of law-abiding citizens.” She wants to protect Second Amendment rights for hunters, and those who use guns for self-defense and other purposes.
A lightening round included Gillibrand declining to reinstitute the death penalty while Long would; Gillibrand supporting public money being used to fund PBS and Long saying no, while adding she thinks it could survive otherwise; and Long in favor of, and Gillibrand against, cities and towns publicizing the names of persons arrested for patronizing prostitutes.
Taxes and budget
The moderators and Gillibrand pressed Long on her vow not to raise taxes, but Long maintained that economic growth could happen through cutting taxes and amending the tax code to favor private sector growth. The main way to attack debt and deficits is cutting spending, she said, later adding, “I’d be willing to cut in any and all areas of the federal budget.”
“The federal government spends too much, and the answer to this problem is not to increase taxes,” Long said. “ The more we increase taxes the more spending will follow.”
Gillibrand agreed that cutting taxes, especially for small businesses, is important, but she did not give an answer when Long asked her to name where she would support budget cuts.
“I can tell you we do have tough choices to make. We can tighten our belt, we could tighten our spending, but we have to do it precisely and carefully,” said Gillibrand.
Crumbling roads, bridges, and water systems across our state need rebuilding as part of creating a growing economy, along with new projects such as high-speed rail and rural broadband, she said.
Political integrityIn her closing statement, suggesting that she is not a “professional politician,” Long brought up the fact that people don’t trust Democrats or Republicans anymore. Earlier she had criticized Gillibrand for not calling for the resignation of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is being investigated for authorizing a confidential payoff of two women who accused Assemblyman Vito Lopez of sexual harassment.
“This is a big scandal,” Long said. “[W]hy will you not call for his resignation? In fact, will you join me tonight?”
The actions of Lopez were disgraceful, and Silver was wrong not to make the payoff public, Gillibrand said, but she stopped short of calling for Silver’s resignation. After the current investigation is over “we will know whether or not it was done improperly,” she said.
The debate Wednesday was the first and only debate between the two candidates, who are running for a six-year term as U.S. senator in November’s election.
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