BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — Last week’s virtual candidate’s forum for the 112th Assembly District saw Republican incumbent Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh and Democratic Party challenger Joe Seeman stake out their positions during opening remarks and hold on to them tightly for the next hour.
The Oct. 13 forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County with questions solicited from the public. The moderator for the forum was Deb Peck Kelleher. The video was posted to the League’s YouTube channel the following day.
The unusual event was a sign of the times and unlike an in-person debate, its virtual reality gave the candidates opportunities to use position cards, albeit surreptitiously, instead of speaking extemporaneously.
Seeman is a retired civil servant, a 30-year union member, and a longtime area activist.
In his opening statement, he noted that he has fought for years to protect the environment, to get health care for frontline workers, stood up to billionaire corporations and political corruption, and supports Main Street, not Wall Street.
Walsh is a two-term Assembly incumbent, an attorney, and served on the Town of Ballston’s Town Board, Planning Board, and Zoning Board of Appeals.
In her opening remarks, she noted several accomplishments as a member of the Assembly’s minority and said in her four years in the legislative body she has seen a clear shift to the Left both politically and legislatively. Where there was once compromise and consensus-building Walsh said that shift is now getting bills passed that would never have made it out of committee in the past.
“I want to voice reason and balance in a more progressively imbalanced branch of government,” she said.
The dozen questions posed to the candidates focused on the loss of tax revenue to local governments and school districts, equal enforcement of the law, health care, income inequality, childcare, mental illness, and challenges to the 112th Assembly District.
In many of his answers, Seeman found ways to bring forth one of his major positions; the state needs to close its tax loopholes that allow for corporate welfare and start taxing the ultra-wealthy.
Walsh countered time and time again that the state has a $168 billion budget and it can be closely reviewed for fraud and waste and “there is plenty of room to cut” without imposing more taxes.
In answering a question on what proposals the candidates had to help local governments manage the loss of tax revenues Seeman said there was really only one way to do it, close the corporate loopholes.
“My opponent proposes austerity yet there are tax breaks for buying yachts and jets,” he said. “We need to make the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share and then we can fully fund government and schools.”
Walsh saw it differently and stuck to her position that the state budget is bloated.
“I don’t believe in taxing people is the only solution,” she said. “In a $168 billion budget there is plenty of reason to cut; we need to look there first. Taxes are a last resort.”
Walsh added that she wants the state to take on 25 percent of local governments’ Medicaid costs as a way of helping them out financially.
In answering a question centered on the equal enforcement of the law and what the candidates would do to make sure the system is more just, Walsh said she sees a justice system that is now skewed to benefit those accused of crimes. Citing the Raise the Age law and the Bail and Discovery Reform law, Walsh said taken together they had made “our communities less safe”.
“We need to reexamine the reforms and take a second look,” she said. “After years of a very liberal-driven agenda, the policies have emboldened criminal behavior, scaled back penalties, and undermined the authority of law enforcement agencies to provide public safety for our communities.”
Seeman focused his response on the wealthy saying society and legislators need to make sure, “if you’re rich or poor the justice system treats you the same”.
In answering a question on access to the Affordable Care Act, Walsh pointed to Seeman’s support of the NY Health Act saying it is way too costly and had proved disastrous in Vermont, the one state where it was tried. Walsh said she wanted to take a look at people caught in the middle who can’t afford healthcare from private companies or through the Affordable Care Act.
Seeman stood by his support of the NY Health Act; legislation that would provide comprehensive, universal health coverage for every resident and worker, replacing existing private insurance company coverage. Residents, towns, and local governments would all save money with the Act allowing the towns and local governments to reduce taxes, he said.
“Let’s stop paying billions of dollars to corporations and put that money into health care,” he said. “If we have health care for all New Yorkers people will want to move here and create jobs.”
There were areas where the two candidates agreed. Both agreed childcare, as well as high speed internet and cell phone, are necessities.
On the issue of childcare both agreed tax credits were the way to go however, Seeman noted that as a Democrat, if elected he’d be in the majority in the Assembly and could make sure the credits were part of the state budget.
On the issue of high-speed internet and cell phone service both said they should now be viewed as necessities.
Virtual LWV candidate forums have been held Oct. 14 for Assembly District 113 and Oct. 20 for Congressional District 20.
The final virtual forum is scheduled for Oct. 28 with incumbent state Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, and challenger Thearse McCalmon, D-Schenectady.