Michelle Schimel has been incredibly effective in the New York State Assembly for the past 7 years, and has really come into her own as a leader. In just the past 2 years, 16 of 18 bills she introduced have been passed into law.
She has been stalwart in her advocacy of sensible gun violence protection – was a key sponsor of NY Safe Act, a major accomplishment – as well as the environment, standing on the front lines with protests against fracking (literally, marching along with Reach Out America in the People’s Climate March), and advocating for clean, renewable energy.
She studies and does her homework – educating herself on Climate Change, for example – and coming away with an early alarm about the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement that some in Washington are trying to fast-track, but would basically negate state and local environmental protections.
Schimel is that elected representative who has that increasingly rare combination of intelligence, energy, and heart, and has been on the right side of every issue – that is, she sides with what helps ordinary people rather than corporate interests – but is reasonable, not ideological, so works for commonsense compromise (as she did when she had to give up on her long-time fight for microstamping, in order to get the NY Safe Act passed).
Her opponent, Doug Lee says, “The main reasons I’m running – the economy and the environment. So-called renewables cause pollution [in their manufacture] and are really draining public money in tax subsidies and utility rates – we cannot afford to have these fancy renewables projects which at the same time are very polluting.”
Lee is unabashedly a strong proponent of fracking, believing it is the path to economic growth through lower utility costs, lower taxes, which, he says, will also mean better education – and a strong opponent of renewable energy, maintaining that the manufacturing process of solar panels and wind turbines produces more toxic pollution than fracking (an argument that I had not heard).
But he basically contends that if there are any environmental or public health dangers to fracking, they can be overcome by technology. And he claims that methane is not dangerous to the body – you can drink it, he says – but acknowledges that too much concentration in a house can cause a house to explode. But if technology can overcome the bad results of fracking, why not overcome what he contends are the toxic byproducts of manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines?
“Methane is naturally occurring in the swamps, cattle produce it, we produce it, it’s harmless to the body – can breathe it, drink it,” he told me. What about Climate change? “I believe the [cause] is too much pollution. Methane is totally harmless to the body, with one problem – if it reaches certain concentration inside the house, it can explode – that’s one problem. outside of that, no problem.”
Indeed, Lee argues that a key issue for him is protecting the environment. “We need to do all we can to protect the aquifer… The aquifer is precious, it needs to be protected.”
But on other issues – the 2% property tax cap, the women’s Equality Act provision regarding choice, Race to the Top, public financing of elections, to list but a few – he admits to not being sufficiently informed.
Schimel voted for all 10 points of Women’s Equality Act, including assuring a woman’s right to choose – and was named a champion of Planned Parenthood.’
Lee said that while he supports Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose, he would oppose any further “liberalization” of abortion rights.
But Lee came out for women’s rights – indeed all forms of equality. “Women represent a significant resource in the workforce. I believe in complete equality, equal opportunity. There are family challenges that face every one –health. For an employer to use any differences to disqualify, that employer is losing the opportunity to use a good resource. At my workplace, we create programs for working mothers – flex hours. If we do not do that, we would lose a great human resource.”
Asked about support for a bold offshore windfarm off the south shore of Long Island, which has the best potential for windpower in the country, Schimel said, Like wealth management, we should have diverse portfolio- it won’t just be wind, solar and natural gas (but not hydrofracking). We need to talk distributed generation –a smart grid –this is what need to focus on. I will keep the feet to the fire,to make it happen.” She said that her study of the subject – she has gone to conferences to learn about renewable energy. “Now I’m the one governor looks to, to do the legislation on gun, hope to be the go-to person on energy.”‘
Lee has charged that the state’s investment in developing renewable energy is a waste of taxpayer money.
“Let’s be sensible, understand the process, before we spend precious tax dollars that raise utility rate on small business and squeeze them out of NY, just to be able to say you are for Mother Earth. It does not work.”
Lee also told me in a phone interview that he would have opposed the NY Save Act, which is one of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, because, he said, “it is directed mostly on assault rifles, and it puts a lot of emphasis on the appearance and definition of such a rifle, and I cannot support that act, even though I am for enhancing gun safety. The mental health issue has merit, the rest of the act concentrates on rifles and fails to address the real problem in the state, that are mostly committed with hand guns in poverty areas, typically related to drugs, and I am concerned with number of violent crimes in the state.”
He said he opposed Common Core, and said the $700 million that was spent was a waste (he was not aware that Common Core was a condition of getting $5 billion in federal education aid under Race to the Top).
He said that the 2% property tax cap serves as “a little incentive for schools to control their expenses,” but then said he was not in favor of an artificial cap, but instead, wants policies that would grow the economy in order to generate more taxes (except that the 2% property tax cap does not take into account increases in population or economic activity, since it is only based on the prior year’s tax revenues, and if people are concerned the school board is not using sufficient restraint, they have the ability to vote on the budget which taxpayers do not have for any other municipal budget).
He said he was opposed to StartUp NY, which is says wasted some $200 million on television advertising, and is against to business tax incentives to select enterprises.
“I am more in favor of assistance to all businesses, not just high-tech ventures. There are two areas can assist: reduce taxes for everybody, instead of just cutting taxes for start-ups – if we can reduce the taxes for specific corporations, then we can use that same money, spread around to all – and same for energy discounts, spread to everybody, let’s be fair.”
Lee also said he was open to exploring a public financing mechanism. Schimel has been in favor of campaign finance reform and public financing, as New York City already has.
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