Gun law an issue in State Senate campaign

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 October 2014 at 12:00 am

Destino faults Ortt for ‘simplistic message’

When Rob Ortt goes on the campaign trail, his first order of business tends to be railing against the SAFE Act, the state’s controversial gun control law passed in January 2013.

Ortt says he will work for the law’s repeal if he is elected state senator.

“We need someone who will go to Albany and fight for your Constitutional rights,” Ortt told about 300 people Friday at the Orleans County Fall Republican Rally. ” We need someone to fight for your second amendment rights which are under attack by this governor and his administration in Albany.”

Rob Ortt

Ortt, the North Tonawanda mayor, notes he has an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association and SCOPE (Shooters Committee On Political Education) and has been endorsed by the NY State Rifle and Pistol Association.

He criticized his opponent, Johnny Destino, for having his SCOPE rating downgraded from an A to a C-minus. SCOPE made that decision after Destino voiced support for some SAFE Act provisions and aligned himself with pro-SAFE Act politicians.

“It is a clear conflict of interest for Johnny Destino to enthusiastically accept the endorsement of pro-SAFE Act officials, while telling us he supports the Constitution, and resulted in SCOPE lowering his rating to a C-,” said John Peracciny, Co-Chairman of Niagara County SCOPE.

Ortt’s campaign issued a press release about Destino’s downgraded rating with the comments from the SCOPE official.

Destino says he would have voted against the SAFE Act mainly because of the legislative process, where the law was passed without a proper vetting.

However, he sees merits in some of the legislation, such as enhanced penalties for shooting first responders and for bringing weapons onto school property illegally.

“That entire campaign has been, ‘The SAFE Act is bad, vote for me,'” Destino said about Ortt. “He says his first act as senator would be to sign the bill repealing the SAFE Act. It is going nowhere. I find it offensive that they present a simplistic message.”

Destino, the Democratic endorsed candidate, faulted the Senate Republicans for not standing in the way of the SAFE Act and Common Core, legislation Ortt opposes and has made his top rallying cries on the campaign trail.

“Nothing happened in New York State for the last 50 years without the Senate Republicans going along,” Destino said. “This is another instance where Common Core came along, the state accepted the Race to the Top funds and pushed it through without getting it right.”

Ortt and Destino both say teachers and parents need more input in Common Core. Destino, an attorney in Niagara Falls, is a member of the Boards of Education for Niagara Falls and the Orleans-Niagara BOCES. He said the state botched the implementation of Common Core.

“They mandated that teachers test their students on Common Core curriculum before the curriculum was even in place,” he said. “This requires a foresight that a lot of our career politicians have lost. They’re looking to rush to the next piece of legislation so they can pat themselves on the back without understanding the impact it will have on children, educators and local school boards.”

Ortt said Common Core should be repealed.

“It has been implemented wrong,” he told Republicans at the rally on Friday. “It is a big government, one size fits all solution and it was done without parental involvement and without teacher involvement. I’m all for standards. I think we need standards. But we need standards that make sense.”

The two candidates both want more state funding directed to rural school districts.

“We need to make sure less funding goes downstate and more funding comes upstate, especially for the rural schools,” Ortt said.


Destino said the state cut funding to rural districts, trying to force them to draw down on their fund balances. It has weakened the financial position of districts, and forced many to reduce staff and programs.

He said he would be a strong advocate for public schools, pressing the state on its mandate to provide a free and equitable education.

Ortt, a combat veteran, has the endorsement of Unshackle Upstate and other pro-business groups. He said easing the tax burden on businesses and getting more low-cost power to companies can help the local economy.

He also said farmers tell him they worry about a bill in Albany that would force them to pay overtime wages to farmworkers after 40 hours of work a week. That bill has passed the Assembly, but hasn’t been approved in the State Senate.

“This is obviously introduced by somebody who has never been on a farm or talked to a farmer,” he said. “The day this bill passes they will put their property up for sale. They surely won’t pass it on to their children. You can’t grow crops on Wall Street so I don’t know where they think they will get the stuff from.”

The Republicans have a narrow advantage in the Senate. If the Senate goes into Democrat control, Ortt said downstate Democrats will approve the farm legislation, and other job-killing regulations and burdens for upstate New York.

Destino said the Republican majority in the Senate has largely gone along with the Democrats. He thinks local legislators shouldn’t demonize the Democrats, especially Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The governor has directed state resources to lift the Western New York economy, especially the “Buffalo Billion.” Destino said the success of that initiative should lead to more attention from Cuomo and the state.

Destino wants to see added state resources directed to Orleans and Niagara counties, which wrestle with high unemployment and high taxes.

“You can’t cut off all ties to the governor who is the first one in 40 years to put serious investment into the Western New York economy,” Destino said. “I think that level of cooperation that we see in Erie County with Mayor Brown (of Buffalo), Sen. Tim Kennedy, Assemblyman Sean Ryan is really transforming the landscape of the local economy in Buffalo. In Niagara County and Orleans County we need to really push for the Buffalo Billion program to germinate and help revive what’s really been a down economy for the better part of two decades.”

The low-cost electricity from the Niagara Power Project could be a bigger asset to the region, Destino said. He would like to develop a local grid so all businesses and residents would benefit from reduced energy costs.

He would also push for Broadband in the rural communities, so residents and school districts aren’t at a disadvantage to well-connected peers.

Ortt and Destino will debate today at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Earl Brydges Library, 1425 Main St., Niagara Falls. The are vying to succeed George Maziarz, who is retiring as senator for the 62nd District.