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State Senate, a last bastion of GOP control in NY government, flips to Democrats

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 November 2018 at 10:23 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: State Sen. Robert Ortt speaks on Oct. 25 during the Orleans County Fall Republican Rally.

The state government’s leadership is dominated by Democrats in all the state-wide elected positions including the governor and the State Assembly is solid Democrat control. The 63-member Senate has been the lone Republican-led chamber.

But starting Jan. 1, Democrats will take the reins of the Senate following Tuesday’s election that gives Democrats 39 of the seats.

That has many Republicans concerned that there will be no backstop for more progressive policies that may not fit in conservative-leaning and economically challenged Upstate New York.

“A Democratic majority is a setback and is not a positive development for Western New York,” said State Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda.

The Senate, under Republican control, was a staunch advocate for rural New York and upstate, Ortt said.

Now the state government will be fully led by leaders from downstate and urban areas.

“There are larger policy implications,” Ortt said on Wednesday. “From a rural perspective, funding for upstate schools and infrastructure, and gun rights are in jeopardy or are at risk of being put on the back burner.”

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County Democrat, is likely to become the majority leader in January.

The all-Democrat leadership in the state government has a 100-day plan to adopt left-leaning policies. The Democrats want to expand immigrant rights, expand abortion access, legalize recreational marijuana and do away with connecting teacher evaluations to student test scores.

During the Orleans County Fall Republican Rally on Oct. 25, Ortt said he worries a Democrat-led State Senate would push for more gun control and restrictions in a “SAFE Act 2.0.”

In recent years the Assembly has passed a farm labor bill that would give farmworkers overtime wages and the right to collective bargaining. The bill, which is strongly opposed by New York Farm Bureau, was fought by the Senate and never became law.

“Agriculture will be doomed if the Senate becomes Democratic,” Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, said at the Republican rally.

Ortt on Wednesday said he will remain an advocate for agriculture and other upstate interests.

“I’m not a big sulker,” he said. “I still have a job to do.”

He and other Republican senators will no longer lead committees in the Senate. And Ortt said the Republicans may have less funding to direct to their districts.

He has secured funds in recent years for hospitals, museums, libraries and municipalities.

“I don’t expect the same attention financially,” he said. “It’s possible there will be less funding. The upstate not-for-profits will have to do a reassessment if they have been counting on the money in their budgets.”

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