Democrat Joanne Yepsen will finally get her chance to challenge Republican state Sen. Roy McDonald.
The three-term Saratoga Springs county supervisor first tried to run for the Senate’s 43rd district after longtime state senator Joseph Bruno abruptly resigned in June 2008. At the time, then-state Assemblyman McDonald was the favorite to run on the Republican ticket.
But the signatures on Yepsen’s petitions were challenged and thrown out, and McDonald faced Democrat Michael Russo and won the seat decisively.
“It was a good opportunity to lay the groundwork,” Yepsen said of the experience. “It enabled us to jump right in this time around.”
This year, Yepsen’s campaign hit the ground running. Now, she’s hoping to capitalize on anti-incumbent sentiment to finally take back the seat that has been a Republican stronghold since 1965.
McDonald, 63, is banking on his record of accomplishment at the state and local levels during more than three decades as a public official. He said his working-class roots gave him a deep appreciation of the needs of his electorate and the ethic it takes to effect change in Albany.
“My motivating force is my blue-collar roots,” he said.
McDonald’s seat will be an important one for the Republicans to protect, considering they are hoping to reclaim the majority they lost the year he was elected. The GOP was able to regain control of the chamber briefly during a coalition coup last year but lost it a short time later.
Now the Republicans will need to gain at least two of the 62 district seats up for election in order to secure a majority. And the prize for securing a majority will give the winning party a chance to have a profound effect on the redistricting of New York in 2011.
The incoming Senate majority will also have plenty of work in front of it when the legislative session begins in January. The majority will need to find a way to rein in spending to help diminish the state’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit.
McDonald’s focus will be to continue pressuring state government to curb spending. As a senator, he said, he voted against the past two budgets because he found them both to be laden with excessive spending that was burdensome to taxpayers.
“They were a disgrace,” he said of the budgets.
McDonald, who works part-time as a banker, said his background as a politician makes him the ideal candidate to help reduce the state’s budget. Before being elected to the state Assembly’s 112th district in 2002, McDonald served 23 years as the town supervisor of Wilton, where he helped to eliminate its local tax; he also served as chairman of the Board of Supervisors when property taxes in Saratoga County declined.
In both instances, he said economic development and job creation led to increased revenue for municipal coffers. In short, he said, this is the type of focus state legislators should have as they try to formulate a plan to solve New York’s budget woes.
“The main issue is keep the people working, and get the people who aren’t working into real jobs,” he said.
In addition, McDonald said the state needs to find a way to control property taxes. With state spending reduced and property taxes brought under control, he said New York would be more attractive to the companies that bring jobs.
“The biggest obstacle we’ve had in doing this in many cases is the state of New York,” he said.
Since being elected, McDonald has sponsored legislation to help families cope with autism. The grandfather of two autistic children, he helped advance a law that will help secure insurance coverage for people with the disorder.
Above all, McDonald touts his background as a member of the working class who struggled to get where he is in life today. He said his blue-collar roots give him insight into the plight of his constituents as they struggle to make ends meet.
“The more regular people you get in the Legislature with working-class backgrounds, the better you are,” he said.
Yepsen, 51, believes she can serve the district better than McDonald has over the past two years. She said her incumbent opponent hasn’t been responsive to district residents, which is something she’s heard often on the campaign trail.
“I’ve gone to 8,000 homes already to talk to them about what they want to see from their next senator,” she said. “The line I always hear is, ‘We’re not getting our money’s worth.’ ”
Yepson pledged to serve the district as a full-time senator, even though the job is part time. Unlike her opponent, she said she won’t seek any outside employment if elected to serve the district.
More importantly, Yepsen said she’ll try to work with all legislators — regardless of their political affiliation — to help curb spending in Albany. She said the state must become more business friendly so that revenue streams can grow and the burden on taxpayers can shrink.
“We have a fiscal debt that we have to address whether we like it or not,” she said.
Yepsen proposes to freeze taxes and impose a property tax cap. She also believes the Legislature should fully investigate government consolidation at both the state and local levels, while ending unfunded mandates.
“We can’t just shift the cost to property owners,” she said. “And we can’t spend the money that the state doesn’t have.”
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