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Local politicians weigh in on GOP convention

Local politicians weigh in on GOP convention

Michael Cuevas isn’t making any guarantees, but he’s hopeful this week’s Republican National Convent

Michael Cuevas isn’t making any guarantees, but he’s hopeful this week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland will go off without any major problems.

Schenectady County’s Republican Committee chairman will be inside Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, today at 1 p.m. as the Republicans prepare to officially nominate billionaire Donald Trump as their candidate for the presidency. Cuevas is serving as one of three Republican delegates from the 20th Congressional District along with John Herrick from Saratoga County and Christine Benedict, the Albany County chair. Cuevas and Benedict are pledged Trump delegates, and Herrick is assigned to Ohio Governor John Kasich.

“I think many long-tenured and establishment Republicans have become encouraged with Trump,” said Cuevas, who didn’t support Trump until after he won the New York primary in April. “He released his list of potential Supreme Court nominees, and most of us felt good about that list, and the announcement of [Indiana Governor] Mike Pence as his running mate is another indication that his campaign is headed in the right direction.”

Cuevas said he was happy that the movement to derail Trump’s nomination — “Dump Trump” — failed to make any serious headway at last week’s rules committee meeting. Colorado delegate Kendal Unrah put forth the idea of allowing members to “cast a vote of conscience” and vote for whichever presidential candidate they preferred on the first ballot, but the proposal was convincingly defeated by a voice vote Thursday.

“Anything like that wasn’t going to get much support,” said Cuevas. “These conventions are generally about bringing the party together after the primaries, and getting everyone behind the presidential ticket. I think we’ve come a long way in doing that so far, and this week we’ll see others working to bring about that unity.”

While this week’s convention may produce some of that unity inside the 20,000-seat Quicken Loans Arena, what happens outside the arena in downtown Cleveland could effect events, according to Skidmore College professor Chris Mann, who co-authored an op-ed piece for the Washington Post on Friday detailing a convention’s impact on its host city. Crowd trouble has plagued the Trump campaign for a few months now, and Cleveland is expecting at least a dozen sanctioned protests along with a few more rogue events.

“I think the suspense of something happening on the floor ended with the rules committee decision last week,” said Mann. “The only thing that could deny Trump the nomination at this point would be if something happens outside the convention, something on the order of the 1968 Chicago convention or worse. Trump’s campaign has become associated with violent protests and clashes, and if something horrible happens then that could give the people inside the convention pause. They might say, ‘Is this what the Trump campaign is going to look like from now until November?’ If something happens early in the convention, that could give the Republican Party cause to do something different.”

If the Republican convention does manage to present a unified front, it will do so without some of the party’s most recognizable faces. The Bush family plans on staying away, as does the two Republican presidential candidates from 2008 (John McCain) and 2012 (Mitt Romney.) Ohio Gov. Kasich is also not expected to speak, and other no-shows will be 2016 candidates Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham.

In New York, Albany native Elise Stefanik, the Republican U.S. Congresswoman from the 21st District, is also staying away from Cleveland. A resident of Willsboro in Essex County near Lake Champlain, Stefanik became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress (age 30) in 2014.

“Elise is focused on her own campaign and will not be attending the convention,” said Stefanik spokesman Lenny Alcivar in an email. “She will instead be in her district focusing on constituent work. She has long stated she will be supporting our party’s nominee in the fall.”

According to Alan Chartock, professor emeritus at the University of Albany and president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, Stefanik’s reason for staying home and skipping the convention does have plenty of merit.

“She is in a transitional district that could go Democrat or Republican, so in New York you can’t possibly afford to be a big Trump supporter,” said Chartock. “She has to run as far away from him as she can.”

On Jan. 25, Stefanik told the Washington Post, “I don’t agree with everything that every candidate has said. I’ve certainly pointed out certain statements by Mr. Trump, especially related to not allowing Muslims into the country. I don’t think that’s who we are. That’s not according to our constitutional principles.”

And on May 5, Stefanik told the Post: “Like my Democratic opponent, I will support my party’s nominee in the fall.”

Chartock added that Stefanik’s absence at the convention could also hurt her standing among other Republicans, recalling the story of Kingston Democrat Kevin Cahill who was a big supporter of Bill Clinton until the president’s troubles with Monica Lewinsky materialized.

“He ran as far away from Clinton as he could, but he ended up losing,” said Chartock. “The party was furious with him and they deserted him. So now Stefanik has to worry about Trump’s people. Are they going to desert her? It’s a very slippery slope.”

According to Cuevas, people shouldn’t interpret Stefanik’s absence from the convention as a slap in the face to Trump.

“I don’t think people should read anything into that,” he said. “I had a discussion about this with some local election officials who were considering going to the convention, but they wondered if that was the best use of their time in a campaign year. Most agreed that they should be out campaigning. There’s a lot of down time at the convention, and it’s a big commitment to spend a week away from your district when you should be campaigning.”

While Mann and Chartock will monitor events at the convention closely as political observers, some Americans will be watching closely because they haven’t yet made up their mind yet just how they’re going to vote in November.

“I’m almost to the point of ‘none of the above,’ ” said Schenectady City Council member Vince Riggi, who is registered as an Independent. “So I will be watching with great interest because there will be a lot of things going on at the convention, and if I don’t like something I may end up voting for a third party candidate. I don’t know. November is a long ways off.”

Riggi, who has been registered as both a Democrat and a Republican in the past, said he has been an Independent for more than 20 years and leans toward the conservative side. While he has not endorsed Trump, he understands why some voters are attracted to the candidate.

“He shoots from the hip, there’s no question about that, and people like that,” said Riggi. “I think that’s why I did so well in the last election. I’m an Independent and people are fed up with politics. Trump is a Republican, but he’s saying things that a lot of people are thinking, even though they might not want to admit it. I’m not a big fan, but I certainly don’t like Hillary. Like I said, November is a long ways away.”

The Republican convention will close on Thursday night, probably with a speeches by Pence and then Trump. Among the other speakers scheduled to appear throughout the week are Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Trump rivals Ted Cruz of Texas, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Dr. Ben Carson of Florida.

The Democratic National Convention will be held in Philadelphia July 25-28.

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or bbuell@dailygazette.com.

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