Assembly District 113 -- Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner and her potential Republican challenger, 21-year-old Ballston Spa High School graduate Morgan Zegers, agree on at least one thing: repealing the SAFE Act.
In a district that encompasses Saratoga Springs and rural areas to the south, north and east of the city, Zegers, who touts her NRA membership and can be seen handling a handgun in pictures on her campaign website, is making gun rights central to her campaign. But Woerner, a Round Lake Democrat, has also positioned herself as a supporter of gun rights during her tenure as a state lawmaker.
“I think it should be repealed and we should start over,” Woerner said of 2013 SAFE Act, which expanded the definition of banned assault weapons, expanded background checks and established a license renewal requirement for handgun ownership. “I don’t believe we should ever create laws that, overnight, take law-abiding citizens and make them criminals. I don’t think that is right; I don’t think that is fair.”
Both candidates cited process concerns over how the bill was passed in 2013. It was drafted over the 2012 holiday season in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and was quickly passed with the help of a message of necessity from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“My problem with the Safe Act was how it was passed,” Zegers said last week, citing the bill’s quick development and minimal public input.
Zegers suggested she would be willing to support certain measures to replace the SAFE Act but didn’t cite specifics.
“Of course I support making sure nobody has access to a firearm that’s irresponsible,” she said. “I go to the range almost every week. I know firsthand if that firearm is in the hands of somebody who is not going to use it properly, there’s going to be a lot of danger.”
Woerner said she doesn’t want to roll back provisions that ban assault rifles entirely, questioning why civilians need military-style weapons.
“It doesn’t mean we want to have automatic weapons in the hands of anyone, those are weapons of war,” Woerner said. “Those weapons are designed to kill people, so I question their use outside of the military context.”
If both Woerner and Zegers make it through party primaries in September, experience is also likely to be a key issue in the campaign. During an interview last week, Woerner cited her four years as a state lawmaker, six years in local government and 30 years in the private sector as a contrast to her young challenger, who will graduate from college in May.
“We don’t have time to be a laboratory of learning for someone who hasn’t had life experiences,” Woerner said of the issues that face state lawmakers. “The benefit my constituents get when they talk to me is I understand complex topics.”
But Zegers doesn’t plan to back down, arguing her youth is a strength and that she would bring a new vitality to the Assembly. Zegers called watching the livestream of the Assembly floor “pretty sad” and lacking in passion.
“There’s not a lot of lively debate, and there’s not a lot of passion behind most of the arguments,” she said. “When I see that, I think I can really make a difference there, and I can really add some tenacity.”
She said she hopes her campaign gives her a chance to add her voice to the mix and show what Republicans can be.
“As a conservative young woman, it’s rarer than other candidacies, but it’s something where it gives me an opportunity to frame the issues and provide that image of what the future of the Republican Party was all about,” Zegers said.
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Zegers put college on hold to run for the Assembly. In fact, she will graduate in May.