Jim Barber spent Thursday doing what he’s wanted to do since entering the race for Jim Seward’s State Senate seat in January.
Talking with people.
“It’s been crazy,” Mr. Barber said of his campaign, as he waited outside the Carlisle Town Hall for the doors to open.
”I thought I’d be doing things like this every night.”
He’s been part of online events, he said, but it’s not the same and he welcomed the chance to talk with what at times was a tough SCOPE crowd.
“I hope you feel not attacked, but enlightened,” Sue Makely of Middleburgh said after an hour’s worth of talk.
“I hope this has been enlightening to you as well,” Mr. Barber said. “I’ll come back.”
Mr. Barber, a Democrat, is a fourth-generation Middleburgh farmer who served seven years as the executive director of the USDA New York Farm Service Agency and two years as special assistant to the commissioner of Agriculture and Markets.
He’s facing off against Republican Peter Oberacker, a Schenevus businessman; Tim O’Connor of Maryland is running on the Libertarian line.
Mr. Barber told about a dozen SCOPE members that he’s running for the 51st Senate seat as a way to give them a voice in the room and the seat at the table and he wants the chance to represent rural, upstate values in Albany.
Even before the doors opened Thursday, Mr. Barber and SCOPE chair Walt Janczak were discussing out-of-control property taxes and the SAFE Act; both agreeing the voices of places like Schoharie County have been disregarded when it comes to practice and legislation.
They would have shaken hands before going inside.
But yeah. COVID.
As a member of Farm Bureau, Mr. Barber said he’s spent the last 40 years fighting property taxes.
The formula’s unfair, he said, and the state needs to look at other models for raising revenue that don’t allow for so many loopholes.
“It’s always been an unfair tax that has nothing to do with income,” he said.
“What’s the first thing we do when we want to attract a business? We offer them a break on their taxes. So that identifies the problem right there. Now’s our opportunity to do that, to figure out how to dig ourselves out of the [financial] hole we’re in,” because of COVID.
New York is the only state that makes counties pay for Medicaid--a cost Mr. Barber said it needs to take over.
He also called for the state to pick up the cost of unfunded mandates and a bigger share of the cost of education.
The SAFE Act, Mr. Barber said, was passed in a bipartisan vote as a way to address mass shootings--something no one wants.
But it punishes responsible gun owners like himself, Mr. Janczak said, and it was decided in the middle of the night without any opportunity for outside comment.
And that’s a reason he’s running, Mr. Barber said again and again:
Democrats control Albany and if rural, upstaters want a voice in issues like gun control “you can’t be out in the hall. You need to be in the room.”
Upstate New York has things the urban areas need, Mr. Barber said: water, food, and space for green energy.
Instead of denying the reality of things like climate change or changes in agriculture, upstate needs to find ways to benefit from them, he said.
“Farms are struggling to survive,” Mr. Barber said. “Rural communities can be part of these answers--payments to farmers doing good work. But if you’re not in the room where the decisions are being made…”
Linda Cross of Carlisle who lobbied Albany for years as a member of Farm Bureau, said like it or not, the public needs to step up to educate its legislators; others spoke to the importance of attending meetings like Thursday’s--and voting.
SCOPE calls itself a “2nd Amendment defense organization” and much of the discussion focused on that issue.
“I believe everyone has a right to own a gun and I don’t really care much what kind,” Mr. Barber said.
“But how do we keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them and how do we decide who those people are? How do we deal with the issue of mass shootings at schools, churches, malls…?”
There’s a problem with trust both in Albany and Washington, Mr. Janczak said with both Republicans and Democrats: “They divide us so hard.”
Thanks to gerrymandering, Mr. Barber answered.
“My district looks like a squirrel run over in the road. If we just drew the district so they were square...If I just had five full counties instead of parts of nine. You only need to represent one point of view. No one compromises on anything. We need to fix that.”
Talk also touched on the Black Lives Matter movement with several SCOPE members angry at being painted as racist and accused of white privilege because they’re white.
“I didn’t get my white privilege,” Mr. Janczak said. “I worked for everything I got.”
Ms. Makely criticized the taking down of statues as “destroying our history. When people fly Confederate flags, it doesn’t mean they think Black people should be slaves,” she said.
“Vandalism is horrible,” Mr. Barber said,” but he also said he doesn’t know why statues were erected to honor traitors. “We have to understand that they’re horrible reminders” to Blacks who were systematically killed and treated as less for 300 years.
“I don’t agree with it, but we have to remember that this was a country that was born on violent protest...we need to understand the emotion that goes into these protests…”
Mr. Barber said he carries a copy of the Constitution with him to pull out and read when he has a few minutes and the talk closed with discussion on the importance of voting and representing.
“A lot of people died to give us the right to vote,” Ms. Makely said. “This room should be packed...even if the Second Amendment isn’t important to you.”
“I hope we didn’t offend you,” Mr. Janczak said.
“I’ll be back,” answered Mr. Barber.