Senate Republicans Could Face Key Tests Upstate

ororom the Morning Memo:

On the surface, Senate Republicans should not have an upstate problem.

The conference controlled its fate in the last round of redistricting, enabling them to choose their voters and ensconce their incumbents in a cocoon of enrolled Republicans.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo remains deeply unpopular in the rural and suburban communities and threat of New York City Democrats running Albany remains a potent concern. More tangibly, the conference kept a Southern Tier district in the GOP column with Fred Akshar defeating Cuomo’s preferred candidate for the job, Democrat Barbara Fiala.

Republicans in 2014 swept out not just Democratic incumbents in key battleground Senate districts in the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys, but the party did well in Congressional races as well.

And yet, there are problems on the horizon for the party among conservative activists who had taken to heart pledges candidates last year made: Complete repeals of the gun control law known as the SAFE Act and the controversial Common Core education standards.

To be sure, the battleground for control of the Senate next year will likely be Long Island. But restive voters upstate in an election season that’s already gearing up with a strong anti-incumbent, anti-establishment vibe, could throw a curve ball at the Republicans.

In a statewide context, the SAFE Act is a non-issue. Approved in 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, the measure continues to enjoy broad majority support. Cuomo is so bolstered by his push for the law that he’s taking it on a national road show.

Common Core remains a stickier wicket for Albany, with polls showing both upstate and suburban voters deeply concerned about the impact the standards are having on their children. Perhaps sensing the political danger after 20 percent of students opted out of April round of standardized testing, Cuomo announced a task force to consider potential changes.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has indicated he would prefer to have the task force act on the changes and not have lawmakers take up the measures.

“The task force is with an eye toward looking what have we done, where have gone and where are we going in the future,” Flanagan said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom last month. “What can and should happen is you get a lot of work done at the Board of Regents level and SED, state Education Department, and if need be, which I think is unnecessary, legislative intervention.”

Even so, both the SAFE Act and Common Core resonate with activists on the local level. They represent differing, but related forms of government overreach. And Republican incumbents, especially in the narrowly divided state Senate, haven’t done enough. More >

Senate GOP Plans Health Republic Hearing

From the Morning Memo:

Concerned over the fallout from the demise of the nation’s largest health insurance co-op, Health Republic, the Senate Republicans will hold a “forum, roundtable or hearing” early next year to determine if legislative action is necessary to help clean up the mess.

“I think it’s certainly something that we need to look at,” said Senate Insurance Committee Chairman Jim Seward during a CapTon interview last night.

Seward stopped short of saying the exact purpose of this hearing would be to determine who’s at fault for Health Republic’s failure, even as some of his GOP colleagues – particularly Rep. Chris Gibson – have suggested the Financial Services Department bears the brunt of the responsibility, and should be the subject of an outside investigation.

The senator did say, however, that he has “issues” with DFS, adding: “It’s their responsibility to make sure that these health plans are financially solvent, and then all of a sudden we find out that Health Republic, there’s no money there.”

“So, I think that’s certainly something we need to look at, in terms of what is the process at the Department of Financial Services to make sure that these health plans are solvent and these claims can be paid,” Seward said. More >

Heaney Camp Fires Back In PAC Dispute

fasoannounceFrom the Morning Memo:

The ongoing dispute over a political action committee that’s aligned with Republican Andrew Heaney and rival GOP candidate John Faso continues amid an increasingly pitched battle for the 19th congressional district.

To recap, the PAC called the New York Jobs Council, which is backing Heaney’s campaign, released a video this week knocking Faso’s work as a lobbyist and including audio in which the candidate says he is “proud” to have done the work.

Faso’s campaign has noted the audio came from an interview in which Faso was discussing his work as a registered lobbyist for Autism Speaks.

Columbia County Republican Chairman Greg Fingar subsequently blasted Heaney’s campaign over the video in a letter to fellow chairs in the 19th congressional district. More >

NY-19: County GOP Chair Knocks Heaney-Backed PAC (Updated)

ny19The Republican chairman in Columbia County is blasting a video released by a political action committee that knocks GOP congressional candidate John Faso’s work as a lobbyist.

The video from the PAC supporting rival Republican candidate Andrew Heaney, first reported in the Capital Tonight Morning Memo email, plays on repeat over 25 seconds Faso saying in an interview that he is “proud” of his work as a lobbyist.

But Columbia County Republican Chairman Greg Fingar is taking particular umbrage at the video, given Faso was touting his work as a lobbyist of record for Autism Speaks.

“Mr. Heaney’s PAC brazenly edited down a recent interview between John and radio host Fred Dicker, turning a lengthy and substantive discussion into misleading web video attack,” Fingar writes in the letter, which was sent this morning to fellow Republican county chairs in the 19th congressional district. “John, who has has given years of faithful service to the people of this area and New York State, was discussing his work on behalf of Autism Speaks, and the tens of thousands of children it serves in New York.”

(Faso, a former Assembly minority leader, is a resident of Columbia County).

The letter includes the full Faso quote in full context, which was taken from an interview on Dicker’s Talk-1300 radio show.

“And I’m very proud of the fact that I was a lobbyist for Autism Speaks because there were a lot of children in the state that weren’t able to get the services that they needed for their families – for themselves and their families – so there have been about fifty–thousand children a year since 2012 that have benefited from that coverage,” Faso said in the interview given when he first launched his campaign for Congress earlier this year.

The video itself highlights Faso’s firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, which was drawn into the pay-to-play pension fund investigation that led to the arrest of former Comptroller Alan Hevesi. Faso himself was not accused of any wrongdoing. More >

Amid Staten Island Clash, Rubio Backs Zadroga Reauthorization

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio on Wednesday released a statement in support of reauthorizing the Zadroga Act — an announcement that comes amid a parochial war of words for one of his top New York supporters, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

“Programs designed to meet the unique health needs of those Americans should be renewed, and those who rely on them should not face uncertainty and continued anxiety over their future,” Rubio said in a statement. “To help achieve these goals, today I co-sponsored S. 928, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.”

Staten Island Democratic Assemblyman Matt Titone had initially called on Malliotakis to leverage her clout with Rubio after she was named the chair of the Florida Republican’s campaign in New York to have him take a stand in favor of reauthorizing the measure aimed at helping first responders.

“With the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks recently past, it is more important than ever that we ensure victims and those affected by this tragedy are compensated and care for going into the future,” Titone wrote in a statement last week.

Malliotakis had shot back, saying Titone was essentially trying to “politicize” the issue of helping 9/11 first responders.

Malliotakis this morning tweeted the statement from Rubio backing Zadroga reauthorization.

“Congress must keep faith with the heroes and victims of 9/11, while also making sure our federal government is living within its means and protecting taxpayers,” Rubio said. “As we continue working on this issue, I hope we can improve this legislation or reach an agreement that meets both these goals.”

Tenney Launches Second Bid For Congress

Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney announced on Tuesday she would launch a second campaign for a House of Representatives seat held by fellow Republican Rep. Richard Hanna.

“Politicians in Washington tell us what we want to hear in the district, but vote the opposite when they go to Washington,” Tenney said in a statement released by her campaign. Hanna continues to surrender our principles on the steps of the Capitol and sides with the President and Democrats to keep his seat in power.”

The primary will likely be one of the more closely watched Congressional races in New York, if not the country given Hanna’s moderate credentials and reputation.

Tenney’s announcement comes weeks after Hanna inflamed Republicans when he suggested in a radio interview the House GOP-led investigation into the Benghazi attacks were a politically driven effort to discredit Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential candidate.

“I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people – an individual: Hillary Clinton,” Hanna told a radio station in October.

Hanna’s comments came after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in an interview made a similar suggestion, a comment that ultimately sunk his effort to succeed House Speaker John Boehner.

“We need a representative in Congress who has the courage to challenge the power brokers in Washington and the tenacity to fight for our Republican values,” Tenney said. “Richard Hanna continued his assault on our principles when recently he ridiculed Republican Representative Trey Gowdy’s investigation into the Benghazi murders as little more than a partisan attack against Hillary Clinton.”

Tenney plans to make her announcement in three different locations around the 22nd congressional district: Binghamton, Sherburne and Utica.

Tenney last ran against Hanna for the Republican nomination in 2014, starting relatively late that year and faced a barrage of independent expenditure ads released on Hanna’s behalf.

Hanna won, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Hanna did not face a Democratic opponent that fall.

PAC Knocks Faso’s Lobbying Record

fasoannounceFrom the Morning Memo:

A political action committee that supports Republican Andrew Heaney’s congressional campaign is blasting fellow GOP candidate John Faso over his work as an Albany lobbyist.

The PAC, called the New York Jobs Council, released a video on YouTube on Tuesday featuring Faso saying “I’m very proud of the fact that I was a lobbyist” in a 25-second loop. Video over the audio shows various headlines on the “pay-to-play” pension fund scandal that ensnared former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi (Faso himself was never accused of any legal wrongdoing).

“Residents of New York’s 19th Congressional District should know who is asking for their vote,” said New York Jobs Council spokesman Andrew Gibson. “Does John Faso really expect voters to send a “proud” lobbyist, an ultimate Washington and Albany insider, to represent them in Congress? NY-19 deserves a Congressman who will fight for better, higher paying jobs, economic growth, and a fairer tax system, not a Congressman in the pocket of special interests.”

Faso spokesman Bill O’Reilly responded, calling the attack “sad” given the quote the video references is Faso discussing his work for Autism Speaks.

“Residents of New York’s 19th Congressional District should know who is asking for their vote,” said PAC spokesman Andrew Gibson. “Does John Faso really expect voters to send a “proud” lobbyist, an ultimate Washington and Albany insider, to represent them in Congress? NY-19 deserves a Congressman who will fight for better, higher paying jobs, economic growth, and a fairer tax system, not a Congressman in the pocket of special interests.”

Faso spokesman Bill O’Reilly responded, calling the attack “sad” given the quote the video references is Faso discussing his work for Autism Speaks.

“It is sad, but unsurprising that Andrew Heaney’s personally funded SuperPac attacks John Faso with a false and misleading ad,” O’Reilly said. “Mr. Faso’s quote refers to his representation of Autism Speaks for which he successfully got a law enacted to expand health insurance coverage for children with autism. Heaney, by contrast, another wealthy carpetbagger and an Obama donor, has lived here barely two years and has never done anything in the congressional district for anyone.”

The race for the 19th congressional district is a crowded one on the Republican side: In addition to Faso and Heaney, Assemblyman Peter Lopez is vying for the GOP nomination in the Hudson Valley.

Republicans hope to hold the district, which has been represented by Rep. Chris Gibson since 2010 (the district was redrawn in 2012 and drew in more moderate voters).

Gibson is considering a run for governor in 2018 and not running for another two-year term.

Astorino: Con-Con A Good Idea, But…

astorinoFrom the Morning Memo:

Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino in a radio interview said he liked “the idea” of a constitutional convention that could restructure how state government works, but fears it could be subsumed by special interests.

“I like the idea a lot that the people would actually have a say in changing things because obviously the state Legislature is not doing what they’re supposed to,” said Astorino, the 2014 Republican nominee for governor, on Bill Samuels’s AM970 radio show this weekend. “But I’m really concerned and leery about the free-for-all and the special interests that could really grab hold of the convention in an organized way with a lot of money behind them and make some really drastic, draconian changes that would that would further make this state worse than it is.”

Voters are due to consider a referendum on whether a convention should be held by 2017. Polls have show the general voting public is dimly aware of a constitutional convention vote looming two years from now.

Still, the state’s legal community is gearing up for a potential “yes” vote and have named committees who could help in drafting a new governing document for New York state.

Meanwhile, Astorino told Samuels in the interview that the identity of the donor behind a $107,900 donation from a limited liability corporation to the Reform Party would eventually reveal themselves.

Astorino had previously been coy about the identity of the donor, whose LLC, Municipal Safety Research, happens to share an address with the law firm of the Rockalnd County Republican Committee chairman.

The Reform Party — a ballot initially called the Stop Common Core Party last year — spent its funds helping the Republican candidate win the Clarkstown supervisor’s race.

“I did eventually call the person up who, obviously, wrote a check, the LLC, and I said, ‘You should take absolute credit for what you did.’ … And the person said he agrees and he’s gonna step out at some point and say, “This is exactly why I did it.” Astorino said.

Astorino has defended the switch to calling the ballot line the Reform Party, once again arguing the name was altered to reflect a broader appeal for voters, especially as Gov. Andrew Cuomo moves to potentially overhaul the controversial Common Core standards.

“I think they’re going to try to fool everybody, tinker around the edges, and rename it, just like some other states have done,” he said. “They’re going to take Common Core which is kind of, you know, not that popular and rename it, I don’t know, Excellence in New York Education. Whatever. Then so Common Core is like the Edsel. It means nothing.”

Staten Island Proxy War Over Zadroga Act

From the Morning Memo:

A war of words has erupted between two Staten Island Assembly members, sparked by one lawmaker’s newfound role in the 2016 presidential campaign of Republican Florida US Sen. Marco Rubio.

After Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis announced she’ll be chairing Rubio’s campaign here in New York, her Democratic colleague, Assemblyman Matt Titone, released an open letter calling on her to use her newfound clout with the senator to find out where he stands on the Zadroga Act.

“With the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks recently past, it is more important than ever that we ensure victims and those affected by this tragedy are compensated and care for going into the future,” Titone wrote.

“All attempts to inquire as to Senator Rubio’s position have been rebuffed, with the most recent letter from a board member of Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act and New York City Fire Department Deputy Chief Richard Alles receiving no response.”

Much to the frustration of New York’s congressional delegation members, Rubio and several of his fellow Republican White House hopefuls have repeatedly declined to say where they stand on fully funding the World Trade Center Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and/or making them permanent.

In a brief telephone interview Thursday, Titone insisted his intention was not to put Malliotakis into a tough position, but rather to shame Rubio to act.

But that’s not how Malliotakis saw it. More >

Will the de Blasio Strategy Work?

From the Morning Memo:

As Senate Republicans seek to hold their narrow majority in the chamber, they reportedly plan to once again link Democrat incumbents and candidates to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

But can an effort like that work in local races, even ones within the New York City metropolitan area?

The de Blasio-as-boogeyman effort already started in the off-cycle election season, but not with the results Republicans had hoped.

In Nassau County, a mailer for Republican district attorney hopeful Kate Murray, along with GOP county legislative candidates, tied Democrats to de Blasio’s criminal justice and tax policies.

Th de Blasio association didn’t hurt Madeline Singas, the Democrat and acting DA in the county who won a full term earlier this month.

In another district attorney’s race, on Staten Island, Republicans there sought to link Democratic candidate Michael McMahon to de Blasio as well.

At the time, Republicans were blasting de Blasio — and Democrats running in local races, including McMahon — for having a municipal building named after former New York City Mayor David Dinkins.

“With a tag-team like de Blasio and McMahon, even Staten Island won’t be safe from the rise in crime plaguing other boroughs,” Staten Island GOP Chairman John Antoniello said.

Again, McMahon, the Democrat, won the race.

The caveat, of course, is these are all local races and anecdotal examples. Whether voters upstate — where de Blasio isn’t as well known — could cast aside Democrats because of New York City’s influence in the Legislature remains to be seen next year.