By Héctor Figueroa
President SEIU 32BJ
Donald Trump’s scorched-earth campaign for the presidency has torched so many tenets of decency and logic that it may seem like he’s gone rogue from the party he was nominated to represent. But Trump couldn’t have lit those fires without the kindling collected by extremists within the Republican Party over years and decades. Voters in the Hudson Valley appalled by Trump now have a chance to send a message that could reverberate nationally, not just by rejecting the head of the ticket, but also by electing Senate candidates who would bring much needed change to the New York State Senate. Accomplished and principled challengers like Terri Gipson, Sara Niccoli, Chris Eachus and Ali Boak could free our state legislature from the powerful corporate interests that have dominated the Senate for all but two years of the past half century.
Thanks to mounting public pressure, the Senate leadership finally allowed a sensible and long overdue increase in the minimum wage and passage of family leave policy last session. But as Governor Cuomo has lately been emphasizing in campaign appearances across the state, the Republican-controlled Senate still has refused passage of ethics reform legislation, acts to address climate change, and the New York State DREAM Act, a bill that would allow undocumented students who have attended our public schools to apply for state financial aid for college.
As a union comprised in large part of immigrant janitors, security officers and doormen who strive mightily to offer their children greater educational opportunity, we understand the deep importance of this bill to raise up our communities and our state. Of the more than 4,500 undocumented immigrant students who receive high school degrees in New York, only five to ten percent can meet the financial burden of pursuing higher education without any financial assistance. The Immigration Policy Center estimates that undocumented immigrants paid over $600 million in taxes to New York State in 2011. This bill would allow them access to the same state financial aid resources other New York taxpayers can use, helping unleash their potential for greater earnings in the future, and thus greater tax revenues back to the state (college graduates contribute nearly $4,000 more in annual state income taxes than workers with only a high school degree).
And yet, despite the overwhelming logic in support of the bill, Republicans in the State Senate not only oppose it, but groups supporting them on Long Island have recently inundated voters with ugly, divisive misinformation about the bill. Those mailings are only the latest reminder of the connection that runs from local Republican candidates to the party’s national leader, who began his campaign by referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers.
A vote against this anti-worker agenda up and down the ticket not only helps finally stop the Trump agenda, it also supports a positive vision for our future, one that acknowledges the need to protect our environment, support working men and women, and make the most of our increased diversity. Take, for example, Terry Gipson, a candidate in the 41st congressional district that covers much of Duchess and Putnam counties. His opponent, Senator Sue Serino, long opposed a raise in the state’s minimum wage and continues to oppose passage of the DREAM Act. In contrast, Gipson strongly supported workers and immigrants’ rights during his Senate term, and he earned a perfect score from environmental activists for his work to protect the Hudson Valley watershed.
Likewise, Chris Eachus has always understood the difficulties faced by working families in the 39th District, which stretches from Haverstraw to the outskirts of Poughkeepsie, and where Eachus has also gained experience as an Orange County legislator. His opponent, three-decade incumbent Bill Larkin, was a strong supporter of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, even after the Republican leader was charged with corruption. In contrast Eachus is committed to tackling ethics reform in Albany, as well as to addressing environmental and school funding issues.
Donald Trump promises to bring change to Washington, but the kind of divisive, radical change this utterly unqualified business showman promises is the product of pro-corporate, anti-government rhetoric that too many in the Republican Party up and down the line have practiced for decades. Here in the Hudson Valley, positive change can begin at home, by electing progressive candidates to the New York State Senate who will work to unite and lift us together.