by Rachel Hunter
Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R,C,I-Black River) held mobile office hours, ate lunch with local senior citizens at the Gouverneur Congregate Dining Center, and was the featured guest speaker at the Gouverneur Senior Citizens Club meeting on Tuesday, September 10 at the Gouverneur Community Center, 4673 State Highway 58, Gouverneur. There were over 60 people in attendance.
“It's great to be here today, especially in this new facility... I have been here a few times. It's really good to be here,” Assemblyman Blankenbush said. “I guess I should introduce myself since some of you may or may not know me. I live in Black River, which is in that other county. I have been in the Assembly since 2011, and I followed Dede Scozzafava who was there before me.
“My district now is a little bit different since the redistricting. I used to have 10 more towns in St. Lawrence County than I do now. I only have seven. And they took the 10 towns away from me in St. Lawrence County and gave me 10 towns in Oneida. And so, I go from DeKalb down to 10 towns in Jefferson to all of Lewis and 10 towns in Oneida County... So now it is not just representing the North Country, it is representing the North Country and the Mohawk Valley. So, it's been different these last few years. But already, after the 2020 election there is going to be another redistricting. So, who knows what it is going to be like in the 2022 election.
“I can remember when I was not in the Assembly – when Dede was in the Assembly – when they redistrict, they put Dede in the same district as then-Bob Nortz from Lewis County, but what they didn't realize was that Bob Nortz also owned property up on the river, and he ran into different districts. But, who knows what they are going to do with the redistricting in four more years. I can't tell you what is going to happen, but then again, I'll be looking at something different again. I really don't like what they did when they redistrict St. Lawrence County. A lot of people will tell you that because of having so many representatives in Albany, it is a benefit for you. But I am not so sure of that because they chopped us all up. So, in other words, the towns I had in St. Lawrence (when you talk about Star Lake, Cranberry Lake, and all of those) I didn’t have anything on the river. And the person who now has that district is from Herkimer County. So for him to get up to his district in Potsdam area, Star Lake and all of those... he really has to drive through my district to get to his district. Redistricting is a thing that we have to live with. Who knows what is going to happen after the 2020 election.
“I had a few people ask me about license plates,” Assemblyman Blankenbush said. “For those who know me, know that I will not be in favor of making people replace their license plates, especially if the license plates can be read. A few years back, they put out license plates that – if you look at some of them as you are driving around – you can't really read them... That's not the people's fault that are driving those cars. That's the State of New York and whoever made those license plates. It is not the fault of the individuals, and in my opinion, those license plates were being replaced free... If you took them in right now, you can get them replaced free. If this bill is passed before individuals do that, the governor is going to want to charge you. So, if you have a license plate or you have friends that know that their license plate is deteriorating, you can take it to the DMV and get new license plates before this thing hits and we have to all replace our license plates. So, I believe it is a money grab from the governor... and I guess he can call it a fee rather than a tax. I am not sure when that is going to come out. I think it is on hold right now. I think there has been some backlash on that. I believe when we go back into session it's probably going to come back for the legislators to vote on that.”
“January is going to start my 10th year,” Assemblyman Blankenbush said. “I can honestly say that out of the nine budgets that we have voted on over the years, that this is the worst budget that I voted on since I have been in there for Upstate New York and the North Country. There's 10 parts to the budget. It's not just one vote for the budget. It's 10 parts. And this was the very, very first time that I voted no on all 10 parts to the budget. I didn't see any good coming out of the budget negotiations that happened this year. Talked to the Town of Gouverneur Supervisor Dave Spilman, Jr., for example, when they took the money out of what we call the pothole fund for the highway department... then we put it back in, and then we took it back out. If you live in the town, the town tries to do three miles per year to try to keep up with it. By cutting some of the money out of that budget, it was a really bad thing to do and hopefully we got it back in. But, whether we see it or not, that's another subject. I really didn't like the budget.”
Assemblyman Blankenbush then continued as follows: “Some people ask me, “Why don't you get up and talk about what's happened this year in Albany?” I can tell you right now I was not very happy with what happened after the budget process. Some of the bills that we voted on this year, again it was probably the most no-votes that I have had since I have been there, starting with the abortion bill right up until the time of labor. I couldn't vote for that. But we are having a left-wing swing in New York, as probably everyone here has read about. What's coming next year? It's probably the legalization of marijuana. They decriminalized it a little bit this year, and I just think that it was a stepping stone for the legalization.
“They also passed – for the Second Amendment people who are here – the Red Flag Bill,” Assemblyman Blankenbush said. “If you listen some people, there's not really a lot wrong with the Red Flag Bill. If somebody shouldn't own a gun, they shouldn't own a gun. If they have mental problems or is going to hurt others, everybody can agree on that. However, if you read the whole bill, it takes away due process. If I call the Sheriff's Office and say, “I believe my neighbor is going to either hurt himself or hurt someone else.” They are obligated now to go to the court, ask the judge to give an order to take away the guns.
“Well, my problem with that is, if you are going to go to a judge, the person who owns the guns ought to be in front of the judge right then to answer the problem or the complaint. That's not what is going to happen. The judge is going to order the guns removed from the house. Then, that person is going to be able to appeal. The appeal is supposed to happen within six days. I don't know a court that works that fast, but that's what the bill says. And the problem I have with some of that is that I believe that individual who has been called on, if the judge is going to order that removal of guns, he ought to be able to talk to that individual, question that individual, and not just listen to a complaint that is given by a neighbor or an ex-spouse.
“Let's face it, if you are going through a divorce, it's not usually a happy time. I can imagine up here in the North Country that someone who is getting ready for hunting season... hunting season starts on Saturday, and somebody calls in and says that they think he is going to hurt himself or someone else, and they'll take the guns away. I just think you are taking away due process. I don't like that part of the bill. I agree with the concept that we should not have people who have some mental issues not have any guns. But I still think that individual should have due process. I think we are taking away the rights that some individuals have...”
Assemblyman Blankenbush then continued as follows: “People ask me all the time, “How can you vote against the Women's Equality Act?” Well, there's 10 bills in the Women's Equality Act. Then 10th one was the abortion one. I voted for all nine of them, except for the bill that allows abortion all the way up to the time of labor. And by the way, I have had several pro-choice individuals email me and call me, and say that they don't agree with that bill either... that they believe that the bill is going way too far, even to the point of if the baby survives the abortion, the doctor is allowed to allow the baby to lay there and die. Think about it, they now say that you don't have to go to the hospital to have the abortion. You don't have to go to a doctor to do the abortion. You can go to a clinic and have a physician’s assistant do it. I just think that's going backwards for women's health, not supporting women's health. So there's a lot of things on that bill that there was no way... but the nine other bills that were there, I support. But the 10th, I just couldn't support.”
“So, what is going to come this year, I don't know,” Assemblyman Blankenbush said. “All I know is that the last session was not a very popular session for Ken.
“The only other thing I can say is that when we are looking at 2020's election, and we're going to go into 2022, the State of New York is going to lose two congressional seats. So, the Empire State is shrinking. Over 1.4 million have left the state at the last count. We are going to lose one for sure, and I believe we are going to lose two congressional seats because it goes by population. The people are leaving the State of New York. I disagree with the governor. It's not because of the climate, it's because of the business climate. It's because of the taxation. It's harder and harder for businesses to do business in the State of New York.
“Years ago, before I qualified as a senior, I had a lot of people that were called snowbirds. They would leave the State of New York and they would go down to Florida for four months and they would come back. Well, they are still doing that, but they are really not snowbirds anymore because when they are coming back they have Florida plates on. They are changing more and more. The people that are in my age group that I know personally are now coming back and spending three or four months here, and they are going back to Florida... The people in New York City tell me that even though we talk about people leaving the State of New York, they are talking about some of the boroughs in New York City that have actually grown in population...”
Assemblyman Blankenbush then answered questions from the local senior citizens for several moments before introducing Acting St. Lawrence County Clerk Sandra Santamoor, who is running for the St. Lawrence County Clerk seat in the 2019 General Election. Assemblyman Blankenbush encouraged all those in attendance to take the opportunity to meet and talk with Mrs. Santamoor. A great applause sounded as Assemblyman Blankenbush handed the microphone to the candidate.
“Hi, for those of you who don’t know me, I was (former St. Lawrence County Clerk) Mary Lou Rupp's deputy for eight years. She trained me well,” Mrs. Santamoor said. “I am prepared to do the job. We have a lot of things in the works right now, but we will continue from what Mary Lou started – e-filing, e-reporting, it all saves the county time and money. Right now, I am in the process of getting a $125,000 grant to have all of our civil and criminal files digitized so that they are available. We are trying to figure out a way to move the road test site in Canton, so I am working with the State DMV and the Village of Canton. If anyone has been down Judson St. in Canton, they know we have the village buses on one side and road testing on the other, which causes a very dangerous situation. So we are working on that... Downstate business, that is our big one. We are still doing that. We make a lot of money doing that. It helps with the tax levy, so it is important to keep that business going.
“As well as you all know here locally, in Gouverneur, we put in a new terminal in there, so we now have three staff there. We are trying to keep on top of the downstate business and make sure that we are providing the best service that we can to the local residents. In a couple weeks we will be opening a new terminal in Massena, so we will have four staff there. We have three in Ogdensburg and 13 in Canton. If you all keep doing your business locally, we would appreciate it. It really does benefit everyone in the county. Hopefully, I look forward to serving you all for four years beyond this.”
At the conclusion of her address, Gouverneur Senior Citizens Club President Joanne Bitter extended gratitude to both Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush and Acting St. Lawrence County Clerk Sandra Santamoor for their speaking to the crowd gathered, and all gave a rousing round of applause. Other local dignitaries in attendance included Town of Gouverneur Supervisor Dave Spilman, Jr., Town of Gouverneur Deputy Supervisor Eldon Conklin, and Town of Gouverneur Councilman Eldon Conklin, among others.
The Gouverneur Senior Citizens Club then continued with their regular monthly board meeting at the Gouverneur Community Center.