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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Soap Box Queen

Nobody disputes that New York State is facing a fiscal crisis. It's also understandable that not everyone will agree on how to address the crisis we face. Disagreement isn't, by itself, a bad thing. Open debate, frank discussion and a forthright exchange of ideas can create the well informed electorate our forefathers spoke of when fostering our fledgling democracy. Hopefully this exchange of fact based ideas will allow voters, ultimately, to elect leaders that will put forth policies that will prevent or repair the type of problems we face today.
Unfortunately, it has become far too prevalent in today's political atmosphere to pretend that facts are the same as opinions and that we are all welcome to our own-in either case. Also, rather than putting forth reasoned discourse or alternative policies, it has become far too easy for political wannabees to jump on the most accessible soap box and throw mud balls at a plan or policy, even one of relative little consequence, as a means of boosting popularity without offering any alternative plans or ideas.
We have a soap box queen here in the north country, St. Lawrence County's County Clerk, Patricia Ritchie. It has been gabbed about in political circles for some time now that Ms. Ritchie is considering taking on State Senator Darrel Aubertine for his seat this fall.
Her first blast into the soap-box-o-sphere came on the heels of an announced plan by New York State to charge an extra $25.00 per license plate as a means to attempt to close, in part, the state's budget deficit. Now, nobody likes paying higher fees or higher taxes, but realistically, it is going to be a combination of increased revenues and cuts in spending that is going to get us out of this mess. Judging from the brou-haha, I was apparently one of the few people that thought raising revenue from license plate fees was a good idea. My reasoning- a lot of people buy license plates, the cost is widely spread and thus it is a relatively fair way to raise revenue.
Enter Ms. Ritchie who takes the not so courageous position that she is opposed to people paying more for license plates. Wow! The thought! The courage! The alternatives! Alternatives? Strike three!
No alternatives... just the Soap Box Queen. How else would Ms. Ritchie rescue the state from fiscal demise? There has been no comprehensive plan put forth by the County Clerk leaving me to wonder if she has asked the most basic of questions. For example, if the state loses the revenue from raising the price of license plates, what is offset in other areas? How many elderly residents will have their EPIC presription benefits cut or teachers lose their jobs or how high will the most unfair tax of all go, the property tax, to make up for cuts in state aid? There are more questions but you get the picture- on Ms. Ritchie's part that doesn't seem important, at least not as important as the soap box.
Now we have another hot button issue that Pattie Ritchie can jump on and try to ride to the state Senate. Governor Paterson has proposed that the state take one million dollars per year from the state's snowmobile fund to put towards deficit reduction. This is one million out of more than five million in the fund. Ms. Ritchie finds this offensive. Really, she finds this to be another opportunity to get on her soapbox (in this case a snowmobile) without offering alternatives. How much safer can you get? First you appeal to a minority (the snowmobilers) that will rabidly oppose the Governor's plan while the majority is mostly uninformed of the facts of the situation. You become the poster girl to this minority, making an issue of a relatively minor amount of money, while other areas including education, the environment and healthcare suffer cuts amounting to tens of millions of dollars. Again, a question goes unanswered. Who will make up the snowmobiler's share of cuts if Ms. Ritchie has her way?
Again, no matter. Ms. Ritchie has become the soap box queen attempting to elevate her status as a political commodity while denigrating the value of the real hard issues that New York State faces.
Hopefully, the County Clerk from St. Lawrence County has greatly under estimated the ability of north country voters to see through the gimmicks that have made her the Soap Box Queen.