MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County got a better look at the candidates up for election this November at an October 11 debate hosted by the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce. The debate was …
MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County got a better look at the candidates up for election this November at an October 11 debate hosted by the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce. The debate was moderated by Bold Gold Media Group, represented by Mike Sakel, and by the Sullivan County Democrat, represented by Joseph Abraham.
Sen. Peter Oberacker was elected to represent the 51st district in 2020, having previously served as a member of the Otsego County Board of Representatives and as Town of Maryland supervisor. (The most recent round of redistricting added Sullivan County to the 51st district.) He is being challenged by Eric Ball, a former CSEA union member and direct-care aide, who currently serves on the Village of Walton Board of Trustees.
The full debate in podcast form is hosted at radiobold.com/radioboldnewspod.
Moderators opened the debate by asking about the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, asking candidates how they thought the issue of abortion should be addressed at the state level.
Oberacker said he was a right-to-life individual due to the loss of a child early in his marriage. He thought it was interesting that a federal decision was being touted as a state issue: nothing had changed in New York, and the state law was settled. While he had right-to-life beliefs, he was willing to discuss exceptions in cases of the health of the mother, rape or incest.
“Roe v. Wade represented one of the single most devastating decisions, [affecting] the right of a woman to make her own health care decisions for millions across the country,” Ball said. He said he was unequivocally in support of a woman’s right to choose, having had a personal experience in which a friend of his needed an abortion for health reasons.
The Equal Rights Amendment, which would enshrine the right to abortion in the state’s constitution, requires a second vote in the legislature before it goes to a referendum. Ball stated he would vote in favor of the amendment; Oberacker voted against it earlier this year.
Moderators asked the candidates what they would do to ease the impact of economic hardships, such as inflation, gas prices and supply chain issues, on business owners and constituents.
“Working class folks need immediate relief,” said Ball. His short-term goals for relief include assistance with utility bills and a moratorium on gas taxes. Longer-term goals include attracting new businesses with better-paying jobs to the area, as well as cracking down on corporate greed.
Against common advice, Oberacker had moved his business from Texas to New York, he said; the town where he lived needed a jump start. “When we did that, the mandates that I saw come down from Albany are stifling.” Regulations needed to come from the bottom up, he said.
Moderators said it had been almost three years since bail reform had been implemented in New York State, and asked if the legislature had got it right.
“Absolutely not,” said Oberacker. The issue he took with Albany was that state government didn’t admit it when things didn’t work; the state needs to repeal bail reform, support law enforcement, and further support first responders.
“Repeal is an impractical solution,” said Ball. “There’s no way that’s going to happen in the state.” He supports measures to improve bail reform including giving judges more discretion for risk assessment.
One of the audience questions asked was how the candidates could work with the community to improve health care, especially in poorer households.
It’s an issue Ball was paying close attention to, he said. Ball referenced the New York Health Act, a bill that would provide comprehensive health care coverage to New Yorkers, and said that expanding coverage would help uplift communities.
One simple place to start is with mental health, said Oberacker: mental health issues lead to opioid substance use disorder, which ties up hospitals and care resources. He recommended funding specific mental health facilities in Sullivan County. Answering a follow-up question about mental health issues in youth, Oberacker said the alcohol and substance use committee was in the process of taking funds from the opioid lockbox, and figuring out where to invest it for the best return on investment. “We will then start to see the reduction in the stresses on the overworked hospitals and emergency rooms and the care facilities that are out there.”
People don’t have access to care, said Ball; public transportation would help bring people who are suffering to treatment facilities.
Candidates were asked to describe their positions on issues of equality, specifically marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights.
“I know the difference between supporting at-risk youth and vilifying them,” said Ball. The transphobic rhetoric seen from positions of power across the country further stigmatize people who already don’t feel like they are a part of the community. He supports the Equal Rights Amendment (referenced above) which would prohibit acts of discrimination against the LGTBQ community.
“We are all God’s children,” said Oberacker. “I believe it, from every fiber of my body, I profess it, I show it.” When the issue comes up, he would support it, he said.
Candidates were asked to state their positions on gun control, and on the recent attempts by New York State to advance it.
Oberacker has been a concealed carry permit holder since 1986, he said: “I’ve never committed a crime.” New York State’s gun regulations took away people’s second amendment rights to prevent crimes that are being committed by criminals who would not ever follow the law. “Can we get a discussion going that actually addresses the issue, but doesn’t negatively impact those of us that want to exercise our second amendment rights?” Republicans had proposed a law to put school resource officers in schools to address school shootings, Oberacker said, a proposal that had been rebuffed.
Ball was raised with guns, he said: he supported the second amendment, and doesn’t believe we need to set up a system that penalized law-abiding gun owners. The country does have a pandemic of gun violence, he said: he supports strengthened background checks and red flag laws.
Sullivan County has the highest opioid overdose rate of any county in the state, said moderators. Candidates were asked what they would do to combat the opioid crisis.
Treatment centers are overburdened, said Ball, without enough staff or resources; funding needs to come back from Albany to help build these resources. “We can’t continue to see people just dropping dead.” First responders need lifesaving equipment like Narcan, and youth need education.
The state needs to get the real numbers for overdoses, said Oberacker. Overdoses are only reported when they result in a death; injections of Narcan aren’t reported as overdoses. If the state got the numbers of Narcan injections, it would see that the opioid epidemic had not gone by, and is even increasing, said Oberacker.
Moderators asked the candidates what they would do to ensure voting rights in New York State, and whether voters in New York are protected to exercise their right to vote.
Leaders not being able to accept the results of elections has gotten out of control, said Ball. “We need to seriously look at what damage that’s [doing] to our institutions” from that rhetoric. Ball supports early access and absentee voting; coming from local government, he has seen that civic engagement is on a decline, and communities need support to be more civically engaged.
“It doesn’t always have to be easy [to vote], nor should it. It’s important,” said Oberacker. “I have voted in every election since I’ve been 18. I have taken the time that it takes to physically go and vote.” Perception is 90 percent of what is out there, said Oberacker; he doesn’t see why changes needed to be made to make it easier to vote.
Oberacker said in his closing that he appreciated the opportunity to come out and talk about key issues. “The job of a state senator is wide-ranging. You need to lead on key community issues. You must stand up and fight for our shared values. And it is essential that you listen to the constituents and work with them to ensure they’re well represented in Albany.” The issues he has heard from constituents include tax relief, economic development, public safety and opportunities for the future; he wants to fight back against out-of-control spending, over-regulation and policies that drove people out of New York.
Ball said it is healthy for democracy that there can be civil discussions between people who disagree. “At the end of the day, we agree that we want our communities to be safe. We want to have growth again. We want to see jobs come back.” Ball said he would bring his experience in local government to Albany, and he would be an active state senator, working to support partnerships apart from special interests or the interest of party.
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