Can Democrats capitalize on Owens’ success?

Are any Democrats following in Bill Owens’ footsteps or is he an outlier in North Country politics?

In politics, there are two kinds of winners, those with coattails and those without coattails.

Congressman Bill Owens should know.  In 2009, he fought his way into office riding the still-powerful wave of Barack Obama’s early popularity.

The Democrat from Plattsburgh has since established himself on his own merits as the most powerful politician in the North Country and looks very tough to beat in 2014.

But a question remains:  What does Owens’ success mean for the region’s broader Democratic Party? Can he carry others along in his wake?

Is he the start of something, or an outlier?

First a little history.

I think it’s fair to argue that the groundwork for Owens’ success was laid by other prominent Democrats, from Hillary Clinton’s US Senate run, to the brief flash of popularity enjoyed by Eliot Spitzer.

By the time Owens appeared on the scene, the Republican-leaning mood in the North Country had clearly changed.

And thanks in large part to former New York Democratic Party chair June O’Neill, from St. Lawerence County, the party’s grassroots strength had grown just enough to capitalize.

Yet serious questions remain about the ability of Democrats to mature into a true regional powerhouse, capable of competing race-by-race and contest-by-contest.

Yes, there are some prominent Democrats working at the local level, including Essex County board of supervisors chair Randy Douglas and Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau.

But the party has  yet to develop the kind of talent and infrastructure that will allow them to fight for bigger Assembly and state Senate seats.

Those are the kinds of victories that Democrats need if they’re going to play on par with the GOP.

It was a major stumble last year when Democrats failed to front a top-tier candidate for the Assembly seat being vacated by Teresa Sayward — but truth be told, it wasn’t an unexpected stumble.

In far too many races, Democrats just aren’t recruiting and supporting the kind of political talent that can match the GOP’s bench.

Even in urban elections — in Watertown, Plattsburgh and Glens Falls — Democrats aren’t competing effectively for the top seats that would seem like viable targets.

Which brings us back to Bill Owens.

He may be a lock in the next election cycle and, indeed, he’ll be hard to beat as long as he chooses to keep running.  But right now, it’s hard to find Democrats coming up through the ranks who would be a plausible next-contender for a job like his.

One part of the problem may be that Owens has tacked so hard to the middle and worked so hard to win support from Republican moderates that he may just not be able to develop real partisan coattails.

For the moment, this is all good news for Republicans.

They may have lost the big prize in North Country politics.  But for the moment at least, the GOP still dominates almost every other regional or state-level office.


96 Comments on “Can Democrats capitalize on Owens’ success?”

  1. tootightmike says:

    Given the persistence of corruption at all levels of government in this state, it is no great honor to be the party in control. Bill Owens is our elected Congressman because of his integrity and his commitment to listening; doing the work of the people of this district. The Republicans will only be able to compete if they can field a candidate who has these talents, and seems willing to buck the party in favor of the people.
    The Republican Party however, will choose a minion to do the business of the Party, and they will funnel money into a fight that pleases no one in this district.

  2. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    True that Dems dont have a deep bench of potential candidates, but that is only a matter of time. Not many years ago a Democrat elected to a prominent position was an unusual creature, but there are more all the time and as the younger demographic group ages into the time of their life when they have time to devote to public service we will see many more Democrats elected.

    Not long ago there were zero Democrats elected to Supreme Court of this northern district, then Robert Muller was elected and he proved it could be done. Last election Christine Clark was elected. Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand (in two different positions), Scott Murphy, Bill Owens — gone are the days when NC voters wouldnt touch the Democratic line.

  3. newt says:

    Yes, it’s not that much about party up here. McHugh and his predecessors were mostly moderate pragmatists who hewed to the party line (pro-life, supporting the Bush wars and budget busting) on national issues, but focused on constituent service and local economic issues ( Canada trade, Ft. Drum) without regard to party. Owens continues in that tradition, except he broadly supports the Dem. agenda nationally. Republican tea party and Wall St. candidates will continue to get them skunked, but this does not lead to any large Dem trend here.

  4. newt says:

    Except for one thing. The Democrats have become nationally the sole party of centrist moderation, (in another time, Obama could have been a Republican. He has said as much), while the Republicans continue to love being the morally correct right-wing ideologues. To the extent this happens here, they will continue to lose.

  5. Rancid Crabtree says:

    I;m sorry Newt, but Obama could never, ever have been a conservative. One of todays Republicans, yeah, I suppose, but there isn’t a conservative bone in his body. But then, most of the GOP lacks that bone too!

    Until people start looking at their paychecks and wondering where all that money goes that’s taken out before they get paid the Dems will continue to prevail. When your platform is “Free stuff!!!” and “Make the rich pay for everything”…how do you fight that in a society where “me first” is the state religion?

  6. Walker says:

    Rancid, if the rich are being bled white by all us greedy leeches, how come wealth is being concentrated more and more in the hands of the few, so much so that our distribution of wealth, once one of the most equal in the world, now makes us look like a banana republic? That narrative doesn’t fit the facts.

  7. newt says:

    I said Republican, not conservative. If you take the craziness out, Richard Nixon’s environment, healthcare (supporting a national system), and other policies were not that far from Obama’s. These are moderate positions that used to be held widely across the political spectrum. And, were it not for the culture wars and deadly hand of American cold war hysteria , they might have worked.

    I don’t think that asking the wealhy to pay as much as they did under, say, Dwight Eisenhower, is “make the rich pay for everything,” but I don’t want to re-hash that argument again.

  8. Pete Klein says:

    As time goes on and more and more people see it is not necessary to be a Republican to get a job at the town or county level, there will be a few more Democrats running for office.
    Once upon a time, if you wanted work up here, it was a good idea to claim to be a Republican. That was true even if you wanted to run for office.

  9. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Walker, I didn’t say the rich were getting hurt. I said the platform is “Free stuff!!!” and “Make the rich pay for everything”. We are all paying though the nose. But the platform is that the greedy rich are leeching off the poor, which seems to be your tale, and that the benevolent Democrat gov’t is going to fix that.

  10. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Well Newt if you want to make comparisons GW Bush wasn’t all that different from Woodrow Wilson. But the fact is none were conservative.

  11. Mervel says:

    I would agree with knuckle. I think it is more a matter of time the voters are ready in the NC for more Democrats and I think most voters up here, still vote the person rather than the party. We are simply not that ideological. Which to me is a good thing we are not in this crazed frenzy of Liberal Vs Conservative and all of the hot button issues that don’t matter that much but divide us thrown in. Who can get the job done and help the North Country is what most of us want to know. I think Owens may not bring tons of new blood right now, but I think he is representative of a the kind of moderate that can win in the North Country, from either party.

  12. Peter Hahn says:

    Owens won the first time because Doug Hoffman was in the race and the Republicans threw Dede Scozzafava under the bus. They effectively ceded the political center to the Democrats in the North Country, which had been a centrist/republican type region. Maybe now it will become a centrist/Democrat region. I dont think that is “coat-tails” so much as self-inflicted wounds by the republicans.

    Rancid’s conflation of the republican party with “conservative” is part of their (the republican party’s) problem.

  13. Paul says:

    “As time goes on and more and more people see it is not necessary to be a Republican to get a job at the town or county level, there will be a few more Democrats running for office.
    Once upon a time, if you wanted work up here, it was a good idea to claim to be a Republican. That was true even if you wanted to run for office.”

    This is certainly not true in Saranac Lake where I grew up. It seemed to me that we had more democrats than republicans at most times. Charlie Keough (a republican) did win one mayoral election (I think it may have been to John Campion (a democrat and postmaster). He won it by drawing a higher card since the election was a tie! Someone else that knows SL history better than I may know more about this?

    But Pete there have always been lots of democrats in the Adirondacks.

  14. Peter Hahn says:

    Rancid – do you consider health care and education for poor children “free stuff”? Thats most of what you are talking about.

  15. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul – I have heard many times from many people that many jobs in the Adirondack region required at least not being a democrat – you could be an independent, but being a republican was better. Maybe not in the village of Saranac Lake.

  16. Paul says:

    “Paul – I have heard many times from many people that many jobs in the Adirondack region required at least not being a democrat – you could be an independent, but being a republican was better.”

    Peter what are you talking about? Maybe this is true but I have never seen or heard any evidence of this around the Saranac Lake and Lake Placid areas. Both places that I have lived and worked.

    Can you be more specific? Or at least give an example or two? It sounds like you have “many” examples.

    Given the apparent need to be a Republican, why do you think that Democrats have done so well at some of these local political positions? But it is true that republicans have historically dominated congressional races.

  17. newt says:

    Woodrow Wilson was very much like George W. Bush in that his poorly-thought-out interventionism took us down a bad road. At least we went into WWI after the other sides had bled themselves nearly dry, and lost relatively-few troops, not leading the way, as with Bush.
    On the other hand, Bush was not a racist like Wilson.
    These two were probably the worst Presidents of the last 100 years.

  18. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul – what is true is that it is believed to be true.

  19. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Peter, yes, to an extent. But it’s not healthcare for poor people or education for poor kids. The poor are already covered by Medicaid and poor kids get the same ed or better than middle class. The platform of “free stuff” means more than healthcare and education, it’s the grants and subsidies and loans and pork. It’s the State buying more land, building various infrastructure, sports complexes, conference centers, etc. It’s gov’t spending taxpayer dollars where it has no business doing so. It’s talk of forgiving student loans or footing the bill for floods and storms and rebuilding New Orleans for the umpteenth time. It’s subsidized housing and heat and groceries and whatever else they come up with.

    You seem to view thinking like that as cruel. Sorry, but I don’t think it is at all. Instead of having a goal of “helping” people by throwing tax dollars at them, shouldn’t the goal be helping them by providing them the opportunity to get a decent job and to be able to support themselves? Shouldn’t the goal be to have an economy that is robust enough that we don’t need to borrow money and run deficits? Shouldn’t the goal be to have gov’t spending cut by a huge amount and consequentially lower taxes for all of us? That’s the fundamental divide between us- one side thinks gov’t needs to take care of a large portion of our population from cradle to grave, to provide jobs, to underwrite the eceonomy. The other thinks gov’ts purpose is to help the truly needy and to assist in creating an environment where people can take care of themselves so that less gov’t is needed.

    I want everyone to have a chance to work for a decent life. Others seem to want it handed to them. “Free stuff”, “Let the rich pay for it”. Santa Claus. That’s the platform.

  20. Peter Hahn says:

    Rancid – leaving aside whether it is cruel, there is the question of whether or not it is good or bad for the economy and good or bad for everyone else for the government to spend that money.

    I dont think it is a coincidence that all the rich countries have governments that take the social welfare of their citizens seriously, and all the poor ones dont (or cant). Ironically the countries that take from the rich and give to the poor – as you seem to think it is – are the countries with the most rich people, and the countries with the greatest opportunities for the middle class.

  21. Mervel says:


    Right, for example people just are not going to get fired up about a tea party style candidate like Hoffman. The self-inflicted wound was not coming up with a good moderate candidate on the Republican side that was actually a conservative/moderate, and someone people like and know. The second part is just as important in getting elected here as the first. People didn’t really know Hoffman and he didn’t seem like he was from the area and importantly he didn’t seem to know the area and the particular concerns and issues here. Ideology is not going to alone win an election in the NC.

    I think Owens is vulnerable from a well established local moderate-conservative who people know and trust and who knows the issues. I don’t see someone like that on the horizon however?

  22. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Peter Hahn says:
    February 7, 2013 at 10:00 am

    “Owens won the first time because Doug Hoffman was in the race and the Republicans threw Dede Scozzafava under the bus.”

    Dede threw herself under the bus. She made her statements and took her stance. She’s too smart a woman not to know what she was doing. I think she simply under estimated the power of the issue and didn’t give the more conservative part of the party much credence. Hoffman grabbed for the Tea Party moniker. I didn’t think he really understood it then and I don’t now. I think Dede could have gotten the TP handle if she had concentrated on fiscal issues. IMO the majority of the anti-Dede feelings came from the socially conservative part of the party, not the fiscal hawks. She could have fine tuned her message a bit and taking the gay marriage issue off the main screen. But she got mad. She felt betrayed, with some cause. There were a lot of people that desperately wanted to support her but she kept drifting left. Hoffman was a terrible candidate and it’s a shame Dede lost to him.

    Just before this happened I was talking with her and asked her who she wanted for Prez. She was a George Allen supporter. You’d think she’d have noticed what happens when you say the wrong thing if she was watching George.

  23. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Peter, how much more should we do? You do realize we are having problems making ends meet, right? It’s been noted before that we can tax the “rich” at 100% of their income and we’d be able to run the gov’t for 8 days! Take all the wealth for the “rich” and we can run the gov’t for a couple months. We simply spend too much. The state is in the same boat, that’s why Cuomo isn’t promising any school aid. He’s got more important things to worry about I guess. So what do we do? Obamacare is going to cost at least 7 million people their healthcare and cost a lot of people a lot of money and that’s before we even get into the taxes. The U6 is still at 14.4%, we have 8.7 million people collecting disability, the economy shrank last quarter. We have a revenue to GDP ratio of 32% and a spending to GDP ratio of 41%. We have $122 trillion in unfunded liabilities! I realize it seems like “the gov’t” should be helping anyone they can, but just where do you think the money is going to come from to do this? The income tax only brings in $1.1 trillion, the total Federal revenue is “only” $2.4 trillion but we’re already spending $3.5 trill. Defense is “only” 600 trillion. Where are you you going to get the funds to do all the “free” education and healthcare and housing and food and subsidies and everything else? I don’t know about you but land and school taxes alone take over 10% of my income. Fed and State taxes take another huge portion. Over 10% of our population just isn’t working. About half of American households receive direct gov’t benefits, that includes pensions, Social Security, welfare, etc. About 27% are in poverty programs. One study reported that in 2010 60% of American household received more in benefits than they paid in taxes. Hopefully most of them go on to pay more in taxes than they receive.

    And of all those rich nations you talk about that take such great care of their people, what are their tax rates? What do their economies look like? How many have we bailed out, rebuilt, underwritten and otherwise assisted? Of those how many paid anything back? It’s not as simple as “Tax more, spend more, economy improves”.

  24. Paul says:

    “Paul – what is true is that it is believed to be true.”

    I see.

  25. Paul says:

    ” Ironically the countries that take from the rich and give to the poor – as you seem to think it is – are the countries with the most rich people, and the countries with the greatest opportunities for the middle class.”

    Like China?

  26. newt says:

    Forbes Magazines Rating of top 10 societies in terms of economic opportunity and quality of life:

    1. Germany 6. Australia
    2.The Netherlands 7. Canada
    3.the U.K. 8. South Korea
    4.France 9. The U.S.
    5.Japan 10. Taiwan.

    I suspect if you took out “quality of life”, and left in “opportunity” the U.S. would rank somewhat higher, possibly in the top 5. I read somewhere that Canada and the Netherlands currently beat the crap out of us even in terms of opportunity. in spite of of their socialistic ways. Or, because of them.
    Of course, this comes form Forbes, that notorious leftest publication

  27. newt says:

    The above columns, after much effort, were SO even went I sent them out!!!!

  28. Paul says:

    newt, we can read it fine. Check out that guys name: Mourdoukoutas wow that is a tough one!

    He makes some good points. There isn’t a big spread even across the top ten. It always amazes me when I see Japan’s GDP.

  29. Paul says:

    How do you like that not even 75 years after the war and Germany is back on top, how did we let that happen! John Stewart had a great piece on that this fall.

  30. mervel says:

    Well they both have consistently lower unemployment than we do.

    What is fascinating to me is how different Europe is particularly on the Continent. You travel a couple of hundred miles down to Spain and they have 25% unemployment basically depression levels. Yet Germany and Netherlands sit there at 6-7% through this whole big recession.

    I think Germany is a better comparison to the US in that they are a larger country. I do know this and I am not an OWS person, German CEO’s make much much less than their US counterparts in the same industry and at the same time they have less poverty than we do. I don’t know the answer we are not going to jump into European style programs, but certainly we should look and learn a little have a little humility and pick up some ideas.

  31. Peter Hahn says:

    China is trying to educate the population and trying to provide health care, but they have a long way to go. They also have a small billionaire class and a big peasant population. They would like to have an educated middle class. They also have a very corrupt military dictatorship.

  32. Peter Hahn says:

    Newt – the USA is surprisingly low on the social mobility scale.

  33. Walker says:

    “Shouldn’t the goal be to have gov’t spending cut by a huge amount and consequentially lower taxes for all of us?”

    Rancid, you do realize that federal tax rates are at historic lows, right?

  34. mervel says:

    What does it mean when I continually hear that the USA is the richest country in the world?

  35. mervel says:

    One difference is that Germany spends 1.7% of their GDP on the military we spend 4.7% of our total GDP on the military. Think how much better of we would be if we were not trying to be the world police force running around the globe acting as if we were in charge nation building in numerous places, that also hate us? I mean if in charge means that Germany and Japan and all of these other countries are doing better than we are in economic and social terms and spending a fraction of what we spend on our empire and military machine, what is the point?????

  36. mervel says:

    Of course the point is that a bunch of people and government employees (generals) and military contractors make tons of money doing this by hoking up sense of crisis and need for a military machine. Yet Canada, Germany, and even China feel no need to spend a even a fraction of what we spend on the military.

    Of course Peneta is now talking about the “danger” of cutting his empire.

  37. mervel says:

    So wait I notice Taiwan on that list. Well a great society should be able to defend itself, the same goes for Japan correct? We are becoming less well off defending these countries that are doing better than we are on all fronts?

    The Chinese should be worried about the Japanese, not us. Why we are worried about the Chinese militarily boggles my mind, when the Japanese don’t seem overly concerned enough to build a decent military to defend themselves, but then again they can just rely on us.

  38. Paul says:

    “Rancid, you do realize that federal tax rates are at historic lows, right?”

    It is a good idea to qualify that with “federal”. When you add in things like NYS income tax, property tax, gas tax, other “fees” that have replaced many of the taxes that have been lowered you are in a tough spot. Why do you think the economy is now taking a shot with the increase in payroll taxes? It may be that most folks are so close tote edge that this kicks them back over the side.

    I am not sure that many people feel good about these recent increases in taxes at the federal level that have clobbered mostly middle and lower class workers.

  39. Paul says:

    “tote”? I think I mean to. Skiing tonight has tired the eyes and the legs!

  40. Paul says:

    Mervel, are the Japanese allowed to build a “decent military” based on the agreement post WW 2?

  41. newt says:

    Some other fun facts re Germany vs. the US.
    The US leads the serious world (meaning excluding tiny places like Lichtenstein or Qatar) in world in per cap GDP beating Germany $49,00-$38,000 (2013 World Almanac, p736). So we , on average, are much more productive than Germanss.
    But the annual hourly wage of German workers in 2010 (Ibid., p. 737) is (rounded) $47/hr., whereas the (more productive) US workers only get $35/hr . I wonder why that is? This productivity vs. worker pay contradiction also applies when comparing the US to Austria, Belgium, Canada (though only slightly), Denmark, Finland, France (!!!!!!!!!), Ireland (that’s what it says!), Netherlands, and.Switzerland. Norway had the highest worker pay, but also has higher per capita GDP.

    I assume that this is not counting health insurance, since that is guaranteed to everyone in all but one of those countries.
    Just think how much better these countries would be doing if they didn’t have to give their workers between 20 and 25 mandated paid days off per year (p.121) Too bad they are not like the U.S. which has zero nationally-mandated paid days off per year.

    All this has a big price, of course. Germany did not have a balanced Federal budget until December of this year. And it’s trade surplus was only $.2 trillion last year.

  42. Walker says:

    “Why do you think the economy is now taking a shot with the increase in payroll taxes? It may be that most folks are so close to the edge that this kicks them back over the side.”

    But is high taxes the problem, or is it low wages for all but the richest that has most of us close to the bone?

  43. Walker says:

    Paul, don’t believe the hype. The right has been screaming about taxes so loudly for so long that people believe taxes are going up even when they’re going down:

    most Americans in 2010 paid far less in total taxes — federal, state and local — than they would have paid 30 years ago. According to an analysis by The New York Times, the combination of all income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes took a smaller share of their income than it took from households with the same inflation-adjusted income in 1980.

    Households earning more than $200,000 benefited from the largest percentage declines in total taxation as a share of income. Middle-income households benefited, too. More than 85 percent of households with earnings above $25,000 paid less in total taxes than comparable households in 1980.

    Lower-income households, however, saved little or nothing. Many pay no federal income taxes, but they do pay a range of other levies, like federal payroll taxes, state sales taxes and local property taxes. Only about half of taxpaying households with incomes below $25,000 paid less in 2010. (Tax Burden for Most Americans Is Lower Than in the 1980s)

  44. Walker says:

    “The United States of America is a federal republic with autonomous state and local governments. Taxes are imposed in the United States at each of these levels. These include taxes on income, payroll, property, sales, imports, estates and gifts, as well as various fees. In 2010 taxes collected by federal, state and municipal governments amounted to 24.8% of GDP. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development], only Chile and Mexico taxed less as a share of GDP.” Wikipedia: Taxation in the United States

  45. mervel says:


    Yes I think that agreement could indeed be a factor. The same may apply to Germany?

    But the time is now to really look at our role as world protector and enforcer. It is one thing to take on that role when we were so much better off than the rest of the world after WWII and really before so many countries that were less developed became developed functioning countries. But today to take on that role as our economic competitors and allies pass us up on most scales of economic development and societal advancement makes no sense at all. We have more poor people than Germany or Japan or really most of Western Europe, yet we take on the role of defending all of those counties allowing them to have very limited and stunted military’s.

    I mean who does China mainly threaten militarily? China, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and India. These countries need to stand up to China first, not the US.

  46. The Original Larry says:

    Measure it any way you want, Walker, taxes are still too damn high, especially if you do a cost – benefit analysis. Governments at all levels display a staggering ability to blow money on needless and idiotic projects. The only solution is to cut their funding until they are forced to focus on essential services.

  47. Walker says:

    That a boy, Larry! Don’t let the facts get in your way!

  48. Walker says:

    “But the annual hourly wage of German workers in 2010 (Ibid., p. 737) is (rounded) $47/hr., whereas the (more productive) US workers only get $35/hr . I wonder why that is?”

    Newt, I assume you’re being coy in that question. But just to make it explicit, I think it’s a safe bet that the discrepancy is due to the stratospheric compensation that goes to our CEOs.

  49. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Walker, yes, if we spent less, eventually taxes could be lowered. Yes, presently our Federal taxes are at low levels compared to the 1979-2009 period. Go further back and they are astronomically high. Add in State and local taxes and they are higher yet. Every cent of tax that is charged to a producer of a given item is passed on to the consumer. If there are 2 levels between the producer and consumer the consumer pays the taxes for both parties and his own. If there are 15 levels you pay all 15 levels of tax and your own! It’s why it’s always less expensive to buy directly from the manufacturer at wholesale prices. State and local taxes add to this.

    More to the point, while we have relatively low Federal taxes at this time, the bill is going to come due at some point. Tax revenue is far lower than spending now. Our national debt, above and beyond the budget deficit, is making our dollar less and less valuable against other currencies. This is starting to show up on the world stage and just this AM there was an article on possible currency wars as in 1931. The rest of the world is hurting too.

    That’s the point Walker. We can’t support liberal spending when there is insufficient revenue to cover it. That only works for the short term. And while you like to note that we’re allegedly paying historically low taxes right now, well, in 2009 actually since that’s where the data line is at, and since you love to say the rich aren’t paying their fair share and since you also carry on about actual facts, the actual facts are for the period in question average before tax income fell by 18% for the top 20% of tax payers and by 36% for the top 1%. The 4 lower income quintiles fell less than 5%. IOW, no one is unaffected by the economy and the people that make the most and pay the most got hurt the most. Pesky facts.

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