Culture war battles could shape North Country races

More often than not, the big headline grabbing scrums at the national level just don’t get much play here in the North Country.  Elections can pivot on hyper-local issues.  Sometimes, a family name or a local scandal is plenty.

But every so often, our politics reflect, or even prefigure, the big national trends.

When Doug Hoffman launched his Conservative Party candidacy, he was challenging the region’s Republican establishment, a kind of pre-amble of the tea party insurrection that followed.

This year again, issues like same-sex marriage, contraception, and religious liberty could well be defining — or at least significant factors — in at least three key political match-ups.

The 114th Assembly District

Republican Janet Duprey, who supported same-sex marriage, already faces two candidates who see themselves as more conservative on social issues.

Two years ago, Cadyville businessman David Kimmel challenged Duprey and made homosexuality one of his issues.  In the end, he lost handily and Duprey blasted him in her victory speech.

“It’s not about screaming during a debate and distorting the facts afterwards,” Duprey said.  “And it’s not about prejudice and hateful messages.  I truly believe this victory tonight is an affirmation of my personal honesty, integrity and willingness to stand for what I believe in. It is an affirmation against bullying, bigotry and intolerance.”

In the rematch this year, Kimmel says he plans to focus more on economic issues, according to Chris Morris’s report int he Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

[H]e still stands behind his conservative principles when it comes to things like gay marriage and abortion – both of which he adamantly opposes. But in this race, he wants to put the focus on the economy and job creation.

“I owe it to myself, my supporters, and frankly to the voters,” he said. “I don’t mean to say I’m abandoning anything at all. I don’t mean to say I’ve suddenly gone from being one way to being another. I want to make sure it’s clear. And that’s something I can control by constantly focusing on those things.”

But Kimmel (and fellow conservative Karen Bisso, who is also running against Duprey) come from a faction of the North Country’s GOP that parted ways with Duprey primarily because of gay marriage.

Minimizing that issue won’t be easy.

State Senate 43rd district

And then there’s the fight brewing around state Senator Roy McDonald, a veteran Republican who was the deciding vote that pushed same-sex marriage over the top in New York. His district includes a big chunk of Glens Falls and Queensbury.

He now faces a full-blown rebellion, with the Conservative Party pulling its support, and many town GOP committees refusing to back him.

Even his home town of Wilton sided with his primary challenger, a state Assemblyman from Rensselaer County named Steven McLaughlin.

“[Sen. McDonald’s] stances on the social issues, especially the gay marriage vote, played heavily on the minds of the people that eventually voted for Steve McLaughlin,” county chairman Scott Kingsley said in an interview with the Glens Falls Post Star.

The tension is creating a lot of hand-wringing for party leaders.

“They think that they can punish Roy, but they may be punishing themselves,” [long-time Saratoga County GOP chairman Jasper Nolan said [in an interview with the Saratogian newspaper].

“Did he do something we’re all mad about? Yes. But let’s face it, everybody knows that the issue of same-sex marriage is over. We cannot reverse that at this point in time.”

23rd district Congressional race

Meanwhile, the 23rd district congressional race also faces some of the culture war crosscurrents roiling Washington.

Republican challenger Matt Doheny has issued three press releases in the last month, targeting incumbent Democrat Bill Owens on the contraception-religious freedom debate that has gone thermonuclear.

“My opponent continues to pretend that it’s perfectly acceptable for government to use the guise of ‘greater good’ to mandate what insurance will cover, regardless of whose freedoms are trampled,” Doheny said in his statement.

He went on to identify himself as “an American and a practicing Catholic,” adding, “Owens is a Catholic, but he’s put his loyalty to ObamaCare first by defending the ruling.”

It’s a rare thing for a North Country politician to lay down a religious challenge so bluntly, calling out an opponent on the practice of his faith.

Owens, meanwhile, has officially supported a White House backed compromise plan that Bishop Terry LaValley, head of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, has said still appears to be inadequate.

The plan would have insurance companies pay for contraception directly, without involving faith groups.

“I had hoped a compromise could be reached on this issue, and I believe President Obama has found a responsible balance,” [Rep. Owens] said. “This compromise ensures women will have access to essential preventive health care while protecting religious liberty.”

Nationally, polls show that more Americans side with President Obama than with the bishops on this particular issue, but it’s unclear how it will cut here in the North Country.

So that’s three big races in our region, each with a big dose of culture war politics spicing the soup.  So what do you think?  Are these issues a distraction?  Do social issues play a big role in helping you decide your vote?

And how do you Republicans see this?  In two of these cases, moderate GOP leaders face challenges from the more socially conservative wing of their party.  Is that a healthy tension?  A sign of disarray?  Comments welcome.

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28 Comments on “Culture war battles could shape North Country races”

  1. oa says:

    Brian, It would be revealing to ask Doheny if he agrees with Santorum that JFK’s speech on absolute separation of church and state induces nausea.
    And also, if he thinks Catholic doctrine should be applied more than Protestant doctrine in his approach to representing the North Country.

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  2. oa says:

    One last thing: Is Doheny implying that all Catholic politicians should take a loyalty oath to the Pope and bishops? Even on things like molesting priests?

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  3. DeeBee says:

    Yes, social issues play in role in how I vote. I vote AGAINST anyone who wants to take away individual freedoms in the name of religious freedom! And AGAINST anyone who feels the need to push their personal values on me!

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  4. Pete Klein says:

    I am a very sociable person. I like people. Is that enough or am I supposed to go around condemning others to prove how much I care about “social issues?”
    It would seem so, based upon the hate you hear from the conservative right.

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  5. Two Cents says:

    Conservative right behaves from fear that if you DON’T push your point, and condemn that you will be buried by liberal left’s erosion of the “American foundation”
    What i believe i am witnessing in GOP politics today is fear’s last grasp, and i agree with you pete i like to live and let live, yet there are times i would like to step on the fingers of that last grasping hand, just for effect, and giggles.

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  6. Walker says:

    Two cents, I sure hope it is the last gasp. It is interesting that “conservatives” are always touting freedom, except when it involves freedom from government interference in their chosen moral issues.

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  7. Bob Falesch says:

    Yes, Brian, these issues are a profound distraction. There are big blocks of voters whose apparent fear and/or hatred of “the other” compels them to support politicians who are singularly devoid of qualifications, talent, or disposition to govern. These issues are a distraction from the fact that international affairs have been, for a couple decades now, at the brink of determining whether our “way of life” will or will not be swept away after some military exchange or revolt in one part of the world or another, or whether some country’s central bank will bring down the entire world’s economy next week. And we, the citizens of this country, are sitting here flapping our jaws about a few people getting married or agonizing over the Catholic Church’s precious autonomy when 90% of its women members use various and sundry modes of “artificial” birth control right under the noses of its doctrinaire white male “leaders.”

    So, do social issues play a role in deciding my vote? I dunno, but they sure do affect my mood.

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  8. dave says:

    In theory… I cheer at how radicalized conservatives have become. They are champions for issues that the vast majority of Americans disagree with. And they are clearly sitting on the wrong side of history when it comes to equality and tolerance… all the while desperately holding on to a past that allowed them to discriminate against people they disliked.

    Over time, this can only mean good political things for centrists and progressives and a more equal and just society.

    However, in reality, it is hard not to be depressed by this. Because these are the people we have to live with in our towns… and let’s not sugar coat it, in small rural upstate towns there tend to be more of them. I do not view it as a good thing that my neighbors are becoming more and more radicalized, politically desperate, and forceful about trying to deny people equality and choice. In fact, along with depressing, I’d also describe it as a little scary.

    I’m not sure what the answers are to bridging these gaps or cooling this environment – and I have no sense of how long it actually takes for people like this to be completely marginalized in our society… but from where I sit it can’t happen fast enough.

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  9. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Honestly it is sad to me to see how delusional the current brand of conservatism is, and scary too. My parents watch Fox News and I have seen them become slowly detached from some of the values they used to hold. I have seen something I never thought I would see in my parents; fear. And I blame the fear-mongering right-wing media for warping the psyche of my aging parents.

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  10. Bob Falesch says:

    I think many who use the word “tolerate” believe exactly the same way I do about minorities, religion, homosexuality, immigrants, and social issues in general. But I find use of that word to be very troubling, despite the fact I probably agree with many of its users. I once used that word in such cases, but nowadays I try to use the word “accommodate” instead (not that I find it perfect either). When we “tolerate” something, don’t we imply there’s something wrong going on, but we just put up with it anyway? When we tolerate, are we not hoping that it’s short-term, and that some day, whatever the problem is, it will be fixed? Toleration feels to me like we live and let live, but have really nothing to do with those we “tolerate.”

    …just one of my little linguistic pet peeves.

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  11. Sue K says:


    I have the same feeling about my “aging” parents (in their mid-eighties). They watch Fox News, too and I see fear in them and a narrow-mindedness that I never saw before. It saddens me to see it in people I always thought of as very open minded with a live and let live attitude. The Fox outrage machine has them on edge all the time.

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  12. TomL says:

    It is interesting that there is a concerted effort to purge from the party New York Republicans who supported marriage equality. My sense is practically everyone has moved on, except a small rump of teaparty activists and conservative religious leaders – most New Yorkers are either happy with marriage equality, or else don’t really care. Whereas North Country Republicans may be able to win running on economic issues, I think running on divisive social issues is a loser, even in this region. The Republicans in New York are sounding more and more like a party of grumpy old white men.
    It is sad, really, that many of the NY Republican office holders that are attacked as ‘RINOs’ for being insufficiently socially-conservative are women.

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  13. Mervel says:

    But the nation is getting older and if we keep not having kids we will be a nation of grumpy old men so in that regard the Republicans will do well in the future.

    Demographics and politics are not static. I mean who are all of these Republicans who control the House who may win the White House? Are they 90, did they grow up with Richard Nixon and Reagan? Noooo, they are baby boomers, flower children of the 60’s. I think expectations of the conservative demise based on being out of touch; are really overblown. People change during their life cycle and based on their circumstances and their age.

    I would say right now social issues are political losers and I agree with that on this go around. But maybe not in the future. I think in the North country having high rates of poverty, unemployment and taxes, would trump social issues for most people, it does for me. I mean I would rather have a decent job than worry about if gay marriage is right or wrong or a long term problem.

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  14. Two Cents says:

    we might be in some agreement here.
    I’m a boomer child of the sixties, and i can attest that there are no hippies in office–none that admitt it or show any signs.

    Nothing is static, but it sure seems we are forever traveling over the same ground.

    We STILL are arguing over women’s reproductive rights, eliminating poverty, stopping war, and the coup de grace-legal weed. ALL 60’s issues.
    Just recently my god daughter and her husband named their baby Reagan after the most red-necked, class culling President i have experienced.
    They weren’t even born when Raygun was president.
    Made Nixon seem like a progressive, Watergate was nothing new in politics, but the EPA was.
    Reagan made thousands homeless, fostered Bush’s children in Silverado and God knows what else.
    I figured by the time i was forty these geezer’s would all but be dust, but no luck, i guess no birth controll was wasted on them.

    The world does not need more people, but you won’t be able to convince developing nations like India, not when i read there are 70 year old women giving birth.
    Declining birth rates in the US is no reason to allow immigration to run rampant out of true controll, for the sake of a working class and liberal voters. NOW is the time for conservation of ALL resources.

    The backlash will hit China soon enough, and will join Japan in desprate pleas for FARMERS. Chinas cities were thronged at one time with country folk pleading for jobs, now they are being recruited, and offered perks they used to have to beg for.
    Soon they won’t be able to feed themselves.
    North Korea is so shot they are begging for plastic to make cold cloches for bok choy.

    We need a paraddigm shift toot sweet, but historically when that occurs, Civilizations fall.

    Gay Marriage? really? please, jobs? please-yes please,

    I have absolutely no banked money but if i did:
    Here’s an idea for an Adirondack Enterprise, and jobs-
    A WOOD BLOCK factory, or is that too pedestrian?
    maybe we get what few children we’re making off the electronics, they may develope the Engineering skills needed to rebuild this crumbling world

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  15. Mervel says:

    hahah RayGun I have not heard that since 1980.

    Today he is a moderate!

    I am a person out of time and place, a socially conservative Democrat and sometimes a pro-life socialist; I have no kindred spirits.

    What happened to all for our friends man?

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  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Hey Mervel, I’m a pro-life socialist too! But someone stole the English language out from under me and pro-life doesn’t really mean exactly what it says.

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  17. Adkrealist says:

    Social issues have been effectively used to distract people while gross income inequality was developing. It was a ‘watch the birdie’ ploy that worked from 2000-2008 when the economy collapsed. And in 2010 the same voters were duped by simplistic logic that suggested getting the economy growing again somehow compared to your household budget. Is the electorate capable of paying attention to the real issues? I’m not sure, especially with all the super-pac money in play trying so hard to manipulate people.

    Social issues will come into play but my cynical side says this is more about power politics than anyone’s convictions. Romney is a fine example of this……a rich guy willing to say anything to win the prize. The only question is will the electorate be fooled again by this nonsense? Or not?

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  18. Ken Hall says:

    For those who find “tolerate” and “accommodate” apropos when it comes to the rights and privileges of “others” about whom you have qualms concerning their lifestyles; how about the word “ACCEPT”?

    That so many in the Northcountry, whose very survival here is dependent upon social benevolence conferred by and large via the liberal/Democratic lawmakers, prefer conservative/Republican standards is illustrative of the incredible forces exerted upon the human psyche via targeted marketing and advertisements. The social distractions of religion, sex/homosexuality, real marriage vice homosexual marriage, ….. are not coincidental accidents that arise every political season. The uber-rich spend “real” dollars to have these issues apparently “spontaneously” arise precisely to create moral consternation between neighbors, not just in the Northcountry, to con the true believers into voting for those who could give a rats patooti less about them. Think about it; if the vast majority of US citizens occupy the lower income 90-99% economic realm vice the 1-10% high to obscenely high economic realm why would nearly half of the lower incomers vote to support the ultra incomers?

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  19. Paul says:

    “Yes, social issues play in role in how I vote. I vote AGAINST anyone who wants to take away individual freedoms in the name of religious freedom! And AGAINST anyone who feels the need to push their personal values on me!”

    I agree. This is why I lean away from anyone who supports unnecessary government intrusion into any parts of our lives.

    It is funny in the not so distant past it was liberals who told us to be careful about what kinds of freedoms the government might want to take away from you. Now they tend to be the ones that trust that the government has all the answers and can solve all our problems. Liberals used to say things like “stick it to the MAN” back in the 60’s now they are in bed with the MAN. Funny how times and people change.

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  20. Two Cents says:

    “…..why would nearly half of the lower incomers vote to support the ultra incomers?”

    I used to think it was because they still had hope, and i had lost mine.
    Now i know they are dupes, and rubes for those that use them like sticks.

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  21. Walker says:

    Paul, when liberals (er, hippies) didn’t trust the Man, the Man was trying bust them for smoking pot and sending them to Vietnam to kill or be killed. Now, though, ex-hippies have about half the power of the Man, so they’re trying to turn that power to useful, helpful, positive things, like health care for all. Big difference!

    The only reason “Obamacare” is set up to force people to buy health insurance is because the ex-hippies couldn’t get single-payer past the Republicans and Blue Dogs. Single-payer wouldn’t force anyone to do anything, it would provide free health care for all, but Richie Rich could still buy super-fabulous private care.

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  22. Paul says:

    Walker, sure the “power” can be used for good and bad things. That is exactly the problem. Once they have it we just better hope that they want to do good stuff. Should we trust them? The founders of this republic thought that we should not, I tend to agree. If there is a better way to do it and not have the government involved we should do it that way. I don’t want to divert the conversation onto HC but this is a good example. We don’t need single payer health care. This doesn’t mean that I don’t care about sick people it just means that I think there is a better way to accomplish everyone getting the care that they need, and it can be done without it being fixed by the government. Every time that we run into a problem should we just throw up our hands and say that the only way we can fix this is to have the government take care of it?

    The jury is still out on the affordable care act. As you probably read in the papers this weekend according to the CBO there are some “technical glitches” and the program is costing about $111 billion more than projected in last years budget. I am sure there is nothing to worry about here we can trust them.

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  23. mervel says:

    Ken that is a great question you pose, about how a good portion of moderately lower income or at least middle income people often support very conservative politicians.

    To me I think it is cultural. Democrats have to figure out a way to connect with middle income and lower income working men, there is no reason that they can’t.

    Walker who are you talking about? Conservatives today are just as likely to have been hippies as liberals. Look at the ages of who is conservative and who is liberal.

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  24. Two Cents says:

    “..the problem is hippies are dirty and smelly, and they want to lay around all day and hugging trees and stuff…”

    – Eric Cartman-

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  25. Walker says:

    Paul: “…I think there is a better way to accomplish everyone getting the care that they need, and it can be done without it being fixed by the government.”

    You could be right, but I’m not aware of any proposals that seem to hold any promise to address the issue, are you? Or any working examples in any other nation? Do you have an approach you think would work? Who’s going to put it in place? If private enterprise is capable of solving the problem, what’s stopping it?

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  26. Walker says:

    “Conservatives today are just as likely to have been hippies as liberals.”

    Possibly true (though it would be interesting to see actual statistics on the question). But conservatives came out of the “sixties” (which really should read “sixties/seventies”) feeling that those decades had been a terrible mistake, while liberals came out feeling that we had been pretty much on the right track, and we should have just kept on truckin’. Conservatives are reactionaries.

    There was a Sunday NY Times editorial by Charles Blow on Santorum where he (Santorum) makes that point. It’s not especially germane, but here’s a link anyway:

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  27. Walker says:

    Sorry! Wrong blog post… too many tabs open!

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  28. Walker says:

    Oh nevermind! Right post, just a multitasking breakdown.

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