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Matthew Flynn is one of the youngest GOP candidates preaching fiscal conservatism.
Matthew Flynn is one of the youngest GOP candidates preaching fiscal conservatism.

GOP preaches fiscal conservatism in November

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Republicans nationwide believe they're riding favorable winds to big victories in November. And the sail is emblazoned with a simple message: fiscal conservatism. The details of how the GOP would downsize government - and what that would mean for North Country jobs - is still a bit fuzzy.

Republican candidates held a meet-and-greet in Ogdensburg last week. David Sommerstein took the opportunity to ask them what they'd cut.

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At the Freighthouse restaurant in Ogdensburg, Republican candidates bellied up to the bar and mingled.  One thing they definitely have going for them - a clear message.

Republicans have to show that they are true fiscal conservatives.

We need to hold the line on taxes.

They want to see government cut spending.  They want to see smaller government.

I think Republicans have to be clear examples of fiscal discipline.

That was Kevin Ackers and Matthew Flynn, both running for the St. Lawrence county legislature, Patty Ritchie running for State Senate, and Harry Wilson, running for state comptroller.

The politicians here acknowledge their party is returning home after several years in the wilderness.  Under George W. Bush, Republicans racked up huge deficits and created whole new agencies of government.  Matt Doheny wants to unseat Congressman Bill Owens.

As a Republican Party we need to get back to our knitting.  They certainly went off the rails during the second half of the Bush Administration.

Of course, the real knives come out for President Obama and today's Democrats, for the stimulus, the bailouts, and health care from Washington, and the paralysis in Albany.  Ken Blankenbush chairs JeffersonCounty's legislature.  He's running for Dede Scozzafava's Assembly seat.

With a Democratic Governor, a Democratic-controlled Senate, and a Democratic-controlled Assembly, and they can't get a budget done.  And they're arguing back and forth about borrowing us out of debt, which makes no sense to me.

So what do you do?  If you don't raise taxes or accumulate more debt, you've got to cut.  With New York's 9 billion dollar deficit and the federal government's 12 trillion dollar debt, you've got to cut a lot.

Ken Blankenbush says slash state agencies.

We may have to say to every organization we have in the state, we're gonna cut ten percent until we get straightened out here.

The problem is the North Country relies heavily on government jobs.  According to Cornell's Rural Development Institute, one in four are government jobs, one in three in FranklinCounty.   Any state cuts would hit this region hard.  To wit, Governor Paterson wants to close the prisons in Ogdensburg and Moriah and LyonMountain.  He wants to shutter state parks in the Thousand Islands and elsewhere.

So how do you cut without putting scores of North Country people out of work?

Blankenbush says the answer is to cut at the top - start with the managers in Albany. 

Congressional candidate Doug Hoffman says more cuts need to happen somewhere else.

If they're going to cut, the cuts have to be throughout the state, and not just focused on four prisons in this area and state parks and everything that drives our economy.

Congressional candidate Matt Doheny says the cuts are somewhere else, too.  He argues the government jobs and services in the North Country are core spending, things like education and roads, FortDrum and the prisons.

I mean, there's so many other programs that we can wean off.  I mean, everything like corporate welfare in the commerce department to programs that are served by some other private sector need.  And then you have a crazy, out of control entitlement situation that needs to be started to be addressed.

State Senate candidate Patty Ritchie agrees.  She believes New York should downsize Medicaid.

I was actually astonished to see that New York spends a billion dollars a week on Medicaid, twice as much as any other state.

I asked Ritchie which Medicaid programs she'd cut, but she said she didn't know yet.

On the county level, St. Lawrence County legislative candidate Kevin Ackers proposes lowering insurance costs.  He wants county employees to trade their current health care plans for high deductible medical insurance and health savings accounts.  That's what he did as a member of the school board in Madrid-Waddington.

If we use the savings that we've had at Madrid-Waddington of two thousand dollars a head, we could save, conservatively, we could save 2.8 to 3 million dollars per year.

It's hard to get any politician - Republican or Democrat - to talk specifics on reducing the size of government.  Any cut that would substantially eat into the deficit will affect constituents.

State Comptroller candidate Harry Wilson says places like the North Country have to be weaned off public sector jobs.

The government sector jobs are basically replacing private sector jobs, and I would argue that the private sector is always more efficient than government.

Wilson recognizes that in downsizing government, the North Country would face a painful transition period.

If you cut costs, and cut spending, and therefore cut jobs, it takes time for that to be replaced.  And we need to send a clear signal that New York is open for business again, but in the meantime, there will be people who need to be transitioned.

Wilson recommends temporary unemployment benefits, job training, and severance packages.  In other words, the kind of things government provides.

So as Republicans hit the campaign trail, their message of fiscal conservatism is clear.  The plan for getting there is still under construction.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm David Sommerstein in Ogdenbsurg.

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