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Karen Bisso (L) debates with Janet Duprey.  Photo: Jennifer Kowalczyk, Mountain Lake PBS
Karen Bisso (L) debates with Janet Duprey. Photo: Jennifer Kowalczyk, Mountain Lake PBS

Assembly candidates spar over health care, public land

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It's been a lackluster political season in much of the North Country, with many seats going uncontested. But the 115th Assembly district race has sparked fierce debate and fiery rhetoric. The newly-formed district represents Clinton, Franklin and part of St. Lawrence County.

Three candidates -- a Republican, a Democrat and a Conservative, are vying for the seat now held by Assemblywoman Janet Duprey. Duprey faced off with her challengers Monday during a debate in Plattsburgh sponsored by Mountain Lake PBS.

Major flashpoints were affordable healthcare and the Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to expand the state forest preserve in the Adirondacks.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Democrat Tim Carpenter. Photo:  Jennifer Kowalczyk, Mountain Lake PBS
Democrat Tim Carpenter. Photo: Jennifer Kowalczyk, Mountain Lake PBS
"The current system we have just isn't working," said Republican Janet Duprey from the town of Peru, the six-term incumbent. 

"My staff and I probably spend 30 or 40 percent of our time working with constituents and businesses on health insurance issues, very serious issues. We've got to find a different way to provide affordable insurance for people."

The question is how to pay for that insurance — particularly for low-income people in the North Country who don't have reliable coverage through work or can't afford to pay for it independently.

Right now a big chunk of the burden is falling on county governments and on their property taxpayers. Conservative Party candidate Karen Bisso, a public schoolteacher, argued that the state needs to be much more selective about who qualifies for Medicaid programs: "Mandate relief is going to be necessary in the form of Medicaid in order to bring down property taxes."

But closing the door to low-income families could leave more people in serious need.

Democrat Tim Carpenter, a Plattsburgh city councilman who works in a state prison in Malone, praised the idea of the state developing health care exchanges, an idea that grew out of the Democratic health care reform process in Washington.

Duprey also supported that idea, although both said they wanted to see more details of how the program would be funded. "I like to see affordability for everyone," Carpenter said. "If we can get together in cooperative groups we can reduce our costs by scale of what we're buying and that would go for health care too."

Bisso argued that health care exchange coverage should be left largely to the private sector and she opposed the idea of creating health care exchanges that offer subsidized care to low-income families. "Philosophically, I believe that any time the government gets involved in anything we're in trouble," she said. "So as a direct result of that, I question the bill in the first place."

One other issue health care related issue that surfaced Monday night is the value and appropriateness of medical marijuana. Duprey opposed the idea and Bisso said that she still wants to gather more input from constituents. But Carpenter supported the idea of legalizing pot at least for some uses. "Yes, I definitely do, especially as medicine," he said, and added he thinks it's "half nuts" to ban the use of medical marijuana.

The candidates also differed sharply on a ranger of other issues, including Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan to buy 69,000 acres of new forest preserve land in the Adirondacks. Bisso fiercely opposed the idea.

"We are not in a position at this point any more when we can afford to pay for land," she said. "Absolutely not."

Duprey also said she opposed the land deal, but she said the actual planning process for how the land will be used for recreation once it's in public hands has been a success. "For the first time, a great portion of the 69,000 acres of land will be open to the public. It never has been," she said, noting that the area would allow more kayaking, canoeing and hunting.

Democrat Tim Carpenter, meanwhile, supported the land purchase, arguing that it will boost tourism and make more areas open for local residents to hunt and paddle.

"To have huge chunks of land like that privately owned that no one can do anything with to me is kind of sad, especially when we're putting ourselves off as a huge tourist industry here. So long as the land is used right, I have no trouble with it."

One set of issues that didn't come up in Monday's debate were the social issues that marked the Republican Party primary. Duprey has supported same-sex marriage, calling it a civil right, and describes herself as pro-choice on abortion. Bisso opposes legal abortion and gay marriage and has said that social issues have generated much of her support this year.

Mountain Lake PBS provided photos and audio for this story.


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