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NY State Sen. Betty Little (file photo). Photo: Mark Kurtz
NY State Sen. Betty Little (file photo). Photo: Mark Kurtz

Sen. Little faces changed political climate

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State Senator Betty Little ran unopposed this week and will once again represent a big chunk of the North Country in the state legislature. But she returns to office in a changed political landscape.

Her district has changed, absorbing a new chunk of St. Lawrence County. Her Republican Party also took major hits this week, losing the North Country's House seat and possibly possibly losing its long-standing majority in the state Senate.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief


Sometimes politicians change office, and sometimes the political world shifts around their office. 

Betty Little, the veteran lawmaker from Queensbury, drew no competition in this year’s election, but she saw her party take a drubbing – nationally and also in the state Senate. 

I think [Republicans] need to be a little more centrist than what they have been in this election. They do need to be more inclusive
Democrats could now be poised to take the majority. 

“I’m still very hopeful that Senator Skelos will take the majority leader when we go back. We’ve done so much over the past two years,” Little says.

Democrats last claimed a majority in 2008 and held the leadership role in the state Senate for two tumultuous years.

That shift led to the loss of influence for North Country lawmakers, including Little. During that period, she saw major defeats, including a decision to close two prisons in Lyon Mountain and Gabriels.

“When we went through that two years without having the majority, being that the leadership all over the place was from New York City, if it wasn’t good for New York City, it wasn’t a good thing," Little recalls. "So those were two tough years.”

Little blamed a part of the GOP’s setback this week on a campaign run by the state Conservative Party against a Republican candidate in the 41st Senate district, Stephen Saland, who was one of four GOP senators who broke ranks and voted to legalize same-sex marriage.

That Conservative challenge drained away thousands of votes and may have cost Republicans the seat and the majority.

Meanwhile, Little says she thinks the GOP does need to think about broadening its appeal to moderates and minorities, both here in New York and around the country: "I think [party leaders] have to look deep and look at where the country is going. And I think they need to be a little more centrist than what they have been in this election. They do need to be more inclusive."

One other big change to the landscape is that the North Country’s congressional district, which now includes her home town of Queensbury, will be held by Democrat Bill Owens.

Owens has been in Congress for three years, but he won on Tuesday without the help of a third party conservative spoiler, giving him a much clearer political mandate.

Little had backed Republian Matt Doheny, but says working with Owens won’t be a problem: "Bill’s a friend, I’ve known him a long time, and obviously he had a lot of support in this election."

As for her own agenda in the next two years, Little says she wants to finally get some kind of mandate relief for local governments and counties that are squeezed by the tough economy and by the property tax cap. 

Little says even small changes, like reducing the amount of paperwork required by school districts and municipalities, could ease some of the pressure on local budgets.

"I had a bill at the end of last session that would say that all reports required of municipalities, school districts and governing bodies, all of those agencies that require those reports would have to justify that report in order to have it continue," Little says, as an example of the kind of reforms that might be possible.

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