LIVINGSTON COUNTY – As a Democrat in a historically Republican-controlled area, Hornell’s Randy Weaver knows his bid for New York’s newly formed 133rd Assembly District will be a tough one. However, with high unemployment as well as Medicaid, tax, and education issues facing the state, turning the district blue might be the easy part.
In May, New York’s unemployment rate sat at 8.6 percent, almost a full percentage point higher than the national rate. Unlike the U.S. unemployment rate, which dropped about one percentage point since May 2011, New York’s unemployment rose from 7.8 percent over the same period.
The 133rd district, made up of Livingston County, parts of northwestern Steuben County, and parts of southern Monroe County, doesn’t fare well on the job front either. Improving the job climate locally and statewide is high on Weaver’s to-do-if-elected list, and to bring in those jobs, he said, reforming the tax and educations systems is necessary.
“The funny thing is that they’re all kind of interrelated,” Weaver said. “Until you get the tax situation under control, a lot of people don’t want to come here to invest in industry. That’s what brings the jobs, and if you don’t have a good education system, you don’t have people wanting to come.”
Weaver’s plan to boost the economy focuses on increasing local autonomy and balancing the amount counties and the state pay into services.
“What we have to do is reduce some of the state mandates so the local municipalities have more autonomy in what they can do,” he said. “They need to be able to say, ‘We have this program that’s very expensive, and we have very few people who utilize it. Let us control it, let us opt in or out of some of this stuff.’”
As a two-term Steuben County Legislator, Weaver has experience working in government, but his other career might give him a more crucial advantage tackling Medicaid, which he sees as another big issue.
Weaver has been an area pharmacist—first in Dansville, now in Hornell—for 20 years. He’s seen how Medicaid works from behind the pharmacy counter, gaining experience that most people in Albany don’t have.
“Most of the people in Albany have no health care background. They’re lawyers, political science majors, corporate people,” he said. “They don’t have a real-life medical background. They haven’t run a pharmacy for twenty years to see how [Medicaid] money is spent, like I have.”
So does Weaver’s health care background mean he’s looking to blow up Medicaid? Not quite.
“When I talk about Medicaid changes, I’m not talking about taking an axe to the whole system,” he said. “I’m taking a scalpel and fine-tuning a lot of the small things that are offered through the Medicaid system that aren’t offered through regular health care.”
These scalpel-sized changes could save major money, according to Weaver.
“[Medicaid] pays for over-the-counter medicine; no other health care pays for Tylenol. That’s a small, $3 item,” he said. “You should be able to afford that no matter what. That’s a minor change that could be implemented that wouldn’t cost people out of their pockets a lot, and I think it would save millions.”
However, all Weaver’s ideas and goals don’t mean much if he can’t win, and that will be hard in Republican country. Attorney and local radio host Bill Nojay and former Avon mayor Richard Burke are both vying for the Republican nomination, but Weaver said not knowing which candidate he’ll be running against yet isn’t a problem.
“They’re both, from what little that I know of them, too far skewed to the right, and I think a lot of people are just tired of that constant rhetoric from the right,” he said. “Whichever one (wins), it’s just one or the other, so they’re pretty much the same person, as far as I’m concerned.”
According to Weaver, Republican-dominated Western New York districts, already at a political disadvantage geographically, miss out on funding in a Democrat-controlled Assembly because their concerns are almost automatically dismissed due to party affiliation. Even if they try to address issues important to this area, often times they can’t because they’re the minority.
Weaver hopes voters will vote for the person, not the party, in the upcoming election. Being able to get to the negotiating table, even if he’s bargaining with powerful, Downstate Assemblypeople, is something Weaver said he brings that his opponents can’t.
“I’ve had someone ask me, ‘What would you say to (Speaker of the New York State Assembly) Sheldon Silver,’” Weaver said. “I said, ‘At least I’ll be in the room to say something to Sheldon Silver.”