Why I am a Democrat

Jim Renfrew, Clarendon
Member, Orleans County Democratic Committee

When our Orleans Country Democratic Committee has the opportunity to interview potential candidates for political office, this is always my opening question: “why are you a Democrat?” It’s not meant to express doubt; it’s my attempt to get to the pulse of each candidate’s spirit and passion for what we do.

So now one of our committee members, as we develop our web site, has turned the question on me! It’s a fair question, and I’m happy to respond. I look forward to seeing the responses of others! So here goes …

I registered as a Democrat when I was an 18 year old high school student living in Maryland. It’s a little-known story that I actually began as a Republican, a reaction to the fact that what proved to be a majority of Democrats in my county were enthralled by the candidacy of segregationist George Wallace in the 1972 Democratic Presidential Primary. By the time of the 1972 general election I had re-registered as a Democrat and have been ever since.

I have voted in every election that has come my way, not only primary and general elections, but also high school and college class elections, school budgets, water districts and even corporate board elections. My philosophy is that if I don’t vote, I can’t complain! I’m not always happy with the candidates on the ballot, but I never stay home. I still vote for each office, sometimes writing in the names I prefer. I never want to be considered disinterested or apathetic.

While in high school my family moved to a community racially segregated not by law but by custom. When my parents were shown houses to buy I heard the real estate agent proudly report that “so far we’ve kept the blacks out of this neighborhood”. My first political act was to join a group of people in town who wanted to expose this ugly practice. Black and white adults were recruited to act as potential home buyers in order to document the exact ways that black home purchasers were steered away from white neighborhoods. I was too young to be purchasing a home, so my role was to develop a petition that was offered to the churches in town with the simple statement “We welcome people of all backgrounds into our neighborhoods”. It was surprising to me that only one or two of the churches in town were willing to circulate that petition, and that very few people were willing to sign. Eventually rules and laws were established to prevent racial bias, racial steering and red-lining in that county. I believe that our effort, while unsuccessful at first, put the changes in motion that we enjoy today.

Since that time I have supported many losing causes … but many winning efforts, too. I have been proud to vote many times to bring an end to unnecessary wars, to protect the environment, to promote equality and opportunity, and to keep pushing for honesty and reform in government. Being a Democrat gives me the encouragement to hang in with every issue, even if I am on the losing side at the start. Every time we engage in the process the circle of vision and involvement expands. Eventually, our ideas will prevail! Democratic victories sometimes seem hard to come by in Orleans County, but all the more reason for us to continue to work together on the things that really matter. I’m glad to be in it with all of you!

Wind Farm Considerations

The Democratic Party is committed to an emphasis on renewable energy sources. Governor Andrew Cuomo has set ambitious goals aimed at reducing the dependency of New Yorkers on fossil fuels. The Orleans County Democratic Committee applauds efforts to reduce such dependency as a sensible and prudent means of addressing air quality and climate change issues important to the future of our planet and its inhabitants. However, the complexity of this task has come home to Orleans County in the controversy over the proposed Lighthouse Wind Project by Apex.

Preserving the environment of all regions of our state is important. A plan should be developed to balance agriculture use and natural habitat before proceeding on a wind farm project. Addressing the impact of the project on property values is also an important consideration. Orleans County is not a wealthy community – a significant portion of the wealth of our citizens is often in their homes and property. All the citizens of Yates would have to live with the wind farm, not just the leaseholders. So, listening to and addressing the concerns of that whole community is just as important as securing a green energy future for New York.

As in the larger community, local Democrats have diverse opinions on the specific issues around the Apex project. What we do agree on is that consideration of the placement of such projects and the environmental and social impact they would have should be an essential part of the decision-making process.

Diana Kastenbaum Visits Our Committee

Dear Orleans County Democratic Committee:

I wanted to thank the Committee for inviting me to your meeting on Wednesday, January 6, 2015 at the beautiful Hoag Library. It was a pleasure to come and speak to you and share some of my thoughts and future plans as an active Democrat. It’s always good to be among fellow Dems who care so much for their community and who work hard to uphold our Democratic ideals.

I was glad my daughter, Millicent, was able to come along as well and you had an opportunity to meet her. As a Senior at Cornell University in Ithaca and a Government major, local government, in particular, is her passion. Thank you for being so gracious and inviting to us both.

I look forward to getting to know each and every one of you and working together to bring good things to our communities.

Most sincerely,


Diana Kastenbaum
Batavia, NY

Insights Into How the Criminal Justice System Operates

Article by Gary Kent

Our criminal justice system is designed to have built in checks and balances. These have evolved from hundreds of years of practice, as well as judicial interpretation and precedent. In important ways, they enjoy Constitutional sanction.

Law enforcement is reined in principally by amendments 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Amendment 9 should not be forgotten in this regard, though its importance is often overlooked.

Warrants issued by a judge limit searches under amendment 4 and protect people from potential police abuse of privacy. If law enforcement can establish probable cause to conduct a search, a judge may grant a warrant allowing the search. Searches are supposed to be “reasonable” and specific as well.

Amendment 5 provides protection against self-incrimination. Precedent has added the so-called Miranda warning before other than routine questioning. Under amendment 5, once someone is found innocent, a prosecutor cannot give it another try on the identical charge. Amendment 5 requires “due process” before anyone may be deprived of “life, liberty, or property.” Following due process involves providing the accused all the protections and procedures provided under the law.

Numerous important protections for the accused are contained in amendment 6. Among these is the right to counsel. Under amendment 6, an accused is entitled to subpoena witnesses in his/her behalf. This amendment safeguards people against overzealous prosecution.

The Constitution requires an indictment process. Prosecutors must convince a grand jury to indict a person suspected of breaking the law. Only then may the accused be forced to go to trial before a judge and jury capable of deciding guilt or innocence. Trials are supposed to be “speedy.” Precedent and law have helped define what “speedy” means.

Law enforcement and prosecution are typically separate in order to permit each to limit the other. A district attorney (prosecutor) can wish to take someone to trial for loss of “life, liberty, or property,” but cannot do so unless he/she can get a law enforcement agency to make an arrest.

Similarly, without an indictment from a grand jury, the arrested person cannot be put at further risk in a trial before a judge and jury. In this way, a prosecutor can restrain law enforcement (the police). In practice, it is fairly rare for a grand jury not to indict. A district attorney may decide not to even seek an indictment, thereby checking, and often frustrating, law enforcement.

For the system we have to work properly, each human component of it must behave even-handedly and ethically. In practice, abuse is difficult to determine. If it was ever in doubt, the 14th amendment made it clear that justice must also be “blind.”

Most independent are federal judges and those state judges who are appointed. District attorneys and sheriffs have to face elections, though, in many instances, the public may fail to hold them accountable due, in part, to politics and political party enrollments.

A question about the Major Felony Crimes Task Force came up during the S.C.O.P.E. forum. Two of the candidates indicated no problem with having this law enforcement arm under the direction of the prosecutor (district attorney). Coincidentally, or not, the candidate who won the election thought the Major Felony Crimes Task Force should be run by the sheriff.

The problem with the way it is now is that putting a law enforcement “arm” under the prosecutor’s direction circumvents the system of checks (limits) described above. A district attorney who controls an important part of the enforcement mechanism is no longer being kept separate from law enforcement. In this case, there is less control over the district attorney’s power.

While, in fact, they normally work closely, appearances are also important in order for the public to have confidence in the system. For the system to work effectively, keeping law enforcement and prosecution separate provides important limits on both and can contribute to much-needed public confidence.

Thank You to our Democratic Candidates

Thank you to the Democrats who had the courage and fortitude to step forward and run for an office. Yes, we lost several of the races but be proud and hold your head high. We ran a clean campaign and gave it our all.

We also owe thanks to our supporters who had faith in us and for family and friends.

We congratulate Randy Bower and wish Tom Drennan success in the future.

Jeanne Crane
Chairwoman of Orleans County Democratic Party

The Political Landscape, Part 2

Article by Gary Kent

Voter Registration:

In order to vote in a primary, such as that held by the Republican Party on September 13, you must be enrolled and registered as a member of the party holding the primary. Only registered republicans were permitted to vote in the September 13th republican primary for Sheriff. To vote in a democratic primary, you would have to be a registered democrat.

Though more and more people are registering with other parties, doing so often means you have less say in who gets a major party line on the November ballot. When we look back on 2015, we may conclude that the September 13th republican primary was the key to the November election. Election day is set by the Federal Constitution.

As of April, 2015, there were approximately 10,100 registered republicans and 5,300 registered democrats in Orleans County. About 6,600 were registered with other parties or as “blanks.” In every town, there are hundreds of unregistered potential voters. Recall that, in the republican Primary in September, Randy Bower defeated Tom Drennan by 21 votes!

Even so, though registering to vote takes about three minutes, many people believe voting doesn’t matter, so they do not register. If the idea that voting doesn’t matter is your excuse, you won’t matter—to many of the legislators who decide whether, or not, for example, the sales tax on home heating fuel should be responsibly eliminated.

One of the best ways for you to influence the political process is to get on a political committee. There are towns in Orleans where the Democratic Party has no committee. Though people are needed in every town, the need is greatest in Yates, Ridgeway and Murray. In nearly every town there are openings for interested democrats who wish to contribute to more representative government. Taking a little time to get involved in the process of finding and electing the best people to run for elective office is not really asking too much of ourselves. The level of your involvement and the amount of time you spend is up to you. Committee persons from the various towns get together at County committee meetings. County meetings are normally monthly, but attendance is not mandatory at this point.

Would Marco Rubio have thought the following question was out of line? How can you expect voters to take you seriously when you said during the first republican candidate debate that democrats take the position they take on climate change because, “they want to destroy the economy”?

The political landscape in Orleans County – Part I

Article by Gary Kent

Orleans County has seven legislators. Four are elected from districts. District 1 consists of Clarendon, Barre, and most of Shelby. District 2 is comprised of Ridgeway, Yates and a small part of northwest Shelby. District 3 is Albion and Gaines and District 4 is Carlton, Kendall and Murray.

Three legislators are At-large, meaning they are elected by the voters of the entire County. One must come from one of the western towns (Shelby, Ridgeway and Yates). Another must come from one of the central towns (Carlton, Gaines, Albion and Barre). The third must come from one of the eastern towns (Kendall, Murray and Clarendon). Hence, the terms At –large west legislator, At-large central legislator and At-large east legislator. To be an At-large central legislator, one must live in one of the central towns and be elected by the people of the entire County.

Legislators serve on various committees and take turns auditing the bills on a monthly basis. Most of what takes place in Legislature sessions is decided in advance in committee. They run on schedule and are supposed to be open to the public. It is extremely rare for the public to attend. Typically, the monthly sessions of the Legislature involve little “drama.” Monthly meetings take place in the later afternoon and are often concluded by the time most people get out of work.

Bill Eick is the District 1 legislator. Lynne Johnson is the District 2 legislator. Fred Miller is the District 3 legislator and Ken DeRoller is the District 4 legislator.
Dave Callard is the At-large west legislator and Legislative Chairman. Donald Allport is the At-large central legislator and John DeFillips is the At-large east legislator.

All legislators are up for re-election every two years.

The only ones facing challenges this year are Johnson and Allport. Paul Lauricella is running for Johnson’s seat in District 2 and James White is running for Allport’s At-large central seat.

A Chief Administrative Officer, C.A.O. works to research issues, make recommendations, and carry out the will of the Legislature. This person is appointed by the Legislature. The position is not supposed to be political. The C.A.O. at this time is Chuck Nesbitt. He has several other titles and duties related to the operation of County government as well. His immediate predecessor was Stan Dudek. Depending on who is C.A.O. and who holds the Legislature Chairmanship, the C.A.O. may assume a greater, or lesser, role in actually running the show. A strong Chairperson, such as Marcia Tuohey, can run the show if she/he chooses. Her C.A.O., Stan Dudek, deferred to her and put his emphasis on being a support person/ researcher/recommender who kept out of the political fray.

The elected County Treasurer is Susan Heard. She plays a major role in handling the receipts, paying the bills, and working with the C.A.O. and the Legislature on the budget. The Treasurer is also, like the C.A.O, the County Attorney, the District Attorney and the Sheriff, supposed to be professional and apolitical. She is present during budget meetings to offer her perspective on the process and is available to provide counsel to the Legislators and C.A.O. The Treasurer is supposed to give a report at the start of monthly Legislature meetings.