PULASKI — Assemblyman Will Barclay went to Albany in January for his ninth term representing Oswego County. He’s glad it’s over.
With the 2019 legislative session recently ending, The Palladium-Times spoke at length this week with the Pulaski Republican for a post-mortem on the unprecedented avalanche of capitol action he described as “mercifully coming to an end.”
The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Palladium-Times: Assemblyman Will Barclay, thanks for making the time. With Democrats taking control of majorities in the state Senate and Assembly, while also controlling the governor’s office, all signs pointed to this being a landmark, or at least a unique, legislative session. What did you expect going in?
Assemblyman Will Barclay: Well, I knew there was going to be a sea change in Albany because I saw a lot of these bills going through the Assembly, but we always had the upstate Republican-controlled Senate to act as a firewall against some of the more radical policies. I wasn’t surprised at some of the things that got done but I was taken aback at the breadth of what downstate lawmakers tried to do. Just looking at what was passed, you could take one or two bills, and that would be amazing for one session, but we had 10 or 11 pretty substantive progressive or liberal pieces of legislation. Cashless bail, congestion pricing, the plastic bag ban, expansion of abortion rights, the DREAM act, driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants… it’s pretty amazing.
PT: What specifically did you have a problem with?
WB: Cashless bail was expanded to include dangerous criminals, for one. There’s climate change legislation and everyone’s excited about renewable energy — which I support — but to put together a commission to not just come up with policy about how to get to 100 percent renewables but also deal with greenhouse gas emissions and other sectors of the economy, it’s very far-reaching.
PT: The Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act was a piece of legislation that has been debated for years but was only able to come to a vote in the final days of session — you’ve been very critical of that legislation.
WB: In my mind, it’s going to have devastating effects on upstate farms and that falls into this New York City liberal-progressive zone. It was in the Assembly for a long time and they should’ve looked to see how they could mitigate the damage.
PT: Downstate Democrats drive the agenda in Albany now, but it sounds like you think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding between those lawmakers and what life is like for upstate residents.
WB: They have a worldview from their constituency that’s 180 degrees different from us upstate. The problem is, really, a New York City-based Legislature and governor. They’re pushing their priorities that will have a negative effect on upstate but upstate be damned, because they want what they want. There’s lots of negative consequences.
PT: There’s a common idea that people from the city view upstaters as backwards — do you get that in your everyday dealings with these lawmakers?
WB: I don’t know about “backwards.” Maybe just not as enlightened and look, they’re feeling the pressure, too — this has been a waterfall. Change in government happens incrementally and one thing you saw with the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the ability to put pressure on members to do more liberal things. It’s funny because in New York City, it’s such a one-party area that the competition is between moderates and progressives. The GOP isn’t even playing a role.
PT: Is there a strategy going forward to try and rebalance those scales?
WB: We’re going to let upstate members and constituents know about what’s going on in Albany, what’s going on in the majorities, and they could suffer electoral challenges. It goes both ways but unfortunately, our population isn’t as big as their population. You can, and we’re trying to, put pressure on majorities even if you don’t have the numbers. Elections have consequences and this is what happens when one party controls you. We’ve had some of the highest feedback on the driver’s license issue; people have passion on that issue.
PT: One of the most notable developments this session was the push for, and implementation of, new laws against harassment and expanded resources and justice for victims. Albany has long had a problem with how it treats employees — specifically, women. Is Albany less gross now?
WB: Albany’s gotten a little better but we have a ways to go like any other industry or business. There used to be that “Mad Men” mentality but as time progresses and women are more active as elected officials and in the workplace, there’s more recognition. Inevitably, when you get more women legislators like we have now, it’s a good thing. There’s more awareness and less acceptance of the status quo. Some of the stuff they’re proposing is not necessarily the right response — we have a lot of laws in place already to push back against any kind of harassment and that’s a positive. There’s some very well meaning things being done in regards to sexual harassment but it often gets hijacked by political reasons that push things along with it under its name. We see it a lot with “government reform” when it’s really more an expansion of power towards the group that’s advocating for it.