Skip to content

The Buffalo Bean Interviews Rick Lazio

by on October 21, 2009

I had the opportunity to sit down with Rick Lazio while he was in town yesterday. I’d never met him before. I wasn’t a New York resident during his unsuccessful Senate bid, so this was not only my first time meeting him, but my first real opportunity to assess him as a candidate that I might vote for.

I asked him first why he was running governor. He explained, “When I was growing up my parents taught me when there’s trouble with a neighbor or a friend you run to go help them, you don’t run the opposite direction, And this state is my home state, it’s the only state i’ve ever known.”

He then expressed his dismay over the number of people giving up on New York and moving out of state, and doesn’t want that to happen with his kids, who he hopes will not only be able to stay in the state, but want to. “Maybe they’ll move out because they fall in love with somebody or meet somebody, or maybe they got a great career opportunity, but I don’t want them to feel like they have to move out because they can’t afford to live here, there are no jobs here, and they’re not proud of the state.” That, he explained, is what makes running for governor so important, and he wants to take his public and private experience to help his home state.

Lazio told me that until recently, he never thought he’d run for public office. He’s previously been asked to run, and declined all offers since his failed 2000 Senate bid. But the current crisis in New York has brought him to seek office again. According to Lazio, it’s mostly a crisis of faith. “People just don’t believe this government works for them. And it seems like they prove it everyday.”

Lazio placed blame for New York’s current crisis on both parties, who have let the state slide the past 30 to 40 years. They “have no vision, no sense of who we are as a state and who we need to be.”

I told him my experiences with New York not being very business friendly, and he agreed, noting that the tax burden that is the highest in the country, which not only sends a bad message to businesses, but to families.

At this point, I agree with all that he was saying, but I wanted to know how he felt he could change the way the state is “One person can’t change it by themselves, but one person can lead a movement to change it.”

We talked about how every election cycle people complain about the state government, but continually reelect the same people who are causing the problems. “People need to be motivated to go out there and send a message. They need to come out in large numbers to support a change candidate and a change movement […] a movement that has got ideas behind it.”

So what are his ideas? Good question. First, he wants to “get our fiscal house in order” by controlling spending and putting a cap on property taxes. Next, he wants to reduces the state’s mandates and provide more decision making to the local level. Lazio says the state needs to allow for more decision making at the local level since “the state operates by stalemate and avoiding responsibility,” while local leaders are more in tune with the needs of their communities.

Then there’s the structure. There are dozens of state agencies that collectively issue about a 140 billion dollars in debt  (larger than state budget) and they are acccountable to nobody. Lazio wants to see more transparency and accountability, and believes that that debt needs to be issued through the comptrollers office, and there needs to be ceilings on debt.

Is this something he can do? He told me that he understands make up of government. “The governor has to be able to work with the legislature and be a partner.” He added that he is perfectly comfortable using the veto to hold the line on spending.

While it was easy for us to discuss all the problems with the state, he was confident that something can be done. “All of our problems are solvable, all it requires is the political will.”

Of course, holding the line on spending is important, so is spending wisely. Lazio says that the state infrastructure improvements that will actually increase productivity, He mentioned the big mistake that has been made with stimulus money.

“Stimulus money has been used to backstop operating expenses as opposed to really making the investments that are going to boost productivity over the longer run. Projects take too long to select and too long to complete. we need to invest in strategically important infrastructre projects, not pork barrel ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ projects.” he wants to use independent people and experts to help us draw up a prioirty list of intfrustracutre projects that will increase longterm productivity.

Lazio says that education is key to working ourselves out of this problem we are in now. He believes in increasing charter schools, holding schools accountable, paying for performance. “I believe in a merit-based system.” he said.

We talked about a recent New York Times editorial that called Albany a swamp,and said everyone ought to be thrown out. “I’ll be the guy who drains that swamp,” he promised.

There were a lot of issues that came up in our discussion.

He supports non-partisan drawing up of districts. We get “better quality public servants when they are in competitive districts.”

He supports term limits at all levels of government. He wants politicians to serve then live under the rules they created.

He supports a unicameral legislature, which he says would increase transparency and end those backroom deals. “The structure of New York government has to change in order for us to get better outcomes.”

Of course, talking about all these issues facing state, I knew I had to ask about Upstate New York and Western New York. “The people of Western New York have good reason to be skeptical of politicians who go to Albany and forget their promises to them.” He asks that people look at his record to see that he follows through on his promises. He recognizes that property taxes are hurting upstate (since we have a more difficult time shouldering the burdens) and that’s why he supports a property tax cap. He also feels that by allowing local leaders at the city/town and county levels will be very beneficial to our region. “I won’t be a master, I’ll be a partner. That’s want to be with upstate.”

After talking about his ideas and plans, I wanted his thoughts on Governor Paterson. I asked if felt that Paterson deserved any blame for current crisis. “Paterson spent many years in the legislature casting votes that brought us to the point we are at now.” He added that members of both parties voted for pensions and programs they knew we couldn’t afford and weren’t sustainable because they got them through elections.

“Does Paterson have responsibility? Yes. Does he have responsibility since he’s been governor? Absolutely. while he’s said many things i agree with, he’s been completely inconsistent. He talked about how bad the budget was […] then signed the budget.”

One of the biggest hurdles Lazio will have is being a Republican candidate in a blue state. So, I asked about his ability to gain the support of Democrat voters. He told me he’s spoken with many Democrats who have said they’d never voted Republican in the past, but will vote for him because of their disappointment with the way Democrats have run the state. He said they like his mix of public and private sector experience.

“This is not the time for people to give up, but to stand up and make a difference.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Lazio before the interview. But I found myself impressed at the end. He was not only able to tell me his position on a wide variety of issues, but he was able explain his positions, and demonstrated a true knowledge of issues facing this state. He was perfectly willing to place balme on both parties for not doing their jobs and keeping the best interests of the state first, and for that, he deserves credit. Paterson has spent the past several months blaming everyone but himself for his problems, and for the current crisis.

It’s going to be a tough battle to bring this state out of the financial crisis it is in. His ideas make a lot of sense, and he is optimistic that the problem are fixable. Some might be wary or dismissive of his candidacy after his 2000 Senate campaign, but I think he deserves a clean slate to share his ideas with the people of New York.

This interview was conducted in-person October 19, 2009.

  1. Did he say anything real about cutting spending? He flubbed the question when asked by a local reporter.

    I can’t understand the current obsession with cutting the legislative branch of government, 2/10s of one percent of the budget.

    Corporate welfare is 15 times as much. Doubt that Rick is against that.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. New York’s Empty Feeling- The Buffalo Bean
  2. New Jersey ’09= New York ’10?- The Buffalo Bean

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: