Here and Abroad

Watching the end of the NY State Legislative session I had run last November to be part of has been an interesting experience … Maybe “it’s complicated” would be a more appropriate description,  but “interesting” will have to suffice.

The good news was I got to spend the last two weeks on vacation in Europe with my husband instead of in Albany, and it was a wonderful trip. Between the blogs, email, Facebook and Twitter we kept pretty up to date on all the ups and downs and ins and outs of same sex marriage and the “big ugly” omnibus bill which delivered a 2 percent cap on local property taxes, a long-term rent control extension for New York City and some structure to review mandate relief for schools and municipalities.  It’s hard to actually get a handle on this structure or process, but mandate relief is one of the huge concerns about a tax cap and justifiably so.

I should say, we stayed as up to date as anyone could be those last two weeks of the legislative session, since most of the important stuff was happening behind closed doors and between a handful of guys.  But that’s the old Albany way. A lot got done in this legislative session but there wasn’t much transparency.

I am thrilled with the passage of the marriage equality bill in New York State. Passing marriage equality was something I spoke of often during the 2010 Campaign.  I’m very pleased that those handful of Republican and Democratic senators still in office who voted “no” in 2009 changed their votes to “yes” on Friday night during prime time and before the 11 o’clock news. It is good to know that politicians can evolve.

So about Europe. It’s critical to see other parts of world, if you can, to keep what goes on here in perspective.  Alas, it’s a reminder that, as wonderful as our country is, many other parts of the world are way ahead of us in some meaningful ways.

For example, in Europe alone, same sex marriage is already legal in Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Iceland, Spain and Sweden. French lawmakers this month agreed to ban hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” a highly risky method for extracting natural gas, which is, alarmingly, still an open issue in the New York State Legislature. And Smart Cars, those adorable, economical, fuel efficient vehicles that fit perpendicularly into a parallel parking spot are everywhere present. Much of the rest of the world is way ahead of us in other transportation, too, like high speed and conventional railway. Everywhere we went the toilets — public and private — were equipped with double flushers (small for liquid and large for solid waste), a simple way to conserve water and money.

Major European cities like Rome and Barcelona have large recycling bins right on the boulevards that separate paper, plastics and rubbish.  And people use them.  Folks understand that recycling makes economic as well as environmental sense. A report released last fall shows that recycling creates ten times more jobs per ton than burning or landfills and that a half million new jobs would be created in Europe if countries recycled 70 percent of their waste.

Finally, no part of the world appreciates and lives with history like Europe.  It’s embraced, it’s accessible and it’s alive. Tourists from around the world pose in front of that history. We, here in the Hudson Valley, can take a page from that book. We don’t need ancient forums and gladiators, as in Rome, to value a rich legacy like the remarkably innovative Shaker communities that thrived right here in New Lebanon. We don’t need confections by Gaudi, like Barcelona has, to protect and reuse really wonderful buildings in the cities of  Kingston, Poughkeepsie, and Hudson — or the historic 19th century infirmary buildings in Millbrook. And we have a storied river — the Hudson — which rivals the Thames, Seine or any other European river for beauty and thoughtful economic potential.

As we begin our Fourth of July celebrations it’s not a bad time to take another look at our own American history in the Hudson Valley.  This is hallowed ground just like Verdun or Normandy. Major battles of the American Revolution were fought in the Hudson Valley. Young soldiers in the War of Independence trained, fought and died on the same soil where we drive, shop and go about our lives every day.

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About Diner Dialogues

Didi Barrett was elected to the New York State Assembly in a special election in March 2012 and re-elected to a full term in November 2012. Her district, the 106th AD, covers some of the most beautiful parts of Columbia and Dutchess Counties. She has deep roots in the Hudson Valley and came to elected office after a career as a community activist, writer and longtime leader of not-for-profit organizations. Didi is passionate about the agricultural, natural, cultural and historic resources of the Hudson Valley and their critical importance as economic engines and job generators. She is also a great fan of the iconic diners that dot the region. As a member of the Assembly she serves on the Committees on Aging; Agriculture; Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry; Mental Health; Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development and Veterans Affairs.
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8 Responses to Here and Abroad

  1. Columbia County Born & Raised says:

    You are out of a platform, Didi, if you want to run again. Don’t you think a little more credit is due? An outstanding vote by a Republican legislator who will go nameless on your blog, but one that will carry my vote to him in 2012. Its telling that while the people of Dutchess and Columbia Counties were working or fighting for equality, you were off vacationing in Europe. Must be nice. Enjoy the rest of your summer.

    • It was very nice, thank you. I feel very fortunate to have been able to take this great trip. My record shows that I have been fighting for equality for decades, not just the last two weeks, though anyone following @dinerdialogues on Twitter or Facebook will know I was lobbying our “undecided” legislators on same sex marriage until the last day! Thanks for reading!

      • Didi. Thank you very much for all of your help on the Marriage Equality Act. I believe that had it not been for your campaign, in which openly stated your support for marriage equality, we would not have had this victory.

        You made it safe for our current Senator to finally do the right thing. That is a major accomplishment. Thank you!

        Victor Mendolia

      • Thank you! I’m so proud of all the people who spoke up and made their voices heard.

  2. Margot Peter says:

    Great article, Didi! It’s always great to learn what people in other places are doing so successfully instead of always trying to reinvent the wheel. And I agree with Victor – your unequivocal stance on marriage equality did indeed make it safe for many politicians to pass this legislation.

    • ajjames says:

      Didi – I certainly respect the stances you have taken, but I agree with CCBR above. Margot – Let us not overstate something. I am confident Saland and other state senators did not vote in the manner they did because Didi paved the way for them. To know that you will lose the Conservative line, yet vote for passage of gay marriage, says a lot about Saland. Arguably, it shows that he is heads and shoulders above almost any other state or federal representative in terms of integrity. Sadly, from a financial perspective, every democrat state senator lacked this courage with the MTA tax. This may not be the proper forum to discuss this, but like CCBR, I will support Saland in 2012 if he decides to run again. I have the courage to vote outside my party and look at the individual candidate. This vote was really tremendous. It is OK to give him more credit, Didi. Just try.

      • Hey, ajjames, why the need to be so provocative? I’m assuming we are on the same page here. I am thrilled beyond words that New York will have marriage equality in less than a months time and I thank all the senators who voted “yes” — in 2009 and 2011. As for who you will vote for in 2012 — that’s always been your personal decision.

  3. Victor Mendolia says:

    Those who believe that the Republicans who voted yes on the marriage equality bill, did so from a sense of goodness, should read this article from the New York Times.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/nyregion/the-road-to-gay-marriage-in-new-york.html

    The reality is that these Senators were “convinced” by a pile of campaign cash and promises to use Governor Cuomo’s political clout to help them get reelected.

    While I am thrilled the bill passed, the way it passed is the same old Albany politics.

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