Taking a Solemn Oath

This weekend we held the ceremonial swearing-in for my second full term in the New York State Assembly.  The following are my remarks following the oath.

Thank you all for being here today with me, my family and our team.  We officially kick off my second full term as member of the New York State Assembly for the spectacularly beautiful, historically and culturally rich 106th Assembly District — which I am so very proud to represent and advocate for every single day.IMG_0587_0

And thank you for all your incredible efforts during our challenging re-election campaign, a hard-fought success during a very tough campaign season…..

…So…. nobody warned me that this public service business is most definitely not for the feint of heart!

The drama and the distractions of the last month, starting with the arrest of my opponent for sexual abuse and endangering a minor just weeks after he conceded, to the arrest this past week of Speaker Sheldon Silver on highly serious and troubling charges is simply stunning.

For me, this job continues to be first and foremost about our district in the extraordinary Hudson Valley, with its world class farmland and blooming agricultural and food sector; its stunning natural resources, from the majestic Hudson River to the many state and local parks; its diverse creative community reflected in the growing and vibrant performance and visual arts programs in all corners of the district; and the deep history that roots us in the past while growing our economy as the recent Great Estates study showed us by identifying some $65 million in economic benefit spurred by a dozen federal, state and private historic sites in our area.

We had a remarkably successful first term in the legislature. Among the highlights: The signing of historic Lyme Legislation that will protect our families, friends and neighbors struggling with tick-borne diseases and the caring doctors who treat them; Bringing back $3.5 million dollars in state funds to allow for the repeal of last year’s onerous energy tax in Dutchess County; Passing legislation to make Wappinger Creek, and the towns along this important waterway, eligible for Federal funds.

Equally important, we have fought alongside our towns, neighbors and the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition for more than a year to stop the threat of monster power lines destroying our viewsheds, farms, communities and tourism economy. While we are not yet out of the woods on this misguided Energy Highway, there is increasing evidence from actions by the PSC and the Governor’s office that the proposal is being re-thought. I believe it was a very good sign that the Governor announced $20 million specifically for farmland preservation in the Hudson Valley in his budget address last week, with a shout out to the Hudson Valley as a “gem.”

Our small but mighty team also organized and hosted several important forums in the district this past term which brought together policy experts, stakeholders, community members and county leaders from both Dutchess and Columbia Counties to brainstorm on topics ranging from Mental Health to Energy Use to Aging as a Women’s Issue. For Women’s History Month we produced a booklet that told the stories of ten remarkable Hudson Valley women from the 18th to the 21st Century and shared them with libraries throughout the district. We are currently working on this year’s booklet, so please feel free to let us know if you have any suggestions.

When I look ahead to the next two years the two words that keep coming to mind are stewardship and sustainability. Stewardship of the spectacular resources that surround us here in the Hudson Valley and ensuring that we move forward with a future that is sustainable both environmentally and economically, protecting the things we love about our region while nurturing them to be the economic drivers we know they can be.

Essential to this is ensuring we have the good-paying jobs to keep our hard-working families in the region, that we work to attract students who come to college in the Hudson Valley to stay here after they graduate and that we encourage young people who go away for school or to “see the world” come back here to raise their families. We need to create the social norm that all the “cool kids” know this is the place to be when they are ready to start their careers and families!

I will continue to be a passionate advocate for our family farms, working to increase opportunities in agriculture for returning veterans; working to encourage diversified revenue streams for farms through farm stays and more value added products; and working to ensure that everyone understands that agriculture is a business and a key economic engine.

In our country today there is a $25 billion unmet need for “local” food. People say they are willing to spend more on local food; millennials as a cohort are particularly drawn to “artisan” products; and the majority of shoppers understand that “buying local” helps the local economy, which they want to support. And, while other states are struggling with water shortages, farming in our state and region is viewed in some circles as a hedge against climate change.

In the Hudson Valley, agriculture has driven growth in tourism, food production and the farm to table restaurant boom, as well as small businesses that have cropped up to serve these sectors. In Columbia County we are seeing efforts to expand goat farming, spurred by a large French chevre company and throughout the valley we are seeing historic crops like hops and other grains being re-planted to address the state’s incentives for craft breweries, distilleries and cideries.

Our office will continue to look to ways to support the municipalities and school districts we represent, whether helping them access state funds through the Regional Economic Development Council process or fighting for relief from unfunded state mandates. As Universal Pre-Kindergarden expands upstate, we are pushing again this year to assure that this program is truly universal and that four year olds with special needs are included in the program and in the funding. This important change will improve educational and social outcomes for these kids, make it easier for their families and relieve counties of millions of dollar of unfunded mandates to pay for special needs pre-k that they have shouldered for too long.

Again, I thank you for your friendship and support. As you know our team — Nick, Kimberly, Tyrone and me — is always available to help, listen, brainstorm, chat. Whatever you need — We work for you.

I especially want to thank Julia and Nigel Widdowson and the Red Devon for hosting us today, the Honorable Joan Posner, the terrific young women of Perfect Ten and the amazing Barrettones for being part of this special afternoon.

I want to thank all of your for making time on a winter Sunday to be part of this historic and solemn oath to serve you and our district. I thank you for your trust and I look forward to seeing you again soon at a Diner near you.

 

 

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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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