Embarking on a Third Full Term in Government

The following are the remarks I gave at my Swearing-In Celebration, officiated by Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul on January 28, 2017 at the Hudson Opera House.

Thank you all for being here to celebrate with me, my family and our team.  I am especially grateful to Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul for joining us today.  While I first met Kathy when she was in Congress, I have delighted in getting to know her as our wonderful Lt. Governor and have loved joining her on visits to my district,  whether we were checking out the family bedrooms at FDR’s home; posing with pictures of Eleanor Roosevelt at Val-2017swearing-in-picKill; sampling the wares of the Culinary Institute of America or window shopping right here on Warren Street.  She has been a gracious ambassador for state government; she has taken the word “peripatetic” to dimensions Aristotle could never have imagined; and she has been a welcome partner and collaborator with our growing but still too-small cohort of women Assemblymembers.  There are now 45 of us,  not yet one third of the chamber of 150.

Many thanks, as well, to my dear friends at the Hudson Opera House, an extraordinary institution of art, community and history — Susan B. Anthony, among others, visited twice.  The Opera House has been rightfully credited with being a catalyst for much of the rebirth of the City of Hudson and is now poised to embark on a fabulously exciting next phase as it opens the stunningly restored second floor great hall, thanks in large part to New York State support.

How about those adorable Children of the Promise Neighborhood! I never tire of boasting about the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, a cradle to career initiative based on the Harlem Children’s Zone model.  It’s footprint is the Hudson City School District, which in addition to the City of Hudson, covers parts of six other Columbia County towns, many quite rural. The Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood is one of only a handful across NY State and it has been a remarkable force for community, opportunity, social change, creativity and good, here in Hudson.

So with treasures like these, as well as a wealth of arts and cultural talent; new wineries, craft distilleries and breweries; glorious viewsheds, world class farms, compassionate service organizations, and very cool people, you can understand why it has been a true joy to represent the beautiful, innovative and historic 106th District in the NY State Assembly!

I embark on my third full term in government at a particularly strange and unsettling moment for our country, state and region. While I am, of course, happy to have won on November 8th, I am also haunted by the sharp divisions not only in our country, but also in this district.  Hillary Clinton won the two counties I represent,  but only by the smallest of margins. Donald Trump won a great many of the towns in my district.

Like you, I fret over the policies being introduced by this new administration and how they stand to negatively impact both our country and our region in profound ways: Our majestic Hudson River, finally regaining its health after decades of abuse, is at serious risk of spills and explosions from an increase in rickety oil trains, overloaded barges and unsightly anchorages as a result of what appears to be a newfound commitment to fossil fuels.

We all know the high costs and the havoc that would result from repealing the Affordable Care Act, especially with not replacement plan.  In addition, both Upper Hudson and Mid-Hudson Planned Parenthoods, targeted for defunding, are the primary health care providers for thousands of women and men in our communities — college age and older —  providing birth control, testing for sexually transmitted infections and screening for breast cancer. In fact, most federal funds to Planned Parenthood are simply reimbursements through Medicaid for services to low income patients.

Our Hudson River Valley was home to Frederic Church, Thomas Cole and America’s first major art movement and vital and vibrant organizations, colleges, libraries, museums and public radio stations throughout the region depend on the National Endowments for both the Arts and Humanities for support. Eliminating these endowments, as has been threatened, would have a devastating impact on the creative, cultural, social and intellectual environment — much greater than the savings of less than $300 million on the federal budget.

And the targeting of immigrants and unimaginable threats to religious freedom strike at the very core of who we are.  Our region was settled by immigrants seeking these freedoms: Dutch and German farmers — the names of our towns tell their story. Our cities and villages were built by Italians and Irish, and African Americans escaping the Jim Crow South; now our neighbors may be from Bangladesh, the Caribbean, India, Mexico, South or Central America. We also know that Women’s Rights and LGBT Rights and Disability Rights are all Human Rights.  Our diversity is what truly makes America great and I believe most Americans value that. I, for one, will never give up fighting for those Four Freedoms our own President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke so eloquently about on January 6, 1941.

If the empowering marches many of us joined in last weekend were any indication, women and men of all ages and all ethnic backgrounds are ready to stand up to fight for OUR America.  I’m thrilled that some half dozen young women have said to me in the last two months: “I feel like I need to run for something!”  Yes!!! Do it!

I love that throughout my district small groups of neighbors are gathering, strategizing and studying the “Indivisible” play book for next steps.  As Gloria Steinem said, “sometimes just pressing “Send” is not enough.”  President Obama challenged in his Farewell Address — “Show Up  Dive In!”   And I would add: Be prepared to stay in it!  This is not a time to expect quick fixes.

Earlier this week, a friend said about today: “I hope that in your remarks you will tell us about accomplishments you are proud of — women never talk about their own accomplishments,” she said. So, here are a few:

I am very proud that in just four years in office, we introduced 24 bills that were signed into law.  Several specifically effect our local communities like creating inland waterway status for local creeks to make them eligible for public funding.  Others have statewide implications: In one, we improved health care options for Lyme and tick-borne disease patients and another made early screening for breast cancer much more accessible.  I’m especially excited about a new bill we introduced just last week which is truly groundbreaking.  Our Carbon Farming Bill would create a tax credit for farmers who engage in practices to sequester carbon, or put carbon back into the soil; these include no-till systems, planting cover crops, managing compost application and planting more trees in pastures.  This work is being done by pioneering farmers in our region and this bill would make NY the first state to use this “carrot” rather than “stick” approach to carbon — supporting and incentivizing our farmers while helping the state reach its climate goals.

I am proud of being a strong and effective advocate for this region.  From my first months in office, I have brought the resources of the State to our communities. First it was a panel of state commissioners and emergency services who met with 300 Columbia County residents at the West Ghent Fire House right after the terrifying TCI fire in 2012. Then we convened several dozen county commissioners and mental health providers working with schools, seniors, veterans and the substance abuse community to discuss shrinking local mental and behavioral health services with the Chair of the Assembly Mental Health Committee. And over the last two years, we addressed aging in a pair of community roundtables with state leaders — one on Aging as a Woman’s Issue and the other on Aging in Place in a Rural Setting. And every March for Women’s History Month we produce a booklet telling the stories of 10 women from our two counties who have changed history.

I am also proud to be a passionate proponent of our local farmers. I have made sure my NYC colleagues understand that it is our small and midsized Hudson Valley family farms that feed their constituents every week through Farmer’s Markets and CSAs, so they, too, need to be concerned about our issues: Farmland preservation, clean water and healthy soils, or transitioning the next generation of young farmers. Recently I began working with members of the NY City Council to secure funding in the city’s budget to protect Hudson Valley farms, ensuring a source of healthy fresh food for their communities, much the way they protect the NYC watershed.

I want to thank you again for your friendship and your continuing support.  This will always be a challenging district. I’ve already heard there is a fellow in Dutchess County making noises about challenging me in 2018.

But we are so blessed to live in this very special place. We know we have our work cut out for us as we fight for the values we share, the diversity and differences we have long celebrated, the natural resources we cherish and the history and culture we embrace. We also know it’s worth it.  I look forward to meeting up again 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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