In February, Andrea Smyth set out on the campaign trail as one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, while state Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-Castleton, was planning on running for re-election to his Assembly seat.
In mid-May, a court-appointed expert from Pittsburgh shook up their respective political plans when he redrew the lines of state Senate districts, creating the new 43rd Senate District, an open seat.
Now Smyth and Ashby are the sole candidates for their respective parties in a Senate race with no incumbent.
“I’m really pleased to be running for this open seat,” Smyth said, in a recent telephone interview.
Ashby said he was busy with the end of the legislative session when the new Senate district maps came out, leaving little time to weigh the race.
“It was interesting,” he said, in a recent telephone interview. “We were having to balance a lot of plates at one time.”
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The new district includes Rensselaer County, where both candidates live, and portions of Washington and Albany counties. In Washington County, the district includes from the town of Kingsbury, with the exception of the village of Hudson Falls, south to the Rensselaer County line.
Ashby, a two-term incumbent, said he wants to continue his record of bipartisanship on legislation relating to veterans and emergency first responders.
For example, Ashby said, he was a champion of legislation that passed as part of the state budget in April to elevate the state Division of Veterans Affairs to a cabinet level department, centralizing programs now handled in myriad state departments in a single agency.
Smyth, a policy analyst and advocate on state government issues for about 30 years, said her campaign will focus on the needs of women and families.
For instance, she has proposed that the state government return to a system of the state setting the rates that health insurance companies pay for certain services such as mental health, vision and dental, in which there are shortages of providers.
The state previously set all rates until 1996, when then Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, ended the practice and allowed health insurance companies to negotiate rates directly with hospitals and physicians.
The move was intended to increase competition in the insurance industry, which, in theory, would reduce health insurance premiums.
“So, I’m not saying universally,” Smyth said, referring to her proposal to return to state-set rates.
Rather, she would eliminate negotiating rates for certain services, such as mental health, vision and dental, in which she said that the rates insurance companies pay are so low that hospitals and health care providers cannot pay enough to maintain adequate staff.
Ashby said that, indeed, there is a critical shortage of providers, and Smyth’s proposal merits consideration.
“I think we need to do a better job of recruiting (providers) … and recruiting them to stay in New York,” he said.
Ashby said that while Smyth has expertise in health care policy, he has well-rounded expertise, not just in policy but as an occupational therapist and a college health care instructor.
Ashby was a US Army Reserve captain who served two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was a Rensselaer County legislator before serving in the state Assembly.
Smyth said she is set to retire from her current job as chief executive officer for the New York State Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health on July 1, and will be able to devote her full time to being a senator.
In 2017, Smyth narrowly lost the Rensselaer County executive race to Republican Steve McLaughlin.
Ashby said his Senate campaign will emphasize the dangers of “one-party rule” in Albany, and Smyth said his campaign will emphasize the need to eliminate a “culture of corruption.”
Maury Thompson covered local government and politics for The Post Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He continues to follow regional politics as a freelance writer.