Richard Siebert, chairman of the Genesee County Republican Party, has straightforward opinions about how he will go about deciding who to back for the GOP nod in the NY-27 special election on April 29.
Finding somebody who can self-fund is not a top priority.
He won't want to back a candidate who might turn around and run in a primary against the GOP-endorsed candidate in June.
He was all in for Steve Hawley until Hawley this afternoon withdrew his name from consideration.
"Steve Hawley is my man," Siebert said last night. "Unless Steve tells me he's no longer interested, I'm backing Steve."
Well, Steve is no longer interested, and that leaves six or seven other potential candidates, including three -- Sen. Rob Ortt, Sen. Chris Jacobs, and Darien resident Beth Parlato -- who have been campaigning the past several months as if they expect a primary rather than a special election.
It's expected that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will call for a special election next month and set the date for April 28, the same day there will be a New York primary for the Democratic presidential primary.
The special election is necessary because Chris Collins, who will be sentenced tomorrow on his insider trading conviction, resigned in September.
In special elections, the chairs of the counties for the political parties select a candidate to represent the party.
Siebert said he expects the process will go much as it did in 2018, after Collins was arrested by the FBI, and initially said he didn't plan to run for re-election.
When it looked like there would be a special election previously, the eight county chairs in the NY-27 District met at least twice, interviewed candidates and deliberated their choices. Before a decision was reached, Collins changed his mind about not running and vowed that he would clear his name.
The process gives county chairs weighted votes, which in the past has meant that Erie County and Niagara County chairs essentially picked the candidate and everybody else fell in line.
Erie County has favored candidates who can self-fund their campaigns. Siebert said he's not in favor of taking that same approach again.
"I have to be candid," Siebert said. "I speak the way I feel. Several of the last candidates we've had -- Jane Corwin, Chris Lee, and Chris Collins -- have self-funded. Our track record with that is not very good so I'm not looking for a self-funded candidate. They're out there, but obviously we know some are wealthy and some are not. That's not my criteria. I'm not looking at 'who can afford it.' I'm not looking for somebody who can afford to win. I'm looking for somebody who is qualified to win."
Considering that Ortt, Jacobs, and Parlato have all been raising funds, gathering endorsements, and sending out press releases, it might appear that any of them might still run in a June primary even if they don't get the GOP endorsement for the April special election.
Siebert said he expects an expression of party loyalty before the special election endorsement is issued.
"The first thing I always ask any candidate, and I'm not secret about this, is 'will you support the candidate that we nominate?' " Siebert said. "I need to hear them say, number one, they're not going to primary the nominee regardless. In my count, I have a strong and deep feeling about this, that if you're not part of our system (I'm not going to back you).
"I don't like primaries. That is my personal feeling and I would have a hard time supporting anybody who would primary the nominee."
We've attempted to get a comment from Ortt, Jacobs, and Parlato and have yet to receive a response. (Ortt did respond just before publication but his response was ambiguous. We're holding it for a possible follow-up story.)
"Everybody has the opportunity to run, whoever doesn't get it, can run in the primary," Siebert said. "That's your choice and it's there. That's the way it is. I respect that. But as chairman, I don't like primaries. I like to be unified. Now, that's their right. That's their constitutional right but that's the way I feel, so that is how we've done things in Genesee County."
With the special election being held on the same day as the Democratic presidential primary, some political observers speculate that if there is high Democratic turnout, it might favor the Democratic candidate in the NY-27 -- most likely, Nate McMurray, who narrowly lost in 2018 to Chris Collins. Siebert isn't buying it. He doesn't think the chairs need to find a moderate Republican who will distance him or herself from President Donald Trump.
"This is a Trump county right here," Siebert said. "He got 72 percent of the vote in the last election. Anyone who is going to run for an office in my county who is not a Trump supporter, well, they're not going to do well. It is what it is. He did get 72 percent of the vote. This is a very conservative county. We support the Second Amendment. I can tell you, if you're not a Trump supporter in my county, you're not going to do well."
Siebert, who is also the Republican elections commissioner, and Lorie Longhany, Democratic commissioner, met with the Ways and Means Committee yesterday to get authorization to lease 10 new ballot readers at a cost of $19,000 a year. The new readers are easier to use and faster but the election equipment upgrade needs to be expedited because of the probable special election on the same day as a presidential primary.
The funds for the machines in the first year will come from grant money already received by the county. The multi-year lease will also put the county on a replacement schedule for ballot readers that will help the Elections Commission keep technology current and machines reliable.
As for who might represent the GOP in April, Siebert offered no predictions on who the chairs might support but he did say he's not happy the chairs have to make the selection.
"I don't like this whole process, to be honest with you, because we're in a situation now where eight Republican chairmen have to get together and tell our voting public who we want them to vote for, who's going to be on the ballot on April 28," Siebert said. "You get the feeling it is eight men in a room -- there are women involved, too -- with you always being criticized for smoking cigars or whatever but it is the eight of us telling the public who's going to be the candidate.
"I don't like that at all. But the law is the law. We have no choice because of the election law that we have to do it this way."