Batavia's Steve Hawley may not yet have a Democrat opponent -- if he ever has one -- in this year's 139th Assembly District election, but it's clear who he's running against.
Hawley, first elected to the Assembly in 2006, did something Thursday -- Tax Day -- he's never done before: Held a rally announcing his candidacy for re-election.
In announcing, Hawley made it clear, downstate interests, Albany Democrats and their leader Sheldon Silver, and legislative members who put party ahead of constituents' interests are his primary opponents.
"I’m going to be traveling as our conference program committee chairman to talk with the media across the state of New York about what it is that we stand for," Hawley said. "I’m hoping as we tell them what we stand for, that they will read that, listen to that, hear that, and then check to see who their representative is, and whether they’re voting with Sheldon Silver or whether they’re voting for their constituents."
Hawley told the four dozen or so people gathered in the court yard of the Old County Courthouse that the Assembly Republicans have a plan to cut $4 billion to $6 billion in state spending. The plan relies heavily on eliminating fraud in social services payments.
Hawley said it's time that New York become known as a place that creates economic opportunity rather than as a magnet for welfare cases.
"We need people coming to New York for jobs," Hawley said. "We need people coming to New York for their families. We don’t need people coming to New York because of the programs that we offer for those who are not working or don’t want to work. We need to reward competence and hard work, not people who are full of lethargy."
Hawley is a Republican from a Republican district in a blue state. Even so, he said after his speech, that he remains optimistic that he and like-minded individuals can turn New York around.
In a post-speech interview, Hawley spoke more about the need for change in Albany and how he and fellow Republicans are going to try to get a message of change out to the whole state, not just Republican districts.
"We're going to travel across the state, whether it's Democrats or conservatives, incumbent or not, we're going to try and take our message to people across the state," Hawley said. "We're in a fiscal morass here. We're in a horrific position we've never been in before. A $9.2 billion deficit and the inability to say no and cut back.
"Cut backs and no are negative and they are very, very difficult and when people depend upon an elected position as their occupation they'll pretty much have a harder time saying no to somebody than those who do not. In the beginning, elected representation was supposed to be, step away from your full-time job, look at it as an avocation, go to your state capitol, do what your neighbors want you to do and then come back to your job. We've gotten away from that and we have to return to that."
Hawley said the goal isn't necessarily to get Republicans elected, but to change Albany.
"I think it's going to take Democrats, Republicans, independents, tea party members to take the state back," Hawley said. "Make it as central for the people who are going to Albany from their neighborhoods to be able to look at the entire state, as well in Manhattan and the three or four blocks they represent, or in the Adirondacks where it could take five hours to get from one end of the district to the other. Take a look at the 120,000 people you represent and then look at the state as a whole and figure we need to make changes for the state.
"It's not just a district job. It's a state job. If there are members of other parties who have different ideas, say in Manhattan, in Queens, in the Bronx, then they need to challenge an incumbent in a primary. It doesn't matter whether it's a Democrat or a Republican. If it's a Republican, fine. If it's a Democrat, fine. We need new blood. We need people who are not beholden. We need people who can open up the blinders on the sides of their eyes."
In his answer, Hawley mentioned the tea party movement and during his speech, a supporter behind him held up the "Don't Tread On Me" flag, which has become one of the symbols of the tea party movement. We asked Hawley were he stood in relation to the tea party movement.
"I think any group of people who want to participate in the democratic process and their government ought to be encouraged, as long as they're doing it in a way that is respectful of others, in a way that takes others' feelings into mind, and in a way that is non-adversarial in terms of violence," Hawley said. "There has been some indication of brick throwing and everything else -- most of the people I've talked to, and I was with a large group in Albany the other day, tea party people, a big rally, are not those kinds of people.
"They want to take their government back. They want to have a strict interpretation of the Constitution and they want to take government encroachment on everyday lives out of it. These are good people. These are people who want to participate. And this is America and they ought to be able to."
During his speech, Hawley made reference to medical marijuana and he's previously opposed bills attempting to make marijuana use for medicinal purposes legal, so we asked him if he would change his position if a scientific poll showed a majority in his district supported it.
"I represent the constituents viewpoints regardless of my personal belief and I know that overwhelmingly the people of the 139th Assembly District do not support medicinal use of marijuana," Hawley said. "I will represent their interest and vote no."
When asked how he knew that was the position of the people of the district, Hawley said he travels around the district extensively and talks with people about a range of issues.
"I can tell you as a guy who hangs out a little bit, I know how people think around here," Hawley said. "It's never 100 percent, of course. You just hope you're getting 51 percent at least."
Asked if he anticipated a Democratic opponent this election, Hawley said, "I would hope as always that there would be opposition. That's what America is all about and people deserve a choice."
AUDIO: Listen to Hawley's full speech (mp3).