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When left met tea: state Senate hopeful Luke Martland explains himself to the Tea Partiers, as This American Life listens on.

Photo: Chet Hardin

Not in the Tea Leaves

Some surprising guests show up at the weekly meeting of the Capital Region’s “liberty minded”

Kevin McCashion, one of the lead organizers of the Sons of Liberty, introduced the petite woman who was stalking the members with a microphone. “This is Lisa. She’s from a well-known radio show, This American Life—it’s sponsored by major corporations.”

McCashion is the type who likes to get his digs in.

“No we’re not,” Lisa Pollak countered. “We do fundraisers.”

“Is this a local radio show?” a woman asked.

The Sons of Liberty group, which came together after last year’s Tea Party Tax Day rally, is not a natural audience for the successful radio program that airs locally on the liberal public-radio station WAMC.

Pollak explains that her boss, Ira Glass, and team have been spending time in Albany at the Capitol, working on a show that asks, “Can government solve our problems?”

“I thought that it would be a good time to look into the Tea Party in a way that is less superficial than everything that I have read,” said Pollak. She picked a good night to tote her microphone into the Lutheran Church in Colonie that hosts the weekly meetings of the Sons Of Liberty (which McCashion called an AA for patriots). On the agenda: a meeting of the minds with a state Senate hopeful, Democrat Luke Martland.

Martland is running a long-shot campaign against 14-year incumbent Neil Breslin. He was invited to the weekly meeting by one of the Democratic members of the Sons of Liberty, who thought that, by reading Martland’s Web site, he would be an odd but fitting voice for this fiscally conservative crowd.

“Talk about a minority or outsider,” said McCashion of Martland, “his pugnacious press releases, hammering Breslin at every turn; he sounds like a member of the Tea Party.” According to McCashion, the Sons of Liberty aren’t concerned with a person’s political affiliation. They are looking for candidates who meet their ideological standards.

That wasn’t Martland.

Martland, for his part, said that he had no intention of swaying these Tea Party members, and that he wasn’t seeking their endorsement. In fact, he said, he would refuse it if they offered it. So why did he turn out for a rowdy meeting of 30 presumably registered Republicans?

“I like to debate,” he told Metroland. Plus, he said, he believes that all efforts ought to be made to overcome partisanship.

“What’s your plan, other than platitudes?” McCashion asked him.

Martland said that he believes in term limits, and would term limit himself out of office. He also said that he would forgo any outside employment, making the Legislature his full-time interest. He would agitate for legislation that would call for full disclosure of outside income for legislators. He would support fair redistricting and ethics reform.

“My opponent isn’t very active in the community,” Martland said of Breslin.

Breslin didn’t return a call from Metroland requesting an interview.

“Boy, does that sound like the same thing that every politician says,” a man interjected.

“I don’t think that it’s the same. Every politician says that they will cut waste, systematically, but nobody has done it,” Martland said. “I would eliminate member items. I would look at agencies, boards, different bodies to streamline.”

The crowd wasn’t buying it.

The Sons of Liberty meet every Monday to complain about property taxes driven by the high costs of education and social-welfare programs, and the influence of unions on a bloating budget. When Martland argued against making broad cuts to funding of education, he hit upon an ideological sore spot.

“I think that education is one of the most important mandates of the government,” Martland said, actually drawing out shocked gasps from a crowd of people who would prefer that the Department of Education be dismantled.

“Is capitalism flawed in your view?” a woman asked.

“I think capitalism needs to be regulated,” Martland said, pointing to the recent Wall Street turmoil.

Another member told Martland that the group would love to support a Democrat, “and an openly gay one at that,” but that, from the 40 minutes that they had discussed the issues, they were starting to get the sense that he was a socialist. “So, are you a socialist?”

Martland, a Princeton-educated former Manhattan assistant district attorney, was a little taken aback. “I’m not a socialist.”

He supported the bailouts, the Federal Reserve, welfare, social security, the health-care reform. “Government has a very important role protecting people.”

“If you want to reduce government to a tiny little kernel, then I disagree with you,” Martland said.

“Socialist!” the verdict was made.

“If you think that the Federal Reserve ought to be abolished,” he said, “I think that’s silly.”

“Is there any inflation?” McCashion asked.

“There is no inflation,” Martland answered.

Game over. Martland couldn’t leave the meeting quick enough. Gonna have to find an anti-incumbency vibe to tap into elsewhere.

After the meeting, Pollak interviewed Martland.

“Did anything surprise you tonight?” she asked.

“I don’t get the Federal Reserve argument,” he said, laughing.

“I can’t imagine what you were expecting coming in,” she said

“I was expecting this,” Martland said.

McCashion said that he was hoping for more from Martland. “I sincerely went in to see if we could find a Democrat we could support,” he said. “But he’s just another politician, and he’s a bad one. He can’t even get the support of his party—just some people grumbling. But it’s tough, because of how far down a different path of understanding of current events people like Luke Martland are. He is essentially just a guy wanting to get in the inside and is trying to climb the ladder.”

—Chet Hardin

Head of State

The influence of Andrew Cuomo is on display when Albany County Democrats gather to back a candidate for attorney general

Members of the Albany County Democrats filled the ballroom at Michael’s Banquet House in Cohoes last Thursday to vote on the county party’s endorsements. Everyone of any importance, or with a hope of importance, to the party had turned out. And it was a mostly peaceful evening with the party’s incumbents—including the Assembly’s Jack McEneny, Bob Reilly and Ron Canestrari, and the Senate’s Neil Breslin—winning easy support from the enthusiastic crowd of Democratic Party insiders. It was all moving along smoothly for party Chairman Dan McCoy until he brought forward the resolution to endorse in the attorney general’s race.

The chairman wanted the party to back Kathleen Rice, the one-term Nassau County district attorney, but many of the Democrats in the room were obvious supporters of one of her chief challengers, Sen. Eric Schneiderman.

The room broke into a confused clatter, as committee members muttered between themselves, “Who the hell is that?” and twisting around as though they might find Rice standing somewhere in the room.

“It was a surprise. I didn’t know what was happening. Nobody knew that was going to happen,” said Albany County Legislator Chris Higgins.

Higgins stood to protest the resolution, putting forward a motion to table. Higgins, who works in the Senate, is a supporter of Schneiderman.

“I wasn’t saying that Rice isn’t qualified,” Higgins said later. “I just wanted the process to be more open. Were all the candidates interviewed? If so, who interviewed them?”

The resolution to endorse Rice didn’t come out of the same process that the other endorsements went through, Higgins pointed out. The resolution endorsing Rice came down from the chairman alone, who said that he had spoken with the candidates and their people before making his decision.

“It’s a crowded field, there’s a lot of great candidates,” McCoy said. “Some of them wanted Schneiderman, some of them wanted Rice. I like Schneiderman, I really do. But I like Rice.”

Of the five candidates seeking the seat, Rice does come with obvious advantages for the Albany Democrats. For one thing, as sources point out, the Albany County committee is filled with employees of the Senate and Assembly. By choosing Rice, the party doesn’t risk alienating any of its members by choosing between the Assembly’s Richard Brodsky and the Senate’s Schneiderman.

And although Rice may be vulnerable to criticism because she is a onetime Republican who switched parties in order to challenge a sitting Republican in the 2004 general election, it was that victory in the Nassau County DA race that drew the admiration of many Democrats. For most Democrats that year, Nassau County was a place to go to get slaughtered.

Plus, as Higgins pointed out, Rice has the advantage of being a woman. “There are a lot of committee members who are going to vote for her because she is a woman. There’s never been a woman elected to attorney general. She’s very talented.”

But it appears that the most important calculation for the party, which did finally vote to endorse Rice, was that there was nothing to lose, and maybe something to gain, by endorsing the candidate favored by the man who most believe will be governor. If Andrew Cuomo wants her, then it can’t hurt the county Democrats to back her.

Higgins, however, argued that many in the Hudson Valley chose to endorse Schneiderman, including Rensselaer, Saratoga, Columbia and Duchess counties, because of his platform and work in the Senate. “I support Eric Schneiderman because I have seen his record and think that he’s a true progressive,” he said. Many counties chose not to endorse in the race, which Higgins said would have been the ideal compromise for his committee. He pointed out that his motion, which would have shot down the endorsement of Rice, came close to winning. “Nearly half the room stood with me. I am convinced that more would have if there wasn’t some arm twisting going on.”

“I respect Danny,” Higgins said. “I voted for him. But at the same time I ran on openness, and I am going to stand up for what I believe is right. Dan said that he wanted to open the party up, but by putting a resolution on the floor that nobody knows about, that’s the polar opposite of what he ran on when he ran for chairman. And I understand that he is probably under tremendous pressure from the Cuomo people, but that shouldn’t subvert the democratic process.”

—Chet Hardin

Loose Ends

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