Running for a state senate seat was hardly on her bucket list, but Joyce St. George is doing it anyway. Why? Because she wants to change the culture and she’s fairly convinced that her opponent, Republican incumbent Senator Jim Seward representing New York district 51, isn’t going to. St. George said she had been urged to run a number of times but kept saying no. She had just retired. She was busy running a food bank. She was busy chairing her local hospital board. She was busy participating in coalitions and committees. “But, one friend said ‘Well, before you say no one more time just check out Senator Seward’s record, and then say no.’ So, I did my due diligence and called back and said ‘I’m in,’” she said. “Part of it is that I think that rural New York, right now, is in a real transition point, and there’s so many things that can be done that are not being done, and at best there are band-aids being put on them.”
St. George, running as a Democrat, takes a very different approach than Seward to many of the issues concerning the residents of NY51, which includes the towns of Danby, Groton, and Dryden here in Tompkins County. While looking at his record she found plenty of causes important to her that she and Seward disagree on. She didn’t like that Seward had voted against same-sex marriage. He is against the New York Health Act, which would create a single-payer system. St. George is all for it. He voted against a bill that would prohibit individuals convicted of domestic violence from purchasing a gun, a vote she felt very personally.
“I don’t blame Senator Seward, I think he’s just a product of his environment, it’s the environment that needs to be changed,” St. George argued.
She has never held elected office before and said she never really thought about it until joining this race. For over 30 years she worked closely with law enforcement as a trainer in conflict resolution with Pact Training, a company she founded and was co-director of. Before that, she was a Special Investigator for the New York Special Prosecutor’s Office for Criminal Justice. Addressing corruption in Albany is a large part of her campaign platform, in part due to her history with the prosecutor’s office.
“One of the things that you can do to eliminate quite a bit of corruption right now is to stop allowing elected officials from taking money from lobbyists. That’s number one, very easy,” she said. “The other thing that you could do, right now elected officials in New York State serve two-year terms, which means maybe they work one year and then the second year they’re constantly campaigning. Why not increase the term to a four-year or even a six-year – although I think a four-year is better – and limit the terms of how many terms a person can have?”
So, how would she convince the people she argues are using this corrupt system to their advantage to change it? Well, she’s already got a posse of support from other progressive candidates in the area. If elected, several of these other candidates have made a pact to knock out these, as St. George calls them, “legitimate corruption activities.” She feels comfortable that if elected these new, progressive candidates can make a difference.
While she admits that the Margaretville Hospital, which she has been the chair of the board for, has received funding from Seward for a new roof, she argues that the discretionary funding used to pay for that roof is too lenient. St. George argues that there needs to be more accountability to the money that state lawmakers hand out to their communities. Perhaps even putting those discretionary funds back into the budget. This, she argues, along with closing corporate and big business loopholes, will help lower taxes across the state.
“I believe that elected officials should have some discretionary money, I’m not saying that they shouldn’t, but it needs to be overseen, it needs to be accountable, there needs to be some measure of it. I mean, how do we know if it’s helping our community?” she said.
But it’s not just the lack of accountability that St. George said is a problem with the discretionary money elected officials hand out. She believes that during election years organizations within a candidate’s district might come to expect some of this money.
“But the other part is that money has become what I call an incumbent’s insurance,” she said. “So, fire departments know during election time they’re going to get money, they can get a new truck or new equipment. Libraries know they’re going to get a little bit of money. Schools know. Well, this should not be an election year gift, this should be a comprehensive way of funding emergency services and essential resources of communities, such as libraries and schools and hospitals. They should not be dependent on the interest of a senator or an assemblyperson. That money should be there for them.”
If put before her as a state senator she would vote in favor of Safe Injection Facilities but would want to explore and implement a holistic approach to addiction that included more treatment centers and addiction recovery coaches. She is in favor of the New York Health act and believes it would save New York residents money and make communities healthier. She plays bass in a band with no name and she teaches karate with a friend. She wants the voters of Tompkins County within the NY51 to know that she believes they are putting up with a lot and she doesn’t want to be silent anymore.
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