Upstate New York's Rightward Tilt

Upstate New York’s 24th District, an area stretching from Binghamton to Utica and Auburn to Cooperstown, has the distinction of being one of the few places in America where a liberal Republican still makes a living as a member of Congress.

But when liberal Rep. Sherwood Boehlert says his final goodbye to Washington later this year, there’s a better-than-even chance that a conservative will hold the seat, shutting the door on 24 years of Boehlert’s reign as one of Washington’s top RINOs.

On the surface, state Sen. Ray Meier, a pro-life and small-government conservative, seems like an odd fit for a district that sent Boehlert to Washington for 12 terms. But Meier said his conservative credentials—he’s a loyal reader of HUMAN EVENTS—will help him.

Not even a day after he announced he’d run, Democrats were on the attack over TV commercials Meier had run to promote a lobbying reform bill he introduced in the state legislature. The attacks came from Democrats in Albany, leading Meier to conclude, “I might be stronger than Congressman Boehlert because I’m a conservative.”

In New York, the all-important Conservative Party endorsement can carry much weight—particularly in close races, which Meier’s might turn out to be. Meier, who has won the Conservative Party’s endorsement for his state Senate races, will likely get it again.

The Democrat frontrunner, Oneida County District Attorney Michael Arcuri, has the backing of the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which will pour money into any races it thinks Democrats can capture.

Meier must first get past former Seneca Falls Mayor Brad Jones, another conservative, in the Republican primary in September. But with Meier’s securing the support of county GOP chairman already, his bigger challenge will come in the general election.

Fortunately for him, Boehlert put his party first and told Meier (and state Sen. James Seward) in January he might retire. It gave Meier time to prepare for his eventual decision to run for Congress, which came Monday.

As one of Meier’s former constituent (I grew up near Utica), I’m well aware of his career as Oneida County executive (a job Boehlert once held) and state senator. But I was less certain of his conservative credentials, which he had touted when entering the race. So I gave him a quiz when we spoke tonight. Here were some of his answers on five hot-button issues.

Immigration Reform: Borrowing the title of Rep. J.D. Hayworth’s (R.-Ariz.) new book, Meier said Congress must do “whatever it takes” to gain control of the border. While he wouldn’t commit to building a fence, he also wouldn’t rule out some sort of physical structure. He supports the deployment of additional Border Patrol agents to the U.S.-Mexico border. As a lawmaker who represents a large population of immigrations from Bosnia and Eastern Europe, he said it’s highly unfair to legal immigrants when people enter the country illegally.

Spending: Meier said he was encouraged by the conservative House Republican Study Committee’s proposals preaching fiscal discipline, particularly its efforts on entitlement spending. “You really have to look at restraining the growth of entitlements,” Meier said. In New York, he made spending on Medicaid and welfare reform two priorities.

Medicare Part D: The infamous prescription-drug component of Medicare was criticized by conservatives in 2003 when 25 House Republicans took a principled stand against it. Meier said he would have most likely joined that group to vote against the largest new entitlement in decades because it did nothing to address the growth in other federal entitlements. Meier recalled HUMAN EVENTS’ “Man of the Year” issue (last December) featuring an account of Rep. Mike Pence’s (R.-Ind.) opposition to the bill.

Abortion: As a Roman Catholic, he said he’s pro-life and votes that way consistently. He’s received numerous endorsements from the New York State Right to Life Committee and has been labeled “anti-choice” by the NARAL Pro-Choice New York, according to Project Vote-Smart.

Marriage Amendment: Meier said he believes marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Even though he would normally take the federalist position and let states decide, he said he would likely support the Federal Marriage Amendment because courts had left Congress no other option.

All that being said, Meier believes "bread-and-butter issues" will decide the race for the 24th District. He cited the state of the economy and jobs as one of the most significant factors in the race.

In the eyes of this conservative, Meier beats Boehlert on all these issues. Conservatives who want conservative Republicans to make up the majority of the majority ought to take note.