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Higgins, Collins deserve re-election; Southern Tier voters face a weak choice

Editor’s note: In a series of editorials, The Buffalo News is endorsing candidates for a number of offices. These endorsements by the editorial board are intended to aid voters in their evaluations of those seeking office. Whether you agree or disagree with our recommendations, we urge you to vote and take part in our electoral process. The Erie County Board of Elections (http://www.erieboe.com) has sample ballots and maps showing district boundaries.

26th District: Higgins

Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, has consistently worked hard for Western New York, and that is why he again wins our strong endorsement.

Since being elected to Congress in 2004, Higgins has delivered for his constituents. Most famously, he produced a 2005 settlement with the New York Power Authority that accelerated payment of $279 million in long-term economic development funds. That money, along with the efforts of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., continues to bring change once not even dreamed of to the waterfront landscape.

The total federal investment in the Buffalo waterfront, which Higgins played a role in securing, totals close to $120 million and includes cleanup of the Buffalo River; reconstruction of Ohio Street and Fuhrmann Boulevard; Outer Harbor pocket parks at the Union Ship Canal, Gallagher Beach and Tifft Street Pier; cobblestone streets at Canalside; and access to the Buffalo lighthouse.

Higgins has also been a champion of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and has consistently supported efforts to extend the New Markets Tax Credit, which is responsible for leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars for projects in Buffalo.

His Republican opponent, Kathy Weppner, is an outspoken radio commentator who has done her homework on major issues facing Congress. She is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to her strong beliefs on the inadequacies of the Obama administration and politicians in general. However, she does not make a strong enough argument for displacing the incumbent.

Higgins may keep a low Washington profile in comparison to some of his congressional peers, but he is well known and well appreciated by Western New Yorkers. He should be allowed to continue what he does best: delivering results.

27th District: Collins

Something has happened to Chris Collins. The Clarence Republican is as conservative as ever, but he has blunted what was too often a knife-point personality. He’s become interesting.

After losing re-election as Erie County executive, then barely winning election in an overwhelmingly Republican congressional district, he seems to have figured out that success in elected office – and perhaps especially a legislative office where he is just one of 435 members – requires a different approach than that of running a corporation.

Whatever the reason, his ideas about government match his district well and, to hear him tell it, he is not blinded by the excesses of the tea party. Given that, and the fact that his Democratic opponent, Jim O’Donnell of Orchard Park, is not ready for this office, we endorse Collins – though with a significant hesitation.

Collins continues to defend his vote that ended up shutting down the government. He describes it as the only responsible vote, given that it was the only one pending to keep the government open. That vote was a Republican manipulation that required President Obama to agree to defund the Affordable Care Act in exchange for a vote to keep the government running. It guaranteed a shutdown.

Even taking Collins at his word, though, in mid-October 2013, he voted to continue the government shutdown, stating, “The bottom line is, I didn’t come here to kick the can. This doesn’t deal with any of our entitlement spending. It doesn’t change the trajectory of our deficit, which is $700 billion a year. And therefore I can’t support it, and I’m going to vote no.”

Translation: Shutting down the government is all right when you don’t get your way. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the measure was approved.

Now, Collins seems to have learned a lesson. He says it’s never all right to shut down the government and he appears to have backed away from tea party-inspired brinkmanship – indeed, he claims to have no use for the tea party – and demonstrated that by voting in January to support increasing the debt limit rather than risk the disaster of defaulting on the nation’s debts.

O’Donnell is a Buffalo police officer and lawyer who sees doing nothing as an option regarding ISIS. He opposes tax credits, saying lower taxes would be more beneficial. He has some interesting ideas, but in the end he is too green for this post. Collins is the better choice – presuming that he now understands there are lines no responsible member of Congress should ever cross, and that two of them are shutting down the government and threatening the nation’s reputation for paying its bills.

23rd District: No endorsement

This is a depressing race. Neither candidate seems up to what is the serious and complex task of representing the 23rd Congressional District or leading the nation in a responsible way.

The incumbent Republican, Tom Reed of Corning, is a pleasant and engaging man, but one who has voted in ways that should automatically disqualify him from this office. Specifically, he supported a bill that he knew would close the government, then voted again to continue the shutdown – a vote that fortunately failed – and, perhaps worst of all, he voted in January to oppose raising the debt limit, which would have had the disastrous consequence of forcing the world’s premier democracy to default on its debts.

Reed was also shown to have used campaign funds to pay a county tax bill – accidentally, he said – and has allowed his Corning law office to operate under his name while he has been serving in Congress, despite House ethics and American Bar Association rules that bar that practice.

Yet, Reed’s Democratic opponent, Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson, has run a weak campaign, so weak that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee canceled plans to spend $465,000 on TV ads. Her approach to government appears to be significantly to the left of most of the district, perhaps explaining why she seems tentative in her approach to this campaign.

In the end, voters of the district don’t have great choices. Reed seems likely to win and, if so, we can only hope that he moves back toward a responsible brand of conservatism – a place he told voters he wanted to be when he ran two years ago. In the meantime, we’re not endorsing either candidate.

Sunday: The race for governor.