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Editorial: Do any moderates remain?

Longtime Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, who recently announced that he would not seek re-election next year, represents a kind of elected official sadly disappearing amid divisive, unproductive, destructive politics muting civil political discourse.

The 72-year-old echoed a common refrain: “Going forward, I would like to be able to spend more time with my family.”

Schimminger, first elected to the Assembly in 1976 and representing Kenmore, has had staying power among his constituents, who were his focus. He is pro-life and against same-sex marriage. For those who do not know, he is also a Democrat.

These days, the “D” word, as well as the “R” word for Republican, more often stands for radical left or radical right. The concept of a conservative Democrat or moderate Republican seems almost like an anachronism these days. The political mood is dominated by public officials such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the left and President Trump on the right, each taking up positions far from the political center.

The American political landscape is so divided that it has become taboo even to offer a compliment to members of the opposing party. Just ask Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who recently endured a social media firestorm because he said something nice about Rep. Peter King of New York City, who plans to retire.

King, a Republican, is criticized by the left – and for good reason – when it comes to previous statements and stances that offended, Muslims, African Americans and, well, did he miss anyone? But that really wasn’t the point Schumer was making when he tweeted: “I will miss him in Congress & value his friendship.”

Schimminger also comes from the old political school where one size does not fit all. The dean of the Western New York delegation consistently won the endorsement of the Conservative Party and, as News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy wrote in 2016, “is among a handful of area elected Democrats who still oppose abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Lawmakers willing to work across the aisle, agree to disagree and still remain friendly might not stand a chance in today’s polarized politics on much of the state’s political tickets.

Schimminger is also one of few Democrats willing to openly criticize or question Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. As the longtime chairman of the Assembly Economic Development Committee, he took aim at the governor’s economic development policies and absence of what he calls lack of transparency in job creation programs. Ray Walter, former GOP assemblyman from Amherst, talked about Schimminger’s willingness to take on the governor, or anyone. He would know. The two men drove home together after session each week for a couple of years.

Will the next representative of the 140th District, home to 5,300 registered Democrats and 4,100 Republicans, be so bold? Potential successors include Democrats Patrick Mang, the Kenmore mayor; Jeremy Zellner, the Erie County Democratic Party chairman; and Kenmore lawyer Kevin Stocker.

Would any of these candidates, or others who might vie for Schimminger’s seat, dare to criticize his own party or compliment someone from the other? It seems unlikely, and that’s one of the chief reasons that Schimminger will be missed. He made his mistakes, but they seemed honest ones, and made in pursuit of good government. Critics might call him a relic of a bygone era, but it’s more accurate to see in his announcement a warning of what awaits a country where those with contrary ideas are labeled as infidels.

Civil political discourse is a fading art in American public life, even within political parties as zealots pursue an impossible vision of ideological purity. Perhaps someone will break through the noise to show that public service remains open to open-minded people. One can only hope.

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