If the Conservative Party bestows any “badge of honor” on New York politicians, it might be its perfect score of 100% when assessing State Legislature votes.
And if you’re campaigning for the Republican and Conservative nods in the state’s "reddest" congressional district, no badge may shine brighter.
That’s why Republican State Sen. Robert G. Ortt of North Tonawanda is crowing a bit this week after scoring perfectly in 2019, just as he and others shout their conservative credentials for a special 27th Congressional District election anticipated on April 28.
“It’s a tangible sign that backs up what we have been saying in this process,” Ortt said. “Now the Conservative Party of New York State says it, too.”
Conservatives routinely rate senators and members of the Assembly following each year’s legislative session. And it comes as no surprise that Republicans hailing from the state’s more conservative districts capture top honors.
But the score stands out this year because a possible five Republicans may be angling to succeed Chris Collins in the House of Representatives following his Sept. 30 resignation. More than any other issue at this early stage, each is attempting to out-do the other in emphasizing their rightward leanings.
“Being Conservative isn’t about a party or a label, it’s about standing by the principles of smaller government, less taxes and economic freedom, no matter the cost,” said Republican Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Genesee County, who is contemplating a candidacy and scored 92% in the Conservative Party report.
The scores also weigh more heavily this year because of efforts to paint State Sen. Christopher L. Jacobs of Buffalo – another declared Republican candidate – as “not conservative enough” for the 27th District. Conservatives rated him at 84%, which is far above most Democrats and even above the 80% scored by Senate Minority Leader John J. Flanagan.
Jacobs said Friday he had received a “congratulatory” phone call earlier in the day from state Conservative Chairman Gerard Kassar on his score.
“He called to say I was ‘clearly conservative,’ ” Jacobs said. “I agree.”
The senator noted his lower score stemmed from not voting on two bills included in the Conservative scorecard while he was excused for the birth of his daughter.
“I would have voted with the Conservatives and that would have given me more than 90%,” he said, adding he earned party demerits for supporting measures to reduce greenhouse gases and prohibit coastal oil and gas drilling.
“I don’t agree with any organization 100% of the time,” he said, adding he feels “very confident” that Conservative leaders will back his candidacy when a special election is called.
But Jacobs is continually called upon to defend his conservative credentials, even with a healthy scorecard. Indeed, a Washington political action committee called Club for Growth is already attacking him in mailings and broadcast ads as incompatible with the district’s conservative values and not leaning far enough rightward.
And a potential candidate – Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. – constantly blasts Jacobs for the same reason, even though he has yet to enter the race.
Former Darien Town Justice Beth A. Parlato is also running and also emphasizes her conservatism, but like Mychajliw received no party score because she is not a legislator.
In addition, the ratings underscore the crucial need for Conservatives and the GOP to settle on one candidate for the special election. If the two parties choose separately, observers note, a Democrat could split the opposition and pull off an upset.
“We’re making our case to the Republicans about the necessity of making sure both parties are unified,” Ortt said. “You don’t want a split on April 28 because that would open an opportunity for the Democrats.”
Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo noted the circumstances surrounding Jacobs’ score as well as his “not that bad” 84%. But he added that the ratings will be taken into consideration at nomination time.
He also acknowledged the dilemma of choosing among candidates who all proudly proclaim their conservatism.
“There is no question that the nomination in this case will present a difficult situation for all of us,” he said. “There are good people running for this seat, and a lot to take into account.”
Ortt said last week he would not judge Jacobs or any other colleague in the Legislature because each tries to reflect his or her own district. He said leaders (like Flanagan) often must sign on to compromise measures and that legislators must often represent constituent wishes.
But he also noted that the 2019 session featured a blitz of “extreme and ultra-progressive policies” pushed by the Legislature’s new Democratic majority, and that more conservative votes than usual were required.
“I would think we would all be in the 90s,” he said.
Ortt also said his Senate district resembles a “microcosm” of the 27th District and that he has provided effective representation.
“These are the things I believe in and advocate for,” he said. “I’m not some Johnny-come-lately running for Congress.”
Other Senate scores included 92% for Republicans Patrick M. Gallivan of Elma and 96% for Michael H. Ranzenhofer of Amherst. Democrat Timothy M. Kennedy of Buffalo, who ran with Conservative backing in his first Senate election and while in the Erie County Legislature, scored 12% in the new Conservative report.