My interview this week with Don Miller, the Republican incumbent in New York’s 127th State Assembly District seat, makes a very interesting pair with my interview from a few weeks ago of his Democratic challenger, Al Stirpe. This race is a rematch—Miller defeated Stirpe by a slim margin the last time around, despite being heavily outspent.
If you listen to both interviews, you’ll find very clearly articulated differences between the candidates, not just in their policy positions, but also in their core notions of what the job of a legislator is all about, and the personal style that best brings the results they are aiming for. After the Miller interview airs this Friday, you can find them both here.
The softer spoken Stirpe emphasizes cooperation, working within the system, and a focus on specific economic development projects that produce tangible benefits for the district and the surrounding region. This message is very similar to his pitch for re-election in 2010—and indeed, his campaign literature this fall looks a lot like it did before, except perhaps for a more sustained repetition of the word “jobs.” But in 2010, the mood of the country—and this area—was not as receptive to the “look what your government did for you” kind of political approach.
The more animated Miller protests the state’s “addiction” to spending and taxes, and is something of a crusader on the topic. The issue permeates his responses to almost every question, and even informs his conception of constituency service. His fight is a state-wide bout, and he takes it pretty far. In a year when most people think that all things considered, Albany did fairly well, he remained deeply critical of its workings, and opposed budget measures that his own party supported and that would have brought state money in to the local area.
The differences between the two candidates remind me in a way of Isaiah Berlin’s classic essay on the fox and the hedgehog—with the fox knowing a lot of little things and the hedgehog knowing one big thing. At the very least, these guys are two different animals. I’m also reminded of the difference between retail and wholesale politics, with Stirpe being much more the retail operator of projects, and Miller the wholesale dealer in ideas.
It will be very interesting to see what business model the 127th district opts for this November.