Smythe v. Serino: NY’s 41st Senate district candidates on the issues

This November, local businesswoman Karen Smythe will face GOP State Senator Sue Serino in what will be her second attempt to flip District 41—the traditionally conservative stronghold in which Poughkeepsie is located—blue. Throughout her campaign, Smythe has focused her rhetoric on imperatives for racial justice reform, reproductive rights and the need for new leadership. Meanwhile, Serino has stuck to her small government instincts while criticizing New York State’s unilaterally Democratic leadership and their pandemic response. Below are the candidates’ views on some of this year’s most pressing issues:

Racial Justice 

Smythe has marched with and expressed strong support for the Black Lives Matter movement. She feels that the state should work to reinvest in mental health support, which the police should not be responsible for, and that racial disparities in minor drug convictions must be addressed. Smythe hopes to create a community fund to give low-income, predominantly residents of color capital to start businesses and acknowledges the need to flatten racial inequities in early education and housing. 

Soon after the death of George Floyd, Serino spoke out in support of the movement for racial justice and took part in a peaceful prayer walk in the City of Poughkeepsie. Since then, she has voted in favor of bills requiring instruction on symbols of hate in grades 6-12, establishing a hate crimes training program for law enforcement and extending the definition of “race” and racial-based discrimiantion to hair texture and style. At the same time, Serino voted against S.8496, which authorizes disclosure of law enforcement disciplinary records, and S.6579, which limits penalties for marijuana possession.  

Reproductive Rights

Smythe, who has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood, EMILY’s List and the National Institute for Reproductive Rights, supports the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which codified Roe v. Wade protections into New York State law. She has emphasized the need to protect reproductive health care access and says that this health care should not be tied to employment. 

Serino, who opposed the RHA, insists that New York has “never done anything to roll back the clock” on Roe and, in 2018, said that she would oppose any measures restricting abortion access. 

Sexual Violence

Smythe’s platform prioritizes zero-tolerance for sexual harassment, and she supports the work of the Military Sexual Trauma Movement, which lobbies for a regulative authority that would allow victims of sexual assault to report incidents outside of their chain of command. 

Serino has sponsored legislation to establish a sex trafficking awareness and prevention program, which prohibits sex offenders from being bus drivers and require sex offenders to verify their residence and registration on a biannual basis.

Gender Discrimination 

Smythe supports equal pay for equal work policies as well as the strengthening of paid family and medical leave programs. She sharply opposes the GOP rollback of Obama-era protections for transgender Americans.

Serino voted against prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and designating offenses regarding gender identity or expression as hate crimes. 

Guns

Smythe supports the work of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and various other groups advocating for gun control measures. She believes that “protecting our kids from gun violence should not be a controversial or partisan issue” and claims that Serino continues to block “all” gun safety measures.

Serino has co-sponsored legislation to repeal the 2013 SAFE Act, which the New York State Legislature passed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to increase penalties for illegal gun use and insists that the state should be focusing on mental health-related prevention. Serino also voted against S.8121, which ensures that convicted domestic abusers do not have access to firearms. In her most recent term, she opposed bills increasing penalties for improper gun storage, prohibiting firearms on school campuses and establishing 30-day waiting periods, while also voting to prohibit both bump stocks and 3D printed firearms and establish a firearm buyback program. 

Environmental Policy

Smythe supports the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which sets binding goals for the state to achieve 85 percent emissions reduction by 2050 and ensures that at least 35-40 percent of climate infrastructure is directed to disadvantaged communities. Smythe also insists that we must invest in the region’s drinking water infrastructure, encourage regenerative farming practices for local farms and create jobs in the emerging green technology sector. 

Serino opposed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. She voted to establish a small business energy assistance program and prohibit offshore drilling. 

Economic Infrastructure: Housing, Workforce and Broadband Infrastructure

Smythe has called for universal broadband access. In municipalities such as Poughkeepsie where many families cannot afford broadband, she suggests implementing a municipal broadband network. She asserts that while families and employers look to relocate outside of New York City, the Hudson Valley must leverage itself to attract emerging industries and make home ownership more accessible.

Serino hopes to expand broadband access by exempting high-needs communities from a fiber optic tax, which she says has disincentivized broadband development. She opposed a bill extending eviction protections for tenants during the emergency shutdown. This year she sponsored legislation requiring state economic development agencies to provide preference to small businesses in the programs that they administer.

Education

Smythe supports implementing anti-racist curricula in every level of K-12 education and building a more equitable tax system that will flatten the inequalities between wealthier and poorer school districts. Smythe believes that the Excelsior Scholarship, which grants certain New York students tuition-free attendance at CUNY and SUNY schools, should be more inclusive of part-time students and hopes to direct additional resources toward alternatives to four-year colleges. 

Serino is a sharp critic of Common Core standards and is the creator of an Education Advisory Board that has proposed sweeping reforms to Common Core standards. She opposed granting undocumented immigrants access to higher education aid and establishing a school voter registration access program. Regarding the Excelsior Scholarship, Serino favors moving towards an “enhanced,” income based Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). 

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