We hit the jackpot in Dutchess County last month when Republican and Democratic Legislators had a true debate about a difficult and complex subject that cannot be explained with 146 character or “sound bites.” And even more extraordinary is the participants listened to each other with respect and intelligence in a way that had nothing to do with political parties or ulterior motives as they discussed a vote to censure Legislator Joe Incoronato for his comments about sexual assault.
The comments were made at a June, 2016 meeting in discussion with Dutchess County’s Sexual Assault Response Team and repeated later in an email to a constituent. He said the use of alcohol and drugs could be an inducement for sexual assault.
The Censure was introduced by Democrat Hannah Black and supported by many in the Democratic Caucus who had requested the item be added as a resolution on the Agenda. Instead, new Legislative Chairman Gregg Pulver allowed them to present it under “Other Business.”
The discussion lasted a half hour starting at 23 minutes into the webcast of the January 22, 2018 meeting. It is worth the time to listen and hear what is possible when elected officials forget about party and raise the standard of public discourse in defense of the community they represent. A forgotten art in our current state and national politics.
Hear the debate at: http://www.totalwebcasting.com/view/?id=dutchess
Chairman Pulver said the discussion was “so interesting because it touches on real questions, real lives and real impact for all of us. Should an elected official be allowed to express a “politically incorrect” belief in a public setting? When does the personal behavior of an elected official impact his ability to represent his constituents?”
Silent protesters raised signs of “Me Too” in the audience when Legislator Alan Surman defended Incoronato who was not present at the meeting. They started when Surman quoted studies showing “statistical correlation between drug use, alcohol and other drugs and sexual assault.”
The new Democratic Minority leader, Kris Munn, read a timeline of events and made the case for why it was critical for the Legislature to pass the Censure even though it was long after the initial comments were made in 2016. He described an apology made by Incoronato finally in 2017 as a response to public media outing the issue in an election year when he felt vulnerable.
Munn ended with, “Finally we have the remorseless letter this past Sunday in the Poughkeepsie Journal declaring that he has been exonerated by the voters. Portraying himself as the victim. Calling it character assassination, vindictive and divisive. Does that sound like someone understands, who is truly sorry and regrets the pain he caused by placing blame on the victims? No. He is only sorry that he was called on account of his actions. It is never too late to do what’s right.”
Several Republican legislators made supportive comments for Incoronato during the discussion but later stated specifically that the debate had changed their minds. They voted overwhelming to pass the Censure- 23 to 1.
What a contrast to last year when the Legislature had a large Republican majority who voted on party lines to protect “one of their own” simply because they could and always have in Dutchess County.
Thanks to the recent election last November there is now a closer balance in our Legislature between Democrats (11) and Republicans (14) and a new Chairman of the Legislature, Gregg Pulver who appears to be more receptive to proposals submitted from the Democratic Caucus.
Do you think it is possible that such deliberate and thoughtful process could be used to fairly consider other critical issues impacting the lives of Dutchess County residents??? What a thought!