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On the fringes

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Since U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, surprised the 21st Congressional District by announcing his retirement from the U.S. House of Representatives, voters have essentially been left in the dark by the two major political parties, who have been posturing and are now squirming to explain just what they are about.

Republican Party leaders immediately coalesced behind Elise M. Stefanik, who was very actively trying to energize a challenge to Mr. Owens. When Mr. Owens announced his plan, only Jefferson County’s Republican Party showed any restraint. The 11 other counties endorsed Ms. Stefanik before there had been any opportunity for the district to digest the impact of Mr. Owens’s decision and broaden the search for a viable candidate.

Jefferson County Republicans had good reason to be cautious. The county hosts Fort Drum, the largest single employer in New York, and the county has been instrumental in creating a climate for the division to prosper as it is called upon to defend America’s interests in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Leaders are rightfully concerned about knowing the abilities and backgrounds of potential candidates for a political seat that is critical to the future of the north country and New York state. And Jefferson County is interested in finding candidates who have close north country connections.

Such thoughtfulness, however, is not the kind of politics practiced by the 11 other leaders or the dozen Democratic Party chairs who in a closed-door cabal endorsed a Brooklyn greengrocer and filmmaker, who apparently plans to use his post office address in Elizabethtown as a local residency to launch some sort of campaign to represent the voters of the 21st District in Washington. At least Ms. Stefanik had the decency to move to Willsboro and tour the district before she was anointed.

The Democrats have endorsed Aaron Woolf, who has not yet bothered to share with voters how he will help the unemployed men and women of a congressional district that contains counties with some of the highest unemployment rates in New York find jobs. Those voters fortunate enough to have a regular paycheck want to know his thoughts on issues such as gun control; the preparedness of Fort Drum; the dairy industry; the allocation of power at Massena to sustain the aluminum industry; the future of wind power generation along the shores of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River or Lake Champlain; invasive species; and the future of small rural post offices.

That is only a sampling of issues. Mr. Woolf has not given anyone a hint about what he thinks about anything other than that he proudly claims to sell Saranac Beer in his grocery store. And for Mr. Woolf’s information, Saranac beer is not brewed in this congressional district.

Mr. Woolf condescended to appear in public for two minutes Tuesday night. But true to his character, he did not share with voters any political philosophy or ideas.

The process appears to be influenced by powerful political forces in Washington that can control a campaign’s purse-strings. Last weekend, Ms. Stefanik went to Aspen, Colo., to join other Republican candidates seeking financial backing from the Koch brothers, who are the largest supporters of right-wing extremism in the country.

Ms. Stefanik described the reason behind the trip to visit extremists as the fact that she faces a “primary campaign and the general election, I will raise whatever it takes to win.”

Not to be outdone by the right, billionaire Thomas F. Steyer is creating a $100 million fund to oppose candidates whose environmental positions appear hostile to climate regulation.

What seems to be escaping Ms. Stefanik and Mr. Woolf is that they are engaged in a political campaign to attract voters who live in the 21st District. The north country has a long and proud political history of middle-of-the-road views.

The Koch brothers don’t vote in New York, so why should their opinion about what is good for us count for very much? And will left-wing environmental zealots provide a way forward for Northern New Yorkers to find meaningful jobs that provide a pathway to security?

Except for Jefferson County, the political leaders of the Republican committees in the district have abdicated to the extreme right. They are actively soliciting campaign financing from the very type of political activists who managed to disrupt the electoral process by endorsing Douglas Hoffman in 2009.

Extremism does not play well with voters in the north country. And a selection process determined and dominated by political forces in Washington rather than the district’s voters is disheartening.

Fortunately, the voters will have a chance to speak from the privacy of the voting booth. There is a Republican primary June 24 where Ms. Stefanik is opposed by Matthew A. Doheny, a north country native who has a proud record of business success.

Mr. Doheny has concentrated his efforts by working with north country voters and is not making pilgrimages to the meccas of the extreme right-wingers who have stymied Congress for the last four years. His eye is on the north country and economic opportunity for voters throughout the broad district.

On the other hand, Mr. Woolf apparently is satisfying himself by soliciting help from Adirondack Park seasonal residents and those in the park lobbyists, who have made it so difficult for the indigenous population to prosper.

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