A man who ran his own drywall business, worked as a plow wingman and has served in public offices from planning board to town supervisor is now running for state Assembly.
Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson is running on the Republican line for the 114th Assembly District seat. The district includes all of Warren and Essex counties and portions of Saratoga and Washington counties.
Also running are Warren County Supervisor Claudia Braymer, a Democrat representing the Glens Falls 3rd Ward, and former Thurman Supervisor Evelyn Wood, who is on the Serve America Movement line.
Simpson was born in Bolton Landing, lived in Queensbury for part of his adult life and moved to Horicon 15 years ago.
He is president of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, which lobbied the state to help fight invasive species in the Adirondacks. Simpson also helped start the Adirondack Lakes Alliance in 2014, which also works to remove invasive species and prevent new ones from entering the waterways.
In those efforts, he described learning how to find compromises that “everyone could live with.”
“It’s a new day. We can’t fight and win, we need to meet with all the stakeholders and talk about these issues,” he said, citing a conservation development bill being considered by the state Legislature now.
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“It took two years but we got to where we were all comfortable,” he said. “It was very difficult. There were times when we didn’t know if we would meet again.”
He went to Long Island once to meet an assemblyman who had proposed a bill about the Adirondacks, and invited him up to see what North Country residents think is important.
“It gave me a perspective, seeing from their lens, being on Long Island, understanding why they’re weighing in on an issue in the Adirondacks,” he said. “That’s what it takes. We’ve got to get out of our communities. We need to learn about the people we are working with.”
He also wants to fight for wide-reaching changes in how the state gives out regional economic development grants.
“Those (Regional Economic Development Councils) are political appointments,” he said. “The Legislature is not part of that process.”
He would rather focus the grants on regional needs, especially broadband, rather than a series of smaller items that have a smaller benefit.
“A lot of those grants need to be retooled,” he said. “Focus that money on broadband infrastructure and capacity. … That’s where we need to refocus these monies. It’s a huge budget, $100 billion.”
He also wants to rethink the franchise agreements that each municipality negotiates with a cable television and internet provider like Spectrum.
Horicon has about $250,000 from that franchise fee, he said.
“We’re going to expand our infrastructure with those dollars. But even that needs to be looked at because those dollars need to go where there is the biggest benefit,” he said. “Is (town by town spending) the best model? Maybe those dollars should be pooled together, matched with state money.”
He also wants to repeal the 2019 tax on broadband within the state Department of Transportation right of way.
“I don’t think many people realized that was in the budget,” he said. “That is counterproductive. Here we know there is an issue with investing in broadband and we’re going to add a tax? That roadway is owned by the citizens of the state of New York.”
He also wants to change the bail reform law, which has been changed once already since being passed. More needs to be done, he said.
With all of his work on the environment, he said it’s clear that climate change is negative affecting the Adirondack Park and he would support state efforts on that issue.
“We have to take action,” he said.
Simpson also wants to help heal the Republican-Democrat divisions that have deepened in recent years. He described being berated by one man while he was campaigning. The man, a senior citizen, knew nothing about him except that he was a Republican.
“I went home that night thinking, what have I gotten myself into?” he said.
That wasn’t his only experience with “negativity” while campaigning.
“So it’s really a huge issue out there,” he said, adding that leaders should consider it a “learning experience” and be more careful about “what kind of message we put out there.”
“I don’t know what the answer is to bring people back together,” he said. “But that’s something that’s very important to me. This is America. This is the North Country. I’ve never seen that here before.”