North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Anna Kaplan claimed her opponent for state Senate, incumbent Elaine Phillips, is in the pocket of special interests while casting herself as someone who can push through important legislation.
In a sit-down interview with Blank Slate Media, Kaplan (D-Great Neck) said she wants to “level the playing field” for residents in Senate District 7. She is challenging Phillips (R-Flower Hill), who previously served as the mayor of Flower Hill and was elected two years ago.
The outcome of the Phillips-Kaplan race could shift the balance of not just the New York state Senate, where the Republicans hold a one-seat majority, but the entire state government. If the state Senate flips, both legislative chambers, the governor and the attorney general would be Democratic.
“You can’t say that this is a balance and that you need one house to be Republican,” Kaplan said when asked about possible concerns over one-party control. “If you can’t get things done, you need to make a change.”
Kaplan said there are a number of “human issues” on the table, such as enacting “sensible gun laws,” the Reproductive Health Act, the Child Victims Act and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, that Phillips and Republicans have not supported.
Kaplan highlighted the issue of schools, casting herself as someone who would be a champion for public school funding and not diverting taxes toward privately managed charter schools – there are none in the district – like Phillips.
In 2016, StudentsFirst, a pro-charter school group, spent $2.6 million on Phillips’ behalf in her successful state Senate race against Democrat Adam Haber of Roslyn.
“She’s one 100 charter school support. We are clearly on different ends of the spectrum on this,” Kaplan said. “I’m all for public schools; I believe the crown jewels of District 7 are the schools.”
Meagan Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the Phillips campaign, said Phillips helped secure “record state funding,” a $112 million increase for Nassau County districts and $2 million in discretionary grants for security upgrades.
When asked about the differences in funding between the Sewanhaka schools and Great Neck schools, which are only a few miles apart, Kaplan said she would try to bring more money to the district and push harder for schools “that have a hard time.”
“It’s a district,” Kaplan said. “I represent everyone in the district.”
The district covers the Town of North Hempstead, New Hyde Park, Floral Park and part of Hicksville.
Kaplan also took issue with the new federal tax laws, particularly the cutting of state and local tax deductions, which she said disproportionately affects the 7th District.
“[Phillips] has said publicly that 85 percent of New Yorkers are going to benefit from this, but you know what?” Kaplan said. “She is responsible for this district first and she and the Republican [state] Senate did nothing about it.”
When asked about the potential implementation of a state sales tax on internet sales, which Republicans have opposed due to not wanting to raise taxes, Kaplan said the district and Nassau County need the revenue.
“…I know there are a lot of people who buy online for the convenience, not necessarily to save the tax, and I think buying online should be the same as buying on the street and buying from our stores,” Kaplan said. “We all want our downtowns to work well. We need to help those business owners.”
“It’s already hard, they’re competing with online purchases – again, it’s something that levels the playing field,” Kaplan added of the sales tax.
Kaplan also said she “absolutely” wants to codify Roe v. Wade via the Reproductive Health Act to help more women gain access to healthcare and, if necessary, get an abortion.
She said the legislation would take abortion out of the criminal code, allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to administer nonsurgical procedures, and allow women to get an abortion after 24 weeks if their health is endangered or the fetus is deemed not viable.
“Why make a woman go through that?” Kaplan said.
Kaplan also expressed support for the Child Victims Act, which would extend the civil statute of limitations to age 50 for sexual assault victims who were children, up from 23 years, and would extend the criminal statute of limitations to age 28.
Fitzgerald said Phillips has worked toward a plan “that would eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal charges in sex abuse cases and create a fund that’s available to all victims.”
Asked about marijuana, Kaplan said the Town Board approved two medical marijuana dispensaries. But when it comes to recreational marijuana, Kaplan said she’d need more specifics on areas like how it’s bought and sold, and where taxes on it would go.
“I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no,” Kaplan said. “It really does depend on a lot of different factors.”
When asked whether the state government should be less involved in local issues, she said there are some benefits to state government involvement. In approving affordable housing in the Town of North Hempstead, for example, Kaplan said it wouldn’t have been possible without tax breaks.
She also said that while someone far from Long Island would also be deciding on certain issues, she said the person is only “one vote” and there are “certain things you want New York state to do.”
“I think government is meant to help people and their lives,” Kaplan said.
Regarding guns, Kaplan said her first goal would be passing “red flag” legislation, which would create extreme risk protection orders that could take guns away from “extreme risk individuals.” She also said bump stocks need to be banned.
“I’m not taking the Second Amendment away from them, but we also have to make sure we’re protecting our communities,” Kaplan said.
Fitzgerald said Phillips has in fact voted in favor of “red flag” legislation and said she supports stronger background checks, a bump stock ban and pointed to a bill she wrote that mandates the removal of firearms from convicted domestic abusers.
Asked about corruption in Albany, Kaplan said “real reform” is needed and accused Phillips, the chair of the ethics committee, of not holding any meetings on it.
Kaplan also said the LLC loophole, which defines limited liability corporations as individuals and allows campaign donations of up to $11,000, should be closed and that there should be a limit on outside income for legislators.
Tess McRae, a Kaplan spokeswoman, also said that Kaplan pledged to sign onto an anti-corruption amendment that would create a separate body to oversee and review campaign finance issues.
“Something has to change because we cannot go on like this,” Kaplan said.
In response, Fitzgerald pointed to Phillips’ vote to “strip corrupt politicians of their taxpayer-funded pensions,” sponsorship of legislation barring taxpayer-paid secret settlements for officials in sexual harassment cases, and support for “a sweeping package of ethics reforms” like giving the state comptroller more oversight powers.