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NY-20: Democrat Scott Murphy Dodges a Few Questions (Update: Murphy Spokesman Says He Would Have Voted for D.C. Gun Rights)

4:45 PM, Mar 16, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.
The special election to fill Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's vacant House seat in New York's 20th District is heating up. During the past few weeks the virtually unknown Democratic candidate, venture capitalist Scott Murphy, has flooded the airwaves, increasing his name recognition and hammering his GOP opponent, New York state assembly minority leader Jim Tedisco.

A Siena poll released last week showed that Tedisco's lead had shrunk to 4 points (in late February, a Siena poll showed Tedisco up by 12 points). During a campaign event at Bard College yesterday, Murphy said that the White House has taken a keen interest in the race. "A week and a half ago," Murphy said, "I spent an hour and a half in [the White House] situation room talking to [Obama's] political advisers about the race and how they could be involved."

Murphy has been attacking Tedisco for allegedly failing to say whether or not he would have voted for the stimulus plan. Tedisco has said that he would have voted for the stimulus bill if it included an amendment to cut pork and speed up the rate of spending. Nevertheless, Murphy repeated this criticism at Bard College yesterday.

"I may be wrong about the economic recovery act. It may not work, but I'll tell you I would have voted for it, and I'll work hard to make sure we get our fair share here in the 20th district," Murphy said. "My opponent seems to think you can avoid saying that. I guess it's something you learn in Albany after 27 years--ways to answer questions without telling people anything. I don't think that's the way you govern. I don't think that's the way that you should lead."

Murphy fleshed out his beliefs somewhat during the Q&A: He supports card-check, cap-and-trade, nuclear power, taxpayer-funding of abortion, and civil unions but not marriage for same-sex couples. (See below the fold for full quotes.) But Murphy was less than forthcoming on other issues. After the Q&A, as he walked to his car, I asked Murphy if he supports the Solomon Amendment, which bars federal funds to colleges that keep military recruiters or ROTC off of campuses. "I haven't looked into it. I've got to do some more research," Murphy said.

While a student at Harvard, Murphy co-signed an editorial in 1989 that argued that ROTC shouldn't be allowed on campus because the military was racist, sexist, anti-gay, and the "values enforced by the military - submission to authority, unquestioning obedience, and a hierarchy of power - are contrary to the University's values of independence, thoughtful inquiry, and equality for all."

Yesterday, Murphy said of his 1989 editorial: "That was, I said that at the time, and I have changed my opinion, in part because the military's moved its position" on gays in the military toward Clinton's ‘don't ask, don't tell' policy.

Does that mean Murphy supports gays in the military?

MURPHY: Yeah, we'll see. I think the president's talking about that right now, and I'm hopeful that we'll see some issues there come out from him in the near future that will be pretty exciting.

TWS: You don't have a definitive yes or no position on gays in the military?

MURPHY: No. I don't.

While Murphy said he opposes an assault weapons ban with a simple "no", he didn't say how he would have voted on the recent Ensign amendment to restore D.C. gun rights. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand voted against the amendment.

Update: Murphy's spokesman Ryan Rudominer, whom I emailed last night for clarification on Murphy's dodges, writes in an email: "Scott is a strong supporter of the second amendment. Scott would have voted in favor of DC gun rights." Still no word on Murphy's position on gays in the military and the Solomon amendment.Here's what Murphy had to say about a few other issues.

On taxpayer-funding of abortion through Medicaid and a national health care plan:

"Yes, I think that we do need to as part of the Medicaid system provide comprehensive health care to everyone in the community. We need to provide them with reproductive health care as well."

On cap-and-trade:

"I do support a cap-and-trade system."

On nuclear power:

"Generally, I have thought that nuclear energy is something we should be doing."

On card-check:

"One other thing I've come out for is the Employee Free Choice Act and raising the minimum wage. Those are ways that I think we put some pressure to raise the wages for the working class families."

On gay marriage:

Supports full equal rights for same-sex couples through civil unions, but believes "churches as private institutions can call whatever they want marriages."

On the war:

"I've come out in favor of closing Guantanamo. I've come out in favor of President Obama's plan for getting us out of Iraq. I've come out in favor of the surge in Afghanistan."