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The Wednesday Morning Roundtable hosted a forum Wednesday featuring two candidates running in the 54th Senate District race. Pictured, from left, are moderator Guy Cosentino, Republican candidate Pam Helming and Democratic candidate Kenan Baldridge. 

AUBURN — You usually don't see too many, if any, back-and-forth exchanges at candidate forums. That wasn't the case at this month's installment of the Wednesday Morning Roundtable. 

Kenan Baldridge and Pam Helming, two candidates running to succeed retiring state Sen. Michael Nozzolio, differed on whether New York should allow recall elections. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow recall elections for state officials. More than half of states — the number could be as high as 36 — permit voters to recall local elected officials. 

New York doesn't currently have a process for recalling local and state elected representatives. 

Helming, R-Canandaigua, wants to change that. She supports recall elections. But Baldridge, D-Rose, disagrees. 

"When you have a two-year term, you're almost automatically a recall," Baldridge said. "It's a short term, and if you're worried about always being in campaign mode, a recall process means that you always have to be in campaign mode."

Baldridge, who serves as town supervisor in Rose and is the lone Democrat on the Wayne County Board of Supervisors, said he has a two-year term in his current position. Residents of Rose considered whether to increase the term to four years, but the change wasn't made. 

If elected to the state Senate, the term would be for two years. 

"I think with a two-year term you've got your recall right there," Baldridge said. 

The two-year term for state legislators doesn't change Helming's view on recall elections. A main reason she supports recalling officials: The power of incumbency. 

"When you're trying to battle an incumbent who's been in office for a number of years, it's very difficult to do," she said. 

Baldridge responded by noting that he defeated an incumbent Republican when he was first elected town supervisor. The incumbent was seeking a fourth term as the town's top official. 

With a two year-term for the position, Baldridge argued that gave voters enough time to assess the work of the incumbent. 

"I don't think recall is a terrible thing, but I just don't think that you need it," he said. 

Helming believes local elections are different than running for state-level office. Like Baldridge, she defeated an incumbent when she was first elected town supervisor in Canandaigua. She was supported by four parties in that race, including the Democratic and Republican parties. 

"At the local level, it's one thing to say that you can beat an incumbent. I've done it. I know that," she said. "At the state level, it's a different ballgame." 

Helming also compared the experience of running for local office to campaigning for state Senate. The 54th Senate District covers all of Seneca and Wayne counties, plus portions of Cayuga, Monroe, Ontario and Tompkins counties. 

Her state Senate bid is what has solidified Helming's view on allowing voters to recall officials. 

"I support recall and putting that back in the hands of the people," she said. 

The issue was one of many discussed at Wednesday's forum, which was moderated by Guy Cosentino and held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn. 

Among other topics discussed were: 

• Blue-green algae affecting Owasco Lake. Baldridge advocated for changes to agriculture policy to address runoff issues. He also supports establishing more watershed associations similar to the Owasco Watershed Lake Association. Helming supports more funding not only for protecting the lakes, but to research invasive species and harmful algal blooms. 

• The $15 minimum wage hike that's being phased in in New York. Helming opposes the increase and believes it was done "too prematurely." She believes it will have a negative impact on community organizations and farms, among other entities. Baldridge seemed to question whether there should be a $15 an hour rate for upstate. He also called it an "ironic situation" that employers are paying employees minimum wage and paying taxes to support public benefit programs that many of the same employees have to utilize because they don't earn a living wage. 

• Helming supports term limits, but doesn't have one particular proposal in mind. Her initial thought would be to support four three-year terms for state legislators. Baldridge said he's not necessarily opposed to term limits, but he's not a strong advocate for them. 

"I don't think term limits are going to solve this problem," he said. 

• Both candidates oppose holding a constitutional convention. Voters will be asked next year if a state constitutional convention should be held. 

• What committee assignments would the candidates pursue if elected to the state Senate? Baldridge said he would want to serve on committees focusing on education, the environment, health and public safety. Helming said she would want to serve on the powerful Senate Finance Committee. She also would pursue appointments to committees that oversee the Department of Environmental Conservation and community health. 

• Baldridge and Helming agree more can be done to address the heroin epidemic. 

Baldridge is a paramedic and said he's been on the scene for many overdose cases. He thinks the state should be targeting the availability of certain drugs and work to reduce the number of prescription pain pills that can be dispensed. More support for non-profits that are working on this issue is also needed, he said. 

Helming supports providing resources for education and prevention. She said there's a lack of rehabilitation services available throughout the 54th Senate District. One challenge she mentioned is that insurance companies are not providing coverage for the necessary treatment. Insurers will cover a short amount of time, but not the entire length of the rehabilitation. 

There are three candidates on the ballot in the 54th Senate District race. Baldridge has the Democratic line and Helming will appear on three ballot lines: Republican, Conservative and Independence. 

Floyd Rayburn, who narrowly lost to Helming in the GOP primary, won a write-in campaign to land the Reform Party nomination. He didn't participate in Wednesday's forum and isn't actively campaigning for the seat. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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