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Five Republicans square off in 54th state senate primary

For the first time in more than 20 years, the state senate seat in New York's 54th district is open. A crowded field of mostly Republican candidates are vying to replace longtime Republican State Sen. Mike Nozzolio, who's retiring. The district encompasses all or portions of Ontario, Wayne, Seneca, Cayuga, Tompkins and Monroe counties. 

The town of Canandaigua's supervisor Pam Helming is considered the GOP favorite. She won endorsements from all six of the county Republican parties. Helming said her top priority in Albany would be to roll back regulations. 

"I hear over and over again from small businesses how long it takes to get licenses, how long the delays are when you apply for permits," Helming said. "We need to streamline. We need to eliminate some of the unnecessary regulatory burdens our small businesses face."

Economic development, smaller state government and ethics reform were top issues for all of the GOP candidates. But for some, an outsider perspective is just as important. First-time candidate Jon Ritter from Webster said career politicians are a problem. 

"I’ve been voting for experienced lawmakers for the past 20 years and when we look at where New York is today," Ritter said. "It’s not in a very good position, so I think any new person is going to come in and bring in some new ideas and new thoughts and hopefully some change to the system." 

businessman Floyd Rayburn of Rushville said the New York State Legislature also needs more members with private sector experience.

"My name has always been on the front of the check and not on the back of the check and I think it’s time we have business minds down there, people who have met a payroll," Rayburn said. 

Republicans Brian Manktelow, supervisor of the town of Lyons, and former Assemblyman Sean Hanna are also running. They did not return requests for interviews.

The only Democratic candidate in the race is the town of Rose's supervisor Kenan Baldridge. Baldridge said he isn't concerned that the 54th district has only 51,000 registered democrats and 65,000 registered Republicans. 

"If you look at the distribution of the parties in the 54th district and the percentage that each party holds, it’s very similar in the town of Rose. This is a Republican town," Baldridge said. "There aren’t enough Democrats to elect me by themselves so I win because I get votes from the Independents and Republicans."

Baldridge aligns with some of his Republican opponents on a few major issues. He wants to target ethics reform, even if that means imposing term limits. Baldridge also wants the state to relinquish some of its control in education and instead focus on economic development. But one area where Baldridge starkly differs from the Republican candidates in the race is on the 2013 gun control law, the SAFE Act. 

"Everyone of them has said they want to repeal it [SAFE Act] lock, stock and barrel," Baldridge said. "I see problems with it. I think it needs to amended, not appealed."

Conversely, Helming wants to repeal it and Ritter said he wants to amend it so there's a separate, more relaxed version for upstate New York.

Kristen Edwards contributed to this report.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.