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Congressional District 26: Ayesha Nariman

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Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds has plenty of time outside his legislative schedule to schmooze with wealthy donors on the golf course and feast with fat cats at fundraising dinners. The two-term Erie County Congressman, whose new district includes most of Greece and the southern slice of Monroe County, is charging to the front of the herd in the Elephant Party thanks to his ability to raise tons of cash for Republican candidates here and nationwide.

            Unfortunately, Reynolds apparently couldn't spare even a few minutes to share his views with City readers in his new district. Calls to his office requesting a short interview were not returned.

            Thanks to his fundraising skills, he's poised to earn the chairmanship of the National Republican Congressional Committee. From there, he can spend even more time putting for dollars to help Republican candidates all over the country.

            Reynolds is anti-abortion. Like his Republican colleague, District 25 Congressman Jim Walsh, he's flexed his conservative muscles on the record by voting to prohibit federal funding for needle exchange programs, domestic partner benefits, and medical marijuana distribution in DC. He also voted against allowing gay couples in DC to adopt children.

            Reynolds voted in favor of the resolution authorizing President Bush II to invade Iraq. He's previously voted to waste money and diplomatic goodwill on a Star Wars-type missile defense system, as well. If Bush wanted to build a Death Star, we suspect Reynolds would also be on board, both politically and literally.

            On environmental issues, Reynolds' record is mixed. He voted in favor of raising fuel-efficiency standards on cars, light trucks, and SUVs (a measure, ultimately rejected, that also included incentives for developing alternative fuels), and cast a "yes" in favor of implementing the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. But he also voted against a measure to prohibit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

            We endorse Democratic challenger Ayesha Nariman over Green contender Paul Fallon to replace Reynolds. (We had no luck locating Right to Life Party candidate Shawn Harris.)

            We believe Nariman, a financial advisor and first-time candidate who lives in Williamsville, is the better choice. Originally from Bombay, India, she's articulate, knowledgeable, and committed to tackling and mastering the complexities of issues like Social Security's solvency and tax reform.

            Fallon is more progressive on social issues, but his thinking on a number of topics seems scattered and more reactive than substantive. He does, however, get kudos for showing up at a campaign press conference naked (the idea: he has nothing to hide).

            Nariman is pro-life on "a personal, religious level," but says, "I do not think I have a right to impose my position on everyone else." She says she would work to minimize abortions by giving family counselors and adoption agencies a presence at abortion clinics.

            Nariman supports equal rights and benefits for gays and lesbians, but hedges on the subject of gay marriage. "Maybe call it something else," she says, "some sort of partnering where they would have all the legal rights of a [hetero] couple. But don't push it on the heterosexual community that it has to be the same word, the same idea of marriage."

            Opponents of same-sex unions "say that having homosexuals come into the marriage issue would destroy marriage as it is sanctified," says Nariman. "But actually, the heterosexuals have done a great job of destroying marriage, so I don't know why they want to blame the homosexuals."

            Fallon, a lawyer who lives in Amherst, is pro-choice and supports gay marriage.

            On the issue of Iraq, neither Fallon nor Nariman supports a preemptive strike against the country. Nariman says an invasion should be "the last resort." If Iraqi acceptance of UN weapons inspections is not forthcoming, "or if it is forthcoming and we find that [Iraq] has large numbers of chemical, bio-chemical, and the start of a nuclear weapons program, then we probably need to do something," she says.

            Fallon says the theme of his campaign is "jobs, not war." He opposes military action against Iraq for strategic and economic reasons ("It's probably too expensive," he says) and adds, "I truly believe that this is about politics, and it's about oil and domination of the Middle East."

            Both Fallon and Nariman think the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is right before our eyes, if only we had the political will to open them. "I think it's very simple," Fallon says. "Tell Israel, 'Get out of the occupied territories, follow the UN resolutions that are in place, stop your settlements, or we're not giving you anymore money.' That's it."

            Nariman advocates confining Israel to its pre-1967 borders, creating a Palestinian state, giving the Palestinians East Jerusalem, and keeping both sides separate and protected --- by military means, if necessary --- against aggression perpetrated by the other. "It's a very easy solution," she says. "We lack the will to do it right."

            Nariman and Fallon both oppose the privatization of Social Security and support Medicare coverage of prescription drugs and the use of marijuana for medicinal means.

            Nariman would decriminalize, but not legalize, currently illegal drugs. Fallon has a slightly different take. "Treat the drug problem as a medical problem," he says. "Recognize that things like marijuana should be controlled... The demand is always going to be there and these gangsters running around the world are going to make money on the illegal drug trade if we don't step up and control it."

            "I'd like to stay away from the word 'legalize,' because as soon as you say 'legalize,' people say, 'Well, you wouldn't want your surgeon smoking pot before he was going to operate on you,'" he continues. "It's ridiculous. I wouldn't want him drunk, either."

            Interestingly, it's Nariman who specifically wants to make her district the first in the nation to rely entirely on renewable energy sources. And with her dual degree in math and physics from the University of Bombay, we believe she understands the technology's potential.

            Fallon also supports developing renewable energy technology, especially solar power, but he sounds more like a tripping hippie than a scientist when talking about it. "There's this huge, huge thing in the sky that's just pouring out energy like all get-out," he says. "There's gotta be way just to hook up to that somehow."

            Yeah, dude, no doubt. Hey, don't Bogart that government-controlled controlled substance.

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