Barbara Lifton, the Ithaca area's NY state assemblywoman. (Courtesy of NY State)
Barbara Lifton, the Ithaca area’s NY state assemblywoman. (Courtesy of NY State)
Barbara Lifton, the Ithaca area’s NY state assemblywoman. (Courtesy of NY State)

Democrat Barbara Lifton is serving her fifth term as representative of District 125 in the New York State Assembly.

District 125 includes the city and town of Ithaca. It also includes the towns of Caroline, Cortlandville, Danby, Dryden, Enfield, Groton, Harford, Lansing, Lapeer, Newfield, Ulysses, Virgil, and the city of Cortland.

Initially elected in 2002, Lifton has held her seat since then. While she ran unopposed in the 2012 election, Republican Thomas Reynolds challenged her in 2010. Lifton captured more than 62 percent of the vote to retain her seat. Her party affiliations include both the Democratic and Working Families parties.

Lifton’s district highlighted in yellow.
Lifton’s district highlighted in yellow.

Lifton, a former teacher, grew up in Geneseo, N.Y., but currently resides in Ithaca. She has two children and three grandchildren.

Click any of the following 9 subheads to learn more about Barbara Lifton.

1 – What are Lifton’s main areas of focus in the NY State Assembly?
2 – You said she was a teacher. How has that influenced her policies? What does she think of Common Core?
3 – What is Lifton best known for?
4 – Has she fought for legislation specific to helping women?
5 – How did the race against the Republican go in 2010?
6 – I remember she was criticized during the sheriff’s race a few years ago. What was that about again?
7 – Where was she educated?
8 – How did I get in touch with Lifton’s offices?

(Did we miss an important issue? If so, email me at jstein@ithacavoice.com and we’ll get it fixed.)

1 – What are her main areas of focus in the NY State Assembly?

Lifton serves on the Assembly Committees for Agriculture, Education, Higher Education, Environmental Conservation, Mental Health and Election Law.

She is also a member of the Legislative Women’s Caucus and the Subcommittee on Election Day Operations and Voter Disenfranchisement. Following the federal government’s enactment of the Help America Vote Act, New York passed related legislation in 2005 and the Speaker appointed Lifton to be his representative on the bipartisan Citizens’ Election Modernization Advisory Committee, which made recommendations to the State Board of Elections.

Lifton is also one of 10 members of the joint, bipartisan Legislative Commission on the Development of Rural Resources, a three-decades-old commission that examines the impact of rural communities on the state economy. With more than two-thirds of state counties designated as rural — including the district Lifton represents — the commission focuses on agricultural and economic development, education, land use and other key issues pertaining to these communities.


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2 – What are her priorities in terms of education?

Education is a major focus for Lifton, a former schoolteacher, and she regularly works on legislation that spans from pre-kindergarten through higher education. At the Joint Legislative Public Hearing on Education in January 2014, Lifton expressed concerns about the rollout of the Common Core standards, which were enacted by the state through the 2010 Race to the Top law.

Lifton said in the hearing that she had heard from many parents, teachers, school board members and school administrations in her district, who “feel like they’re being set up for failure.” She said, “I can’t believe that is the intent of the state Ed. Department, but it is the way many school districts are feeling.”

From her educational experience, both in training and as a high school English teacher, Lifton said the guiding principle is, “First you teach and then you test for what was taught.”

The main complaint Lifton received from her constituents was that students were unprepared for the state’s new testing requirements, which she called a “top-down, rather than a cooperative, venture.” She also noted state universities’ concerns with teach certification issues that have resulted from the Common Core standards.

In addition to brining Common Core concerns to legislative hearings and committee sessions, Lifton has introduced legislation that would require school districts to purchase food produced in New York State. She has also sponsored legislation that would provide state aid to the local governments where a state university holds more than 15 percent of land within that village, town, city or county.

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Barbara Lifton speaks about hydrofracking in Ithaca from Ben B on Vimeo.

3 – Can you tell us about her environmental priorities?

Last year, Lifton received perfect score on the Environmental Advocates’ 2013 Environmental Scorecard. She has expressed concern about protecting local water supplies, combatting climate change and developing regulations for gas drilling.

In May, Lifton released a letter addressing the 2014 New York State Energy Plan, which she said is “inadequate in addressing the critically important efforts needed to curb GHG [Green House Gas] emissions.”

She has been involved with legislation that addresses oil, gas and mineral rights, particularly gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. In April, Lifton filed an Amicus Brief regarding a hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — case in her district.

In a statement, she said:
“I continue to present the legal argument for local zoning control over oil and gas development. Based on research into both New York State statute and case law, I believe — as several Supreme Courts and the Appellate Division, Third Department have ruled — that the Town of Dryden and municipalities across New York retain the ability to use their zoning powers to decide to limit or exclude gas drilling within their borders.”

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4 – Has she fought for legislation specific to helping women?

Yes, Lifton has worked on legislation especially pertinent to women and families.

She has sponsored legislation involving health care and day care, including a measure that would provide health insurance coverage to the family members of children who need psychological or psychiatric services.

In 2010, Lifton supported the Midwifery Modernization Act, which allows midwives to practice legally without a signed practice agreement with a physician. Many midwife groups and educational institutions across the state voiced support for the legislation.

Lifton is a strong advocate of getting women involved in politics and supporting legislation to protect women’s rights. She told The Lansing Star, “We need to bring women back into politics, especially young women, and have them fully-re-engage, because they are needed in the important struggles for women, for our children and for our communities.”

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5 – Election v. Reynolds

In 2010, Republican Tom Reynolds challenged Lifton, the incumbent. Reynolds served as the vice president and treasurer of Elmira College for 10 years, and then worked as a financial officer for wholesale distributors, nursing homes and other companies for seven years.

Key issues during the campaign included generating jobs, combatting corruption in the state government and the heated fracking debate.

“We need to drill safely, but we need to drill,” Reynolds told the Ithaca Times. At the time, Lifton called for major studies into fracking before allowing it in the state. She has since sponsored legislation that would regulate the practice and has called for the state to allow local government to pass fracking bans.

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6 – I remember LIfton was criticized during the sheriff’s race a few years back. What was that about again?
Lifton was involved in controversy surrounding the 2006 Tompkins County Sheriff election. Incumbent Peter Meskill, a Democrat, faced competition that year from Republican Brian Robison, a retired Ithaca Police officer, and third-party candidate Timothy Little, a sheriff’s deputy.

In Lifton’s letter of endorsement for Meskill, she said: “The danger in this race is that a vote for Tim Little — which some may consider as a way to show their commitment to equal opportunity and diversity — will split the Democratic and progressive vote, resulting in the election of the Republican candidate Brian Robison.”

Little, who is black, and his supporters were outraged at the implication that people would only vote for him based on his race, according to multiple reports at the time. Lifton later said she wrote the letter to clarify her support for Meskill, in response to constituents who asked if she would support Little’s campaign as a way of diversifying leadership in Tompkins County.

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7 – Where was she educated?

Lifton holds an M.A. and a B.A. in English from the State University of New York at Geneseo. She worked as an English teacher in the Ithaca and Geneseo Central school districts for many years. During her tenure as a schoolteacher, Lifton was a member of the New York State United Teachers, the Ithaca Teachers Association, the PTA and the Ithaca Hockey Boosters.

For 14 years, Lifton served as chief of staff to Marty Luster, a former New York State assemblyman. In Tompkins County, Lifton co-founded the Coalition for Community Unity, which works to combat hate groups, and served on the steering committee of the Tompkins County Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign. She has also been involved with the Ithaca Area Health Care Network and Cornell/Community Waste Management Committee.

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8 – How do I get in touch with her?

Lifton has offices in Ithaca and Albany, New York.

Albany Office
Legislative Office Building Room 555
Albany, New York 12248
Phone: 518-455-5444

Ithaca (District) Office
106 East Court Street
Ithaca, New York 14850
Phone: 607-277-803

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