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North country delegation meets in Albany

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It might not be a first, but it's the most public display of political affection we've ever seen between the two: Assemblywoman Addie Russell, D-Theresa, and state Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, are working together.

Sure, it's just a grip-and-grin photo, but hey, maybe the delegation is headed toward more bipartisan cooperation.

Their geography may overlap, but their marquee efforts in state government rarely do. They've worked together on local bills, like an exemption to residency requirements for stenographers, for example.

In the more than 13 months since Mrs. Ritchie and Mrs. Russell were in office together, their names have not appeared together on a joint news release (some Ritchie releases mention that Mrs. Russell is a co-sponsor of Assembly bills, and one specifically thanks her; Mrs. Russell is an infrequent news releaser), or a working committee, and the two have not jointly attended a news conference or a public event.

And both legislators were working on separate bills that would change the state's school aid formula, using many of the same legal tactics, but they apparently didn't think to work together on that one. Identical bills need to pass both houses of the Legislature, and to do that, they need a majority member to push for it.

The north country has the best of both worlds in this case, but it's all for naught if they're not willing to work together.

When asked why they aren't working together on certain initiatives, the private answer is sometimes, "I thought of it first," or "We disagree on the issues."

The rivalry between the Russell and Ritchie camps serves as one of the more interesting and unstated undercurrents of north country politics. Of course, it has something to do with party affiliation — though both offices say they work fine with the other side of the aisle. Another part of it surely has to do with the fact that Mrs. Russell was presumed to be a likely candidate for Mrs. Ritchie's Senate seat, but that's not going to happen.

Whatever the reason, perhaps it's a sign of things to come, and we'll be seeing more of what we saw today: A news release from Mrs. Ritchie's office saying that "The legislators work together on a variety of issues affecting the region, including Fort Drum, economic development initiatives and housing."

That's probably less of a description and more of a prescription, but it's good news for north country residents who'd be better served by teamwork from the delegation.

Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush, R-Black River, is also in the photo. He works well with his Jefferson counterparts on both sides of the aisle.

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