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John Cahill, GOP candidate for attorney general, talks education, fracking and other policies in Watertown visit

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WATERTOWN — John P. Cahill, Republican candidate for attorney general, spoke of the AG’s office role in education, economic development, and regulation as well as the upstate/downstate balance of power during an interview Tuesday.

Mr. Cahill, who served as commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and as a top aide to Republican Gov. George E. Pataki, said that his career in public service motivated his run for the office. He announced in May that he would challenge Democratic Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman for the position of chief legal officer of the state.

“I spent 12 years in public service and certainly got to see the things that government can actually do to improve the lives of New Yorkers. ... I feel (Mr. Schneiderman) has not done what he can to really improve the lives of New Yorkers. I believe it’s been used as the aspiring governor’s office as opposed to the attorney general’s office,” Mr. Cahill said.

He also accused the attorney general of being too focused on New York City and said that a balance of power was needed in Albany, with officials who are able to understand the needs of New Yorkers from both upstate and downstate.

Mr. Cahill, who has publicly promised to protect access to charter schools, was critical of the rollout of the Common Core.

“I believe in higher standards and I believe in testing. I think those are critical components both for teacher evaluations and for student evaluations, but education is best on a state and local level. I think we need to go back and certainly take a look at the appropriate standards, appropriate testing for the children in our state. We don’t need to have the same testing as children in other states, particularly because New York should have the best school system in the country. The Board of Regents needs to go back, the Department of Education needs to go back and really come up with the standards that are best for the children of New York,” Mr. Cahill said.

He spoke in favor of allowing the extraction of natural gas by hydrofracturing, with certain limitations.

“I spent most of my professional career on environmental issues. I consider myself an environmentalist, a conservationist. I’m very proud of my record as DEC commissioner. I’m proud of what I’ve done in the private sector. So I understand the concerns about hydrofracking. I’m not one to say there’s zero risk. But I am saying, as one who knows the department, that we can appropriately manage those risks if we give the department the right tools and the right funding,” Mr. Cahill said.

“We shouldn’t have fracking in our city and state watersheds. We shouldn’t have it in our state parks. We should require the industry to disclose what’s being injected into our ground water. ... But when you look at what hydrofracturing extraction of our natural gas can do both environmentally and economically to our state, I think there’s no question that we need to move forward,” he said.

Mr. Cahill said that he viewed natural gas as a resource that could help the country transition from petroleum-based fuel to alternative energy and that, as part of regulating the industry, he would require drilling companies to support the training and hiring of local employees.

Mr. Cahill also said the attorney general could take an active role in combating the drug trade proliferating in some areas of New York and in prosecuting individuals and banks who were responsible for plunging the country into a recession following the credit crisis of 2008.

Mr. Cahill, who is running the Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid at the end of the month, said that his experience traveling the state as DEC commissioner will help him overcome the natural disadvantage of a Republican running in a heavily Democratic state. He acknowledged, however, that it would be a challenge.

“Just on numbers it’s an uphill battle. ... I don’t mind being the underdog in the race; I don’t mind having an uphill battle. The things that have really made a difference in my life have always been a challenge. This is no different,” Mr. Cahill said.

Mr. Cahill lives in Yonkers with his wife and children and is a partner in the Pataki-Cahill Group, a firm specializing in environmental law that Mr. Cahill co-founded with Mr. Pataki.

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