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I hate the telephone.  I cringe when it rings, and hate calling people even more.  I don't now why, but it is how I feel.  So I can muster some sympathy for Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton if that is why she hasn't called Cargill.  The difference is that she is an elected official who supposedly represents most of the people who work at the local salt mine.  So I would think she could overcome whatever the barrier is to talk to the folks there before putting things in motion that could profoundly affect the miners and the 200 local people who work there.  As for me, nobody elected me so I can be a grumpy old man if I want to.

I am not suggesting that talking to Cayuga Salt Mine representatives would change her mind.  I am not arguing the science on either side.  All I am saying is that if a legislator only talks to the people who agree with her, she is not getting the whole story and is only representing the people who agree with her.

Lifton has held press conferences, one this past Tuesday, to announce that she was sending letters to Albany to strongly urge the cessation of mining under the lake.  She was asked whether she had contacted Cargill before deciding to write these letters, and both times replied she was available to receive calls.

Well, so am I, sort of.  I mean I don't really like the phone.  But even if Assemblywoman Lifton shares my telephonophobia (it turns out that is an actual word!), she is supposed to be representing us, and my understanding from covering elected officials for more than a dozen years is that talking on the phone is a big part of what they do.

Cargill didn't do something that threatens Lifton's business or the safety of her staff.  Lifton is doing something that threatens Cargill's.  So why is it up to Cargill to somehow somehow psychically work out that she is about to write a letter to Albany that has the potential to significantly impact their business and rush to the phone to call her?  In getting this story I learned that Cargill found out about the letter shortly after I did, because WHCU published a report on the press notice (reporters got this email to ask them to come to Tuesday's press conference) shortly after they received it, and Cargill officials happened to see it there.

Lifton says she is not against the company and argues that they would have eight to ten years to switch to mining under land instead of under the lake.  She stated this as if it is fact.  But how does she know that is even possible in tht time frame (which is also uncertain as far as I can figure out) without talking to them about it?  Maybe it is possible get the easements from multiple landowners and to re-drill a whole mine in eight years.  I don't know.  Because I haven't asked.

Again, I am not challenging the Assemblywoman's position.  She is certainly entitled to that.  All I am asking is what harm would it do to talk to folks she doesn't agree with to get their point of view?  Wouldn't that inform her decision to oppose their operation?

In September Cargill gave a tour of the mine to many of our local officials including County legislator Mike Sigler and many Town of Lansing officials.  Lifton's counterpart in the State Senate Pam Helming, had her office call to arrange a tour for Helming and one of her aides.  All said they came away with a greater understanding of the company, the local workers, and the safety protocols the local mine staff implements.  Five years ago I was invited to join a mine tour as a member of the press.  It is a very cool tour.  I have to think that if Assemblywoman Lifton were willing to pick up the phone and initiate a call she could score a tour for herself with no obligation to change her mind.

People of Lifton's party who are running in Lansing have made a campaign issue of representing everybody and listening to all voices.  To me that implies reaching out to people they represent who may or may not have voted for them, especially when an issue of tangible consequence is on the table.  I would argue that should be true whether she actually represents the company in Albany or not, but even if the company is not her constituent, most of the 200 employees at the Lansing mine are.

After my article about the first press conference someone wrote on our Facebook page that Cargill is not a constituent of Lifton's.  "As far as I can tell, Cargill is a midwestern corporation, none of whose owners live in Lifton's AD. Is Walmart a constituent because it has operations in Tompkins and Cortland Counties? Or are we using the Citizens United definition that makes corporations equal to people? You may object to the running of the press conference, but your initial premise is pretty debatable," she wrote.

I replied, "Well it is true that corporations don't vote. But how can you separate that from 200 employees who run the mine and participate in the community and their families, most of whom do live within the district? To me that is a cold view. And this company isn't a Walmart. It provides good jobs, gives back to the community, the Tompkins County community, not just Lansing, provides a product that helps keep people safe, and seems to care about safety. The employees I have met over the years seem to love being part of it. They're people who live here whose views and vast experience in mining don't seem to be being considered important by their representative. And they are the company. It's not just some thing that can exist without them."

Even for a telephonophobic like me, it's not that hard to pick up the phone.

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