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Assemblywoman Duprey talks politics, issues with high school students

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MALONE - The SAFE act. The Chateaugay prison and Alcoa potline closings. New York state Regents examinations. Same-sex marriage. Women’s equality.

These were just a few of the thingsdiscussed by high chool seniors with Assemblywoman Janet Duprey this as part of Franklin Essex Hamilton BOCES’ New Vision government class. Ms. Duprey, a Republican, represents the town of Brasher, Lawrence, Hopkinton and Piercefield and all of Franklin and Clinton counties in the New York State Assembly.

“I never really knew her before, but now I do,” Justin LaValley of Franklin Academy said. “I like how she stands up for other people and not just herself.”

The other students agreed. Post-discussion they described Ms. Duprey, R-115th District, as honest, down-to-earth and completely open. She didn’t duck any of their questions and explained her viewpoints and voting record clearly and completely.

There were even a few teary-eyed moments, when issues like autism and women’s rights –– issues close to Duprey’s heart –– came to light.

“It was like talking to one of us,” Jeanna Hession of FA said.

Ms. Duprey spent close to two hours with the students, allowing them to lead the direction of the discussion. They asked her the tough questions and said they were often surprised by her answers, considering “the district she represents” and the fact that she’s a Republican.

Ms. Duprey is often described as “socially liberal,” but that didn’t mean the students were prepared for her stances on Obamacare, the SAFE Act, abortion and same-sex marriage.

“I’m passionate about people’s rights. We shouldn’t be telling people how to live their lives,” Ms. Duprey said during their discussion. “If that gives me the label of being a social liberal, I wear it proudly.”

Same-sex marriage in particular was something of a flip for Ms. Duprey when she was first elected. After talking to parents of homosexual children and researching the some 1,200 federal benefits married couples receive, she just couldn’t justify voting ‘No’ on the marriage equality act, despite running on a platform of civil unions and being raised Irish-Catholic.

“I like that she’s open to change,” Mike Smith of St. Regis Falls said. “Even though she might feel strongly about something, she’ll listen and understand.”

But Ms. Duprey didn’t just talk about the issues; she also described her life in politics. A key theme was the difficulties she’s faced as a woman in a profession predominantly managed by men. For her, every political step-up over the years was an absolute victory - even when she first started out.

When she was 29, a Clinton County legislator came to her door looking for a candidate for an open county seat. But he wasn’t looking for her. He was looking for her husband.

Nobody thought a woman could do it. It was unheard of. But the put-downs and belittlement “stirred up the Irish” in Duprey and she decided to run.

She started her first term as the first woman elected to the county Legislature in 1976 and was elected to the state Assembly in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012.

Looking at her record, she says she must be doing something right, despite her social views. But it’s always was an uphill battle.

“Do you think, even now in 2014, that people don’t take your opinion as seriously as a man’s?” Mr. Hession asked.

“Sometimes. Absolutely,” Ms. Duprey responded.

This is the sixth year Ms. Duprey has visited the BOCES New Vision government class, coming every year since the program started in 2009.

“One of the things I enjoy the most every year is coming here and coming to this class,” Ms. Duprey said. “They’re bright, they always have good questions and they’re focused.”

The course is described by BOCES as “an academically rigorous program for college-bound seniors” where they “learn and work in a professional setting alongside lawyers, court officials, law enforcement and a wide range of other legal professionals.” The students have taken trips to local government offices, watched local court and have even sat in on a defense attorney talking to their client.

This year’s students hope to host a wing night sometime in February at the Bangor Fire Department to raise money for a possible day trip to Albany, where, Ms. Duprey says, she looks forward to seeing them again.

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