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Filler: Want big ideas? Listen to Howie Hawkins and Michael McDermott

Newsday columnist Lane Filler sat down for a

Newsday columnist Lane Filler sat down for a conversation with Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for New York State governor, on Oct. 10, 2014. They spoke about Hawkins vision for universal health care, full employment and clean-energy production. "I would say I'm the last progressive left in this election and the only one on the ballot in November," Hawkins says. Photo Credit: Sam Guzik

If you spend much time talking to mainstream politicians, you can get bored. As they bicker over who wants to cut property taxes more without coming up with ways to limit the expenditures the taxes pay for, the eyelids droop. As they joust about the (largely nonexistent) difference between giving people here illegally a path to citizenship, a path to legal residency and a garden path to sweep at substandard wages while awaiting deportation, the mind wanders.

"Is that all there is?" you think, which inevitably leads you to wonder whether Peggy Lee, who so famously asked that question, is still alive.

You rouse yourself back to attentiveness, just in time to catch a ferocious agreement.

"Unlike my opponent, I will end the waste, fraud and abuse that is taking hard-earned dollars from taxpayers."

"I oppose waste, fraud and abuse as much as you do . . . times infinity. Also, I'm like rubber, while you more closely resemble glue, and I think the voters know what that means."

I wish someone would come out in favor of waste, fraud and abuse, just for variety: "Many of my constituents benefit greatly by snatching ill-gotten crumbs falling from the huge and wasteful government maw, and I stand with them."

There are, though, candidates who want to talk about big ideas. It's just that we've largely defined them as fringe folk, figures of fun who have no chance of seeing their ideals come to fruition and get little platform to espouse them.

Spend an hour talking to New York gubernatorial candidates Howie Hawkins of the Green Party or Libertarian Michael McDermott and you will not be bored. Both support actual ideologies they express honestly. And you don't have to agree with them, particularly on tactics, to recognize that their goals deserve discussion.

Hawkins wants 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030, and plenty of government funding to ensure it. McDermott sees the same future of sustainable energy dominating and fossil fuels waning, but via the free market, not government subsidies. And both oppose hydrofracking for natural gas in New York. They don't sort of think that maybe if the interminable studies officials have ordered not to be finished ever get finished, then with certain safeguards designed by supertintelligent robots, it might be or might not be safe to blah blah blah.

Hawkins wants a big state income tax increase on the wealthy and the reinstatement of a levy on every share of stock traded on Wall Street to let the state cut property taxes and send more money to municipalities, schools and universities. McDermott wants to abolish the state income tax over four years, which would return $40 billion a year to New Yorkers, and huge cuts in state spending.

Hawkins wants free, single-payer health care for everyone. McDermott wants individuals to have the freedom to pay for health care as they see fit.

I have spoken to at least 60 people seeking elective office in New York over the past two months and Hawkins and McDermott are the only two who've said they support legalizing marijuana for recreational use. These are big ideas. They are worth discussing, and mostly are rooted in laudable goals, even if the methods Hawkins and McDermott support are difficult to stomach. Big solutions to big problems are always difficult to stomach. The solutions that don't come with sacrifice don't work.

McDermott and Hawkins will debate Republican candidate Rob Astorino and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Democrat, on Oct. 22 in Buffalo. It's the only debate scheduled and the best chance to hear Hawkins and McDermott. Astorino and Cuomo will get the attention, but that's not all there is, even if there are mainstream politicians who'd prefer you think so.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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