HUDSON–The maximum occupancy of the auditorium at the Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School is posted as 560, and there were few empty seats there Monday night. The occasion was a debate among the seven candidates seeking the party’s nomination to run for Congress in the 19th District, which includes all of Columbia County.
The decision on a candidate will be made by registered Democrats who participate in a June 26 primary election across the district. The winner will face first-term Republican Congressman John Faso, a Kinderhook resident, in the November general election. The district includes all or parts of 11counties.
Monday’s event, moderated by Barbara Bartoletti, former legislative director for the New York State League of Women Voters, had a collegial tone, with candidates adhering to the one-minute limit on statements and responses. Only a couple of policy differences–whether Medicare for all or a single-payer system was the best route to universal healthcare coverage and what to do about income inequality–sparked any hint of disagreement. But all the candidates won praise from Ms. Bartoletti for their passionate support of the programs they believe in. The audience gave them all a standing ovation.
What follows are excerpts from statements by the candidates and from the interactions between them that were a feature of the debate format. The order in which candidates spoke was determined in advance by drawing lots. To open the event the candidates each had a minute to introduce themselves. Then, in all but the last round, Ms. Bartoletti raised a series of campaign issue questions and asked each candidate to respond.
Erin Collier, an economist from a Cooperstown farm family who worked for the United Nations in Thailand, spoke first. She said her family was poor and she had worked from an early age. Families in the district are “struggling” and government should provide more assistance including food security, she said.
Jeff Beals, now a school teacher in Woodstock, is a former State Department diplomat who served in Iraq. He said income inequality was the greatest challenge facing the district and the country. It was a subject that he and others mentioned throughout the debate.
He also spoke of the need to expand Medicare so that it covers people of all ages. He favors a government jobs guarantee program.
Gareth Rhodes, who’s from Ulster County, said he has visited every one of the 163 towns in the district. He said he has found voters open to common sense gun safety.
Bryan Flynn of Greene County described himself as a lifelong progressive. He said he would fight in Congress for Medicare for all. He is a union member and proud that his campaign is unionized. He also said he had a track record working to get laws passed in Washington.
Dave Clegg, a trial lawyer in Kingston who has spent his career in Ulster County, said he has won cases that involved civil rights and the protection of the environment. He said Rep. Faso “has betrayed us on all these issues” and he vowed to “hold him accountable” in the general election campaign.
Antonio Delgado, a lawyer and Rhodes scholar, lives in northern Dutchess County. He said, “Political leaders have forgotten working families,” and he noted that the economy has “doubled in size” over recent decades but “wages have remained stagnant.”
Pat Ryan is from Kingston, attended West Point and served two combat tours of duty in Iraq. He started a technology company after leaving the military. He said the nation is “backsliding” and currently is “not the country we fought for.” He vowed that if elected he would take on healthcare and the gun lobby.
The first question to all candidates was a lengthy one involving tariffs, trade and whether NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement should be renegotiated. Mr.Beals, who spoke first, said NAFTA was a “mistake” and had led to a transfer of wealth away from American workers. He said he believed in “fair trade.”
Mr. Flynn said that labor unions should be “at the table” when trade deals are negotiated.
Mr. Clegg said that only big corporations are part of trade deals now, but he said Congress could “get control” of trade negotiations.
Mr. Delgado said that President Trump had “identified the problem” but proposed the wrong solutions or none at all. He urged an end to the so-called fast track authority–allowing Congress only an up-or-down vote on trade agreements proposed by the administration.
Ms. Collier said that there currently are no trained economists serving in Congress. She said that the president’s tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum are already hurting the U. S. economy, including our agricultural industry.
The second question was about the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the regulations being rolled back or eliminated by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Mr. Rhodes said Mr. Pruitt should be fired and he recommended the federal government create a “climate change resiliency fund.” Mr. Clegg recommended a new Clean Air Act and a new Clean Water Act to protect the environment.
“Congress is propping up the fossil fuel industry,” Mr. Delgado said.
Mr. Ryan joined Mr. Rhodes in calling on Congress to “get rid of Pruitt,” adding that the “culture” Mr. Pruitt had brought to the EPA should go too. Mr. Beals said the crisis at the EPA is an opportunity to create a “clean New Deal.”
The third question addressed immigration, but the issue was framed by asking how the candidates would ease the shortage of farm workers.
“Immigrants add to the economy,” Mr. Flynn said. He said the government should offer work visas immigrants.
Mr. Clegg called the president’s most recent actions on immigration “cruel and unusual.”
Mr. Delgado said Congress should “legislate a labor force for our dairy farmers.” Mr. Ryan advocated a “clean Dream Act” with a pathway to citizenship. Ms. Collier said farms are closing in the district. That point was taken up by Mr. Beals, who said, “farmers are being driven out of business.”
Mr. Rhodes summed up what he said was current immigration policy: “If you’re white, you’re welcome; if you’re not, you’re not.”
To a question on what to do about income inequality, Mr. Clegg said the country needs affordable childcare and fully funded higher education.
Mr. Delgado urged rescinding the recently adopted tax law.
Mr. Ryan said both major parties have failed to provide the skills workers need to compete. Ms. Collier said the economy “disproportionately benefits the wealthiest” and that help should go to middle and low-income families.
Mr. Beals disagreed with the skills argument, saying “It’s not a lack of skills” and the way to fix the disparity involves “a federal jobs guarantee.”
Asked what the City of Hudson needs most, one of the few specific responses was from Mr. Rhodes, who recommended a public transit system.
The role Congress plays in the War Powers Act was what Mr. Ryan called a “deeply personal” matter based on his war experience. He said he didn’t believe in the war in Iraq but obeyed his orders to go.
Ms. Collier advocated “diplomacy and not just defense.”
Mr. Clegg said Congress was extremely important now because “we have a delusional, megalomaniac president.”
The discussion of healthcare produced agreement on the goal of universal care as a right, but not necessarily about the way to achieve the goal.
“Making profit on sick people is wrong,” said Mr. Beals.
Having employers involved in your healthcare is creepy,” Mr. Flynn said.
To conclude the debate, the candidates were asked to question each other. The format produced statements about gun violence–Mr. Clegg noted that women are most at risk, and campaign finance–anonymous donations should be limited, but no surprises.
On the way out of the auditorium one attendee said to another, “I could vote for any of them.”
Jeff Beals: https://bealsforcongress.com
Dave Clegg: davecleggforcongress.com
Erin Collier: www.collierforcongress.com
Antonio Delgado: www.delgadoforcongress.com
Gareth Rhodes: www.garethrhodes.com
Bryan Flynn: www.brianflynn.us
Pat Ryan: https://patryanforcongress.com