COPAKE–Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-19th) met with constituents Saturday, November 16, at the Copake Town Hall. It was the 29th town hall and the 3rd held in Columbia County by Mr. Delgado since his election last year. He spoke to and answered questions from an enthusiastic, standing room only crowd of about 150. “We are determined to go everywhere” said Mr. Delgado, adding that he was encouraged that “lots of folks here are participating and engaging in the system at every level.”
In his opening remarks, the congressman lamented the “chaos and lack of decency” in Washington as well as those, who “exploit partisanship for their own gain. That concerns me a lot.” Delgado added, “No one in Washington informs my legislative agenda, the community informs my legislative agenda.”
Of his work in Washington, Mr. Delgado, who serves on the agriculture committee, touted passage in Congress and signing into law the Family Farm Relief Act, which he introduced. The law raises the maximum income cap for family farms to be eligible for federal assistance to $10 million. Mr. Delgado described the 19th Congressional District as the eighth most rural district in the country and noted that the district has 5,000 thousand family farms.
He stressed the importance of pending legislation, Rebuild Rural America Act, which reserves $50 million for rural areas to address infrastructure, broadband and spotty cell phone service issues.
To help small businesses in the district, Mr. Delgado said his office has set up one website that lists all the government rules and regulations that small businesses must comply with. Before doing so, the congressman said that business owners needed to either navigate 20 different government websites or hire a compliance officer, which many “can’t afford.”
After speaking for approximately 20 minutes, the congressman fielded questions from the audience. One of the first speakers asked what could be done about Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited campaign contributions. Mr. Delgado was critical of the role of money in politics, saying that when “capitalism swallows up democracy,” that is a problem.
He blamed the influence of money for congress’ failure to pass universal background checks and for not allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies despite overwhelming support from the American public. He also said that he does not accept corporate donations, which he admitted was hard. The congressman opined that nothing short of a constitutional amendment would reverse Citizens United.
There were questions related to the environment, specifically that the EPA seemed to be “limiting science research behind decisions.” Mr. Delgado asserted that climate change should not be debated. Calling climate change an “urgent crisis” he said that the debate “should be what to do about it.” The congressman noted that there have been “seven successive years” of record temperatures. He said that it was important to link “economic value” to efforts to fight climate change and touted the Green Job and Opportunity Bill, which has 20 co-sponsors in Congress and calls for net zero carbon emission by 2026.
Another audience member challenged the net zero goal as not likely without nuclear power and noted that France is 80% reliant on nuclear energy. Mr. Delgado countered that nuclear energy was “too great a risk” due to the likelihood of spills and the time required to cleanup and recover from accidents. He also said that 50% of nuclear facilities “are outdated.”
In response to a question about fracking, Mr. Delgado said although the practice is not permitted in New York, the state’s environment is still threatened by a “patchwork of facilities” needed to transport fracked gas from western Pennsylvania into New York. He offered the example of a pipeline that crosses one stream 250 times.
Inevitably the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump were brought up. The congressman admitted that he was not an early supporter of impeachment because he feared that “it would be divisive. But now he is “gravely concerned” if politicians politicize whistleblowers. He added that the “president has admitted to wrongdoing” and wondered, “How much was the power of the presidency used for personal gain?”
That comment prompted a man in the audience to retort, “Investigate them all, the Bidens, Hillary’s emails . . . ,” which drew loud groans from others in the audience. Mr. Delgado counseled the audience “to be respectful” and answered that the investigation into the emails had been “concluded” and that then Vice President Joe Biden was “one of 100 world leaders” to call for corruption investigation in Ukraine.
In response to a question about immigration, the congressman said that it was “tough to find common ground,” charged that some folks are “exploiting the situation,” criticized the administration’s comprehensive approach as limited to “a wall,” and said that the Dreamers—children brought to the U.S. without documentation– “are a pawn.” He asked, “Where is the shame in it?”
Other questions elicited the following responses:
• Regulations against consolidation are being “rolled back” and that anti-competition laws “are not enforced”
• Corporations “pay off” lawmakers and send them “packaged” legislation
• People not aligned with government agency missions are in charge and cited Secretary Betsy DeVoss (Education) and Secretary Ben Carson (Housing and Urban Development) as examples
• Supports term limits provided the term of service is “increased”
• Agreed that the Electoral College is “antiquated” but called for energies to be focused on turnout in the “short term” by making voting easier via automatic and same-day registration as well as making Election Day a federal holiday.
The town hall concluded with the question: “Beside voting what do you want from your constituents?” The congressman challenged the audience to be willing to have difficult conversations and to give people the benefit of the doubt, saying the “status quo supports tribalism.” He cited himself as an example, noting that 2/3rd of his constituents do not share his party affiliation, that 90% are white, that he was not raised on a dairy farm and “as you know was once a rapper,”which drew laughter. Yet he represents the 19th District.