CHURCHTOWN–Representative Antonio Delgado (D-19th) spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of almost 300 last Saturday at the Churchtown Volunteer Fire Company hall on county Route 27. It was the congressman’s 4th town-hall-style meeting held in Columbia County and 35th overall since winning election in 2018. He stressed that the town halls “remind me who put me here,” adding that he wants to be “informed by you, not special interests or lobbyists.”
Mr. Delgado fielded constituents’ questions on climate change, toxins in water, migrant workers, opioids and vaccines, fiscal policy and election reform. He also, promised three constituents to consider co-sponsoring legislation to regulate e-cigarettes, hold vaccine manufacturers liable for design faults and to protect the rights of Palestinian children in Israel.
Mr. Delgado started the meeting listing bills he has sponsored with bi-partisan support and noted that he is one of six congressmen who have two bills signed by the president. Yet he admitted to frustration with Congress, citing a bill to aid veterans that passed unanimously in the House but is stalled in the Senate. “It drives me nuts!” he said.
The congressman faulted the outsize role of money in influencing legislation and cited the example of not allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies. “It takes a lot of money to make the government pass on that. No one has said they do not want that.” Then he jokingly asked, “Anyone here want to be the first?”
The congressman lamented that there is a cap on the amount of funding for opioid addiction treatment but no cap on the amount of opioid prescriptions. But in a back-and-forth exchange with a man who identified himself as a former detective of 30 years experience with narcotics cases, the speaker challenged Mr. Delgado by saying that treatment solutions “do not work” and instead “perpetuate a cycle of drug use.”
The congressman countered that the “consequence of addiction should not be jail.” He cited “Chatham Cares For You”, an initiative of Police Chief Peter Volkmann, as a successful example of a humane approach to law enforcement engagement with addicts.
Mr. Delgado blamed climate change for exacerbating Lyme disease in Columbia County and faulted the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to take action on problems the agency had identified such as toxins in water in the Rensselaer County community of Hoosick Falls, which is also in the 19th District.
He strongly touted the proposed Green Jobs and Opportunities Act, saying that the future is in green energy jobs not manufacturing. He added that farmers need to be offered incentives to reduce their carbon footprint.
In response to an orchard owner, who complained “crops are withering” because of current policy cracking down on migrant and guest workers, Mr. Delgado agreed and cited his support for legislation that streamlines the process for producers who continuously hire the same farm workers. The bill says that over a period of four-to-six years of continuous work in the same area, those workers would be eligible for legal residency if they pass a background check.
Regarding getting rid of the Electoral College, an idea a questioner admitted was “pie in the sky,” Mr. Delgado responded it was “too many steps removed” from what can be done. “People need to vote. We should make it easy to vote.” He cited “robust efforts” to suppress voting, especially in swing states, where elections officials use evidence like mail that can’t be forwarded and a failure to vote in a previous election as reasons to purge voter rolls. The congressman touted HR1, which in would make Election Day a federal holiday, allots early voting days and allows same-day voter registration.
The subject of mandatory vaccinations prompted some vocal discord between Mr. Delgado and audience members. When asked, “Should every adult be vaccinated according to the CDC schedule?” The congressman responded, “Yes,” because it was a public safety issue. Nearly a quarter of the audience openly scoffed at the statement, with one man calling it “government overreach.” The questioner accused Delgado’s office of being unresponsive to his letters on the subject. The congressman offered to set up a one-on-one meeting with the man but counseled him to “bring your research, bring your facts.”
A common theme ran through the congressman’s remarks and answers to constituent questions: the government is not acting for the people’s “general welfare” as cited in the preamble to the Constitution. He said that corporate and hedge fund leaders dictate fiscal policy and reminded attendees that corporations received a 15% tax rate cut with “no strings on profits.” The result has been “skyrocketing inequality” and an administration proposed budget calling for cuts to Medicare, Social Security, crop insurance, the children’s health program (CHIP) and SNAP (food stamps).
In an exchange with a Philmont municipal court judge, who elaborated on concerns he has with the recently passed state Bail Reform Law, Congressman Delgado said, “We have to be humane. Individually we are compassionate.” He identified the challenge as bringing that compassion to “systems and institutions.”