QUEENSBURY - The three men running for New York's new 21st Congressional District squared off in a lively debate at Queensbury High School Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, the two candidates vying to replace Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward also had their first chance to engage each other on the issues in a public forum.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, is locked in a three-way race as he looks to win another two-year term in the new district, which will expand next year to include all of the North Country. Watertown businessman Matt Doheny is his chief rival in the polls and will appear on the Republican, Independence and Conservative party lines on Nov. 6. Don Hassig, an environmental and health activist from Colton, will be on the Green Party line.
Republican congressional candidate Matt Doheny, left, and Green Party candidate Donald Hassig attempt a fist bump as they greet each other at a debate Tuesday evening at Queensbury High School.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
Queensbury town Supervisor Dan Stec, a Republican, and Glens Falls attorney Dennis Tarantino are running for New York's new 114th Assembly District, and they exchanged answers on a variety of topics for about 30 minutes prior to the congressional debate, which was the main event. The evening kicked off with a debate between incumbent Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, and Carrie Woerner, a Democrat from Round Lake; they're running to represent New York's 113th Assembly District.
The debate was hosted by the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Matthew Fuller of the Glens Falls law firm FitzGerald, Morris, Baker, Firth.
The congressional debate lasted about an hour, and the topics included the Affordable Care Act, Social Security, energy policy and agriculture.
More than 200 people were seated in the high school's auditorium for the debate between Owens, Doheny and Hassig, along with more than 20 members of the Capital Region and North Country press corps. Prior to the debate, Owens and Doheny shook hands with supporters while Hassig stood alone on stage, cycling through what appeared to be yoga exercises. Doheny and Hassig drew a big reaction from the crowd when they shook hands collegially and attempted a fist bump before the debate got under way.
The highlight came when Fuller asked about the candidates' views on ACA, dubbed Obamacare by its detractors.
"I want to repeal and replace Obamacare," Doheny said, prompting a chorus of applause and some boos.
Doheny said the bill cuts Medicare by more than $700 billion, which again drew a strong response from the crowd. Some people shouted, "It doesn't," while others said, "You lie." But Doheny wasn't rattled.
"It takes decision making away from individuals and their physicians," he said. "Part of Obamacare doesn't even address tort reform. ... We need to replace Obamacare with common-sense measures dealing with tort reform, dealing with insurance across state lines, dealing with making sure that we go ahead and have portability and all of those things that we can have in the 21st century."
Hassig said ACA is a good first step, but it doesn't go far enough.
"Canada has free health care, Japan has free health care ... America can have free health care," he said. "We need to have free health care."
Owens voted for ACA the day he was inducted into the House in 2009, and since then he has repeatedly stood by his support of it. He said the act helps young adults who can't afford their own health insurance by keeping them on their parents' plans until age 26, and it prevents insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. Doheny has said he supports both of those provisions.
"What are you trying to do with the Affordable Health Care Act?" Owens asked. "Get people insured. You also want to make sure people are getting preventive care because it's going to reduce costs in the long term."
The candidates were asked to share three specific ideas, bills or initiatives they would introduce to insure the long-term sustainability of the district's agricultural sector.
Hassig, who grew up on a family farm, said he wants to ban factory farming, which he said is bad for animals and bad for the quality of food.
"We don't want the food the Monsanto (Corporation) is all about producing," he said to a burst of applause.
"That was three things, correct?" Owens asked the moderator. "Pass the Farm Bill, pass the Farm Bill, pass the Farm Bill." The bill was stalled by the House's Republican leaders until after the election.
"Amen," responded a member of the crowd.
Owens said Congress also needs to address the farm labor crisis, which means helping farmers import foreign workers. He also wants to bring more young people and veterans into farming.
Doheny said the Farm Bill needs to be passed. He said he also wants to reform the H-2A program to let foreign workers remain in the U.S. for three to five years to provide stability for farmers. For dairy farmers, he wants to make milk prices more transparent.
"And lastly, we have to get the out-of-control regulations under control," Doheny said.
The candidates were also asked how they would help small businesses grow and thrive. Owens said he'd start by attempting to match unemployed people with employers in need of workers. He said there are more than 3,000 vacant jobs in the current 23rd Congressional District. Doheny targeted government regulations, saying that too many businesses are hampered by onerous requirements and high taxes.
Hassig said he would start by getting the U.S. out of the World Trade Organization.
The candidates also wrestled with Social Security. Doheny said the program will likely become insolvent within his lifetime.
"We can't duck and put our heads in the sand," he said. "We have to face these large challenges and take them head-on."
Doheny said the age of eligibility needs to be increased. He said when the program was established in 1935, it was not intended to take care of people for 20 to 30 years. He said income requirements need to be adjusted as well.
Owens said he's concerned about the concept of privatizing Social Security. He said it's the "floor upon which some seniors live." He said that can't be tampered with. He added that he's opposed to raising the age of eligibility because it doesn't take into account that people work in different industries that may not allow them to work until certain ages.
Hassig said he'd start by instituting an all-defensive military, which would free up money for programs like Social Security.
As the debate concluded, Hassig broke into a smile and gave a cheerful shout to the crowd as reporters swarmed Owens and Doheny.
Stec, who chairs the Warren County Board of Supervisors, said he's running for Assembly to build a stronger economy in the North Country. He said he has a three-point plan to fix the economy, create jobs and make New York state a more affordable place to live.
"Number one: Cut regulations and red tape on small business so job creators can focus on growing their businesses and hiring more workers," Stec said. "Two: Reduce taxes, cut wasteful Albany spending, and shrink the cost of state government to taxpayers so we can grow the private sector. And three: Promote economic development by improving infrastructure."
Tarantino said he sees progress happening in Albany. He said it's time to send someone to Albany who can compromise and work across party lines.
"Gov. Cuomo has a plan; he calls it the new New York," Tarantino said. "I want to take it one step further. I want that plan to be the new upstate New York. The new North Country New York."
On the minimum wage, Stec said the state's economy is fragile and the unemployment rate is over 8 percent. He said he's spoken to countless business owners and employers, "and the vast majority of them all say that raising the minimum wage now is not a good idea.
"The bottom line is that raising the minimum wage now would do more harm than good," Stec said.
Tarantino disagreed. He said people who work minimum-wage jobs are living just above the poverty level.
"At the end of the day it's going to benefit small businesses," he said. "It's the right thing to do for the working-class person. ... Working people need a good wage. It will take them off public service programs. It will take them off food stamps. The raise is necessary."
The Assembly candidates also took questions on the political climate in Albany, invasive species controls, the tourism industry and unfunded mandates.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or email@example.com.