Jack: Thank you for sitting down with us. We know you have a lot of campaigning going on, so we appreciate it. To start off, what issues do you think are the most important facing the Hudson Valley?
Faso: The largest issue people talk to me about are jobs, the economy and taxes. After that, it’s security; national security and domestic security. Then it’s personal issues—drugs and the heroin addiction issues we’re facing along with opioids, pharmaceuticals, issues of Lyme’s disease, issues such as veterans and medical care for veterans. And then, I’d say seniors are concerned about property taxes. Young people are concerned with jobs, are they going to have to move to find a job? Upstate New York has had an exodus of about a million people in the past 10 years, so that’s kind of the ‘canary in the coal mine’ if you will. It’s proof positive that people are voting with their feet and for various reasons, but primarily it’s taxes and a variety of economic reasons.
J: One point that Zephyr Teachout has made in her campaign is campaign finance reform. She bills herself as the ‘grassroots candidate.’ I’m sure you’ve seen the video where she challenges Paul Singer, who is a backer of one of the Super PACs, [New York Wins], backing you, instead of challenging you to a debate.
F: It’s just rank hypocrisy on her part. She’s received large donations from people who are super PAC backers. So this video and the press release she put out is merely political theatre and nothing more.
J: But when she says, that when you left public office and started work as a lobbyist, do you defend or take pride in your past work as she tries to make it an issue in this campaign, by portraying you as an insider?
F: Well who did I represent?
J: Who did you represent as a lobbyist?
F: The major client I had in the last five years was Autism Speaks. And I wrote a law that was passed in 2011, that enhanced health insurance coverage for children with disabilities. And since that went into effect in 2012, tens of thousands of children have gotten additional healthcare coverage because of the advocacy that I made on behalf of Autism Speaks. It’s one thing to stick that moniker on you, but it’s a little deceptive. I also represented the New York Optometric Association on a scope of practice bill.
J: So you are not backing down from your career as a lobbyist?
F: It’s all public record. It’s there for anyone to see. In fact, Professor Teachout worked as a lobbyist, too. This is the standard rhetoric, you’ll hear in this campaign that I’m a right wing, anti-woman extremist and that I kick little puppies and children. That’s what they say, that’s what they said about [Rep.] Chris Gibson. It’s not true then and it’s not true now. But it’s unfortunate that this is the kind of approach they take. They try to put you in this caricature box and that’s not correct. My job as a candidate is to try to correct the record and have people know what I’ve accomplished and I’d be honored to serve if I was elected.
J: One more question about the campaign finance issues, Seth Lipsky had a column in the New York Post, in which he quoted you saying that what Teachout really wanted to do is “give the government more control over political speech.” Can you explain your quote and support of the Citizens United decision in 2010?
F: Their solution to this is two-fold. One, amend the First Amendment to explicitly give the government more power to regulate who can speak. And number two, have a system of publicly-financed campaigns that she says would go down to dogcatcher. So what does it mean when you amend the First Amendment, that folks like yourselves, who are going into journalism, I think that should raise some alarm. I also think [President] James Madison’s handiwork is a lot better than Professor Teachout’s. Second, the whole concept of publicly-financed elections, experience shows, with New York City as an example, that the system is easily manipulated by incumbents and it is easily manipulated by unscrupulous people to take advantage of the six-to-one match that they have. I think that the bottom line is, while I’m not a fan of the current system…
J: What changes would you be willing to make when the Koch [Brothers] saying they’re willing to spend up to $1 billion and Hillary [Clinton] raises $123 million in a month?
F: I think one thing we have to understand is why do people want to influence what government does? Because government has a major in the role in the economy. They’ve created this long and complex tax system, with special privileges and exemptions for favored groups and interests, and we’d be better with a simpler flatter system, by cleaning out this corporate welfare and making it less required for many of these business groups and unions from trying to influence the process. So why do we have an expensive campaign finance system? Because we have a big, intrusive government that has its nose in every aspect of the private sector economy. That fact I think is ignored and never acknowledged by the people on the left who come up with these systems and proposals to have the government control more political speech. And how do they think the publicly-financed system would be designed? It would be designed by incumbents to benefit themselves. It’s not that I find the system we have today is satisfactory, what I find is that the cure they’re proposing is worse than the disease. Now, the one thing I would like to see is more transparency in terms of who’s giving donations. For example, I don’t support the ability of 501(c)(4) organizations, who don’t have to disclose their donors. I think those donors should be disclosed, and that entity should be disclosed, and that;s a reform I would support.
J: But you would not support the overturning of Citizens United?
F: Here’s the thing – you know who George Soros is?
J: I do.
F: How much money did George Soros spend to defeat [President] George W. Bush in 2004?
J: Millions of dollars.
F: Yeah, I’ve heard $30 [million], I’ve heard $70 [million.] Was that before Citizens United or after Citizens United?
J: That was before Citizens United.
F: Exactly, so personal political spending in campaigns has always been legal. The vast majority of the spending that the campaign finance so-called reformers are talking about is spending that is done by wealthy individuals that is currently disclosed and was legal before Citizens United. So again, their arguments are kind of defy logic and common sense. Because what they’re proposing isn’t going to fix that. The individual is still going to write a large check if they want to, to an independent entity and so there’s a lot of misinformation of that court decision and what that court decision does. Basically, it allowed corporations and unions to participate in campaign finance because there had been bars prior to that. I think an examination would show, and again I think there should be disclosure to 501(c)(4)s, that the vast majority of spending has been done by wealthy people and not corporations, number one, it’s been done by unions and wealthy people. Corporations, your General Electric, your Fortune 400 or Fortune 100 company, tell me which one of those companies are making massive expenditures because of Citizens United. Most corporations shy away in that regard because they sell to Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, to religious believers and agnostics, I mean, they sell to everyone. Most corporations are not going to get involved in this. So this spectre that it has unleashed the tidal wave of massive corporate donations is unproven by the facts. And akin to my George Soros example, that spending was legal before Citizens United.
J: Teachout has stated that she is in favor of a Bernie Sanders-esque free tuition plan for public universities, what are your thoughts on higher education?
F: As someone who went to a SUNY school, I went to Brockport…
M: Did both of your kids go to SUNY schools?
F: No, both of my kids graduated from Skidmore [College.] I graduated from Georgetown Law School where I met my wife, she went to Georgetown for her undergrad. Let’s deal with the public first, I think the issue of SUNY is really an issue of the state’s investment in higher education and it’s something that I complained about a lot when I was in the legislature, was the disinvestment of the system from the capital. I remember coming to New Paltz and the grounds and there was a lot of that 1970s construction, the campus looked so much better today than it did like 10 to 15 years ago. The key in terms of keeping tuition reasonable at SUNY is state investment. The Sanders approach, which is now embraced by Hillary Clinton, would involve the federal government in a complex scheme to incentivize state college systems to hold down tuition or make tuition free by large federal involvement in state budgetary questions. I don’t think it’s a feasible model and as we saw in K-12 and Common Core, first of all, the federal government is broke and secondly, having the federal government so directly involved in state level finance decisions is not wise policy.
J: Do you support the idea of President Barack Obama’s plan to make two year community colleges tuition free?
F: That’s a state issue. And I do think the community colleges are an important resource, both for affordable higher education but also additional opportunities for adult education, and I have always been a supporter of SUNY and community college system within SUNY, but just like the federal government did with No Child Left Behind, and the Race to the Top program for K-12 in the Obama stimulus bill, it made matters worse. The federal government should stick to things that it is responsible for, which is defense, social entitlement systems like Medicare and Social Security, our national defense, making sure we have the interstate highway system, making sure our economic system is sound…
J: Just to clarify, because there is a direction some in the Republican Party are going on a national level, you are not advocating for the abolition of the Department of Education, correct?
F: I think that the key here is that the federal government should not be involved directly in state matters. We have a big broad country of 3,000 miles and 330 million people, this kind of K-12 education policy should be decided closer to the people and be involving parents and teachers and administrators and communities much more so, and indeed 93 percent of all dollars spent on New York K-12 education come from state and local sources. So why should the federal tail wag the state and local dog if you will? I mean it’s not wise from a policy perspective and I don’t think they’d be capable of doing efficiently and effectively. I think recent experience proves the point. I think a role for the federal government is for disabled children, and they were supposed to, when it was adopted in the 1970s, they were supposed to carry 40 percent of the costs, that was what the intent was, and they paid for under 20 percent of the cost. So I would support the federal government fulfilling its promise within the context of our national budget.
M: So do you think in terms of disability coverage goes it should be a national issue?
F; Well I think it has been pretty well-ingrained. For instance, when I was going to school, back in the Stone Age, the fact is a lot of disabled kids were not mainstreamed in the classroom. I didn’t bring a brochure, but my wife is the local nurse at our local high school of twenty years, and there are a lot of kids in our high school today who wouldn’t have been there. It’s good that we mainstream these kids and get them going at school and after school, that’s an area where the federal government should be active and people have become accustomed to it. But not in curriculum decisions and management of the K-12 education.
J: So to reiterate, you’re not advocating for the abolition of the Department of Education?
J: But you’re advocating for a reduction in its role?
F: I think the federal government should assume an appropriate role. Right now, it has overstepped its boundaries.
J: I have one more question on education and then I want to move on to foreign policy, because they had the presidential forum on MSNBC last night, which focused on a lot of veterans and foreign policy issues.
F: I didn’t see it, I was out campaigning.
J: You didn’t miss much.
M: It was just Trump jargon.
F: That’s what I thought when I listened to clips on public radio coming down here today.
J: You are a supporter of charter schools if I read correctly.
J: Some people have concerns that as much as voucher programs and charter schools might be beneficial as opposed to some of the dilapidated public schools systems, whether in New York City or Albany, but there’s a fear of crony capitalism or being used just for profit, instead of for the benefit of students. How do you answer critics on that point?
F: That is really a fatuous argument from special interests, namely teachers unions who don’t like competition. That’s what it is. Here’s what’s missed by some folks, charter schools are public schools. They are just organized and managed apart from the traditional administration of the typical public schools.
J: But you don’t think that they lack any oversight?
F: Actually, in New York State, I’m not talking about other states, I don’t think so. Because what’s the experience? As a private attorney, I have represented a number of charter schools. So I’m familiar with the oversight that comes with charter schools and is handed down from the state Department of Education. Frankly, it is pretty significant. If you don’t perform, they put you out of business and you shut down. And you see, I was the first sponsor of charters in the state legislature in 1997. I saw the traditional public systems, specifically in urban areas of our state not performing. I didn’t do it because it was going to benefit my district, because I don’t believe there is a single charter school in the [19th] congressional district. Predominantly, charters have been established in areas where there has been consistent and persistent failure of the public system to meet the educational goals for children, particularly poor and minority children. I looked at what other states had done and thought we should have something like this, we got it done in 1998, when I was minority leader in the state assembly. By and large the system has performed well, if you don’t perform, they shut you down. If the traditional public school doesn’t perform do they ever close? Why is it that we live in a free market capitalist economy, you can choose what car you want to buy, where you want to go to a restaurant, what kind of bread you want to buy, whether you like Greek yogurt or some other kind of yogurt, you have a multitude of choices. But in this one area we don’t have any choices. Let me tell you, in New York state, on the college level, we have a TAP program. Does TAP discriminate whether you go to SUNY or a private? Anyone can get TAP if they’re income eligible. So why not choice and opportunity for K-12? If you have an eight-year-old, who just entered the third grade, are you going to be satisfied if the traditional public school, which has failed year after year, says to you, “Just wait, just give us 10 years,” your eight-year-old will be 18 graduating from high school, hopefully. Are you prepared to risk that when you’ve seen years of failure? That’s why I came to believe that the charter movement, while not perfect, and where in human life do we find perfection aside from here at The New Paltz Oracle? Where in life do we find perfection? I think having competition in public spaces for charters is vitally important to giving parents an alternative but also improving the traditional public schools, and I think that’s been the case. I think many of the initiatives that have been taken in Rochester and Syracuse, Albany, in New York City, with the public schools wouldn’t have happened if there weren’t the chance they could lose customers.
M: So if you think that competition is really good for these charter schools, if one of them starts to fail and it’s in an area where it’s an economically challenged area, do you think New York State should step in and help? Obviously, nobody wants these schools to close.
F: Well, the State Charter School Institute and State Department of Education have in some specific instances, like the Brighter Choice schools in Albany for instance, they shut a few of them down because they didn’t meet expectations. Even if they were like public schools, if they weren’t better, if they didn’t meet their promises, they’d shut them down.
M: So they won’t help them?
F: They do, they will work with them, they might give them a charter renewal of one year instead of five, or they might get a conditional renewal of three years.
J: But it’s not an automatic shutdown?
F: It’s not an automatic thing, they give them time to improve but if there’s gross mismanagement or malpractice, if you will, but I think by and large one of the schools I represent is Troy Prep, that school is an Uncommon School, it’s run by a non-profit management company called Uncommon Schools, look them up on the website, they have better test scores than some suburban schools in the Albany and Rensselaer County area. If you Google their scores, you’ll see that they have 65-80 schools they run, all around the East Coast, like in New York City, Boston, and down to D.C., and they’ve really done a great job with a school constituency that is 95 percent minority or poor.
J: I know I said I wanted to move on to foreign policy, but I wanted to ask, because we’re in SUNY New Paltz, which has a prominent LGBTQIA+ community, obviously those kinds of issues come up and have kind of hampered Republicans running for office so we wanted to ask you a few questions on those issues that have played out on a national level, specifically about the “bathroom bill” in North Carolina, HB-2, what is your opinion?
F: I think these things are best handled locally, without federal or state involvement. I think the problem with the Obama administration’s letter guidance is, is that they probably did it without authority under the Administrative Procedures Act, which has been a challenge that some states have brought against it.
J: You don’t think states brought it forward because they’re opposed to the transgender community in their state?
F: I’m not going to speculate as to what their motivations are because I don’t know them individually, I’m sure some of them are, but I do think that the key here is that if the federal government is going to get involved in issues like this at the local level, it has to do it under a clear and legal authority. And what they did was they didn’t promulgate a rule for which there was a comment period, where interested parties could submit comments. They issued a letter guidance from the Department of Justice to the schools in North Carolina that said ‘we think you might be violating provisions of certain statutes, and we here by give you an admonishment if you don’t do this, we’re going to take federal money away from you.’ That is the problem from a legal standpoint. The question is whether they have the authority to do that. It’s in the courts now and my sense is that it is probably not going to be upheld because of that. Now, back in the 1990s, I was one of the first Republicans to vote for the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, SONDA, and I don’t support discrimination against anyone. We have marriage equality in New York state, that’s the law and I’m supportive of that, and again, they did it through the legislature, which is always preferable that way, than through courts.
M: Can you expand on when you said it’s a ‘local matter’?
F: Well, I think that these issues, I can just tell you that I’m familiar with some situations that we’ve dealt with in our school district where one day the child comes in and they’re one gender and then the next day they come in or the next school year and the parents say “our child is the other gender.” It’s a very difficult, sensitive thing for these parents, it’s emotional, it’s very difficult for the child.
J: But you don’t think they should be barred; someone who was born a male but identifies as a female, should they be able to use the female restroom?
F: Yes, and I think that these things can be handled on a local basis, in a discreet, sensitive way. It’s like the old expression, we need ‘not make a federal case out of this.’
M: When you say ‘local’ do you mean per institution? Like this McDonald’s will allow a trans-male to use the male bathroom and this one won’t?
F: I haven’t thought about it in terms of a private business, you know McDonald’s businesses are franchises and so it’s generally not a corporate policy that you find because most of those McDonald’s are owned by some local owner. These things just work themselves out and the worst thing to do is make this into a big cause célèbre. I think maybe they overreacted in North Carolina, but maybe it was an overreaction for [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo to call up the SUNY Albany basketball team and bar them from going to North Carolina to play in a Division 1 basketball tournament.
J: He did the same thing when Indiana passed their Religious Freedom Act last year, so you don’t support the suspension of non-essential state employee travel to North Carolina?
F: I think it’s just political boycotts that don’t make a lot of sense. Is the state saying they’re not going to allow travel to Saudi Arabia where they oppress women and have a different viewpoint on things? Where does this kind of thing end? These things are ultimately going to work themselves out and these concepts of changing gender are relatively new and it takes a while for society to accommodate these things. That’s how I think it should be handled.
J: Do you think the U.S. should take in more Syrian refugees? It has been a huge point of contention after Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels, etc.
F: I think first of all, the tragedy in Syria is—the U.S. bears some role, and Obama’s foreign policy has been a disaster in this area. Not getting a Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq was a tremendous mistake.
J: Do you think there should have been a no-fly zone in Syria?
F: Yes, and I think not having a Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq meant that the Iranians were able to fly right over Iraq and do whatever they wanted to do to support [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad. It is very interesting, the cohabitation of the Russians and the Iranians with Assad now. Obama’s leading from behind in this instance has basically invited Russia back into the sphere and they are filling the vacuum. I’m not sure if that is in the interest ultimately of the U.S. or of our allies in that part of the world. I do think, with the Syrian situation, there have been over 400,00 people killed in the last five years, eight million internally displaced and five million people are refugees out of Syria. I think the better thing—it would have been easier retrospectively to say ‘we should have done this or that’ but it was very clear to me that Obama made a mistake by saying there is a red line and then Assad crossed the red line and we did nothing. That was a mistake, because our credibility and American credibility among our allies in that area and region have been severely damaged. People don’t know, countries do not know where the U.S. stands and I think that’s a real mistake.
J: Do you support idea of putting ground troops on the ground in either Syria or Iraq?
F: We have to first rely upon the Sunni Arab states to bear the brunt of this. We have to make sure that we train and equip people that have our interests and the interest of peace in that region. We also have to make sure that we have good relations with the Kurds. I think the President has been too slow in terms of making sure the Kurds have sufficient military equipment to defeat ISIS. But as Chris Gibson will tell you, ISIS is really Al-Qaeda in the Anbar Province. That’s really who they are. They are the same people that he was fighting in 2006 and 2007 during the surge and we defeated these guys. That is the tragedy of this: not having a Status of Forces Agreement and the precipitous withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq has in essence fostered the kind of instability that we are seeing today. The U.S. clearly made a mistake in the Iraq invasion [in 2003], but once we did it, look at the sum of the mistakes we made. We forced the Iraqi army to be disbanded, that was a colossal mistake, which I thought so at the time. But the ultimate failure, when in 2009 there was a relative security there, relative not in our terms but in Middle Eastern terms, it was secured by an awful lot of American blood and treasure. A lot of our people were seriously injured and are bearing those burdens today. To not then institute and ensure that the gains that we won were secured was a big mistake. I think not getting the Status of Forces Agreement was a very large mistake that they made. Be that as it may, I think that the burden of doing this militarily has to be on the countries in the region, it can’t be the U.S. I think that would not be wise; politically, militarily or diplomatically, but we have to give the other countries the assurance that our word is solid and that we will follow through. I don’t think this ‘leading from behind strategy’ of Obama’s has been particularly successful.
J: You mentioned Assad earlier and how the Russians and the Iranians have been involved in this. So you don’t support the removal, militarily, of Assad as leader of Syria as it stands right now?
F: Well, I think it would be desirable for him to leave.
J: Let me clarify. Not to leave on his own accord, if we were to go in and remove him. Which we have the military forces to do.
F: I don’t think that that necessarily would be the wisest strategy. But so many of these issues in a place like Syria, are the outcome of what the British and French did in 1915. [The] Sykes-Picot [Agreement], secretly divided up the map in the Middle East for what was going to happen post-Ottoman Empire, post-World War I. And many of these boundaries are artificial and don’t reflect the regional or ethnic divisions. So I think that a future partition of Syria is maybe a way to help solve this. How that is accomplished is easier said than done—you have the issue of the Turks and their fear of the Kurds. And this is a polyglot stew of ethnic rivalries and nationalistic rivalries that I don’t think we can impose. I also think that our military, diplomatic and national interest is to maintain a strong military diplomatic presence there and it is to maintain a strong relationship with Israel.
J: You were a critic of the billion or so dollars that we gave to Iran.
F: Oh yeah, and you know I just read this yesterday that the $1.9 billion was all delivered in cash, not just the $400 million. Think about that! Why did Obama send the cash over? And why did he send it in Swiss francs and euros? Because if he gave it in American dollars that would have been illegal. I think the reason why Obama let Assad cross the red line was because he had so much invested in the Iran deal, that he wasn’t going to upset the Iranians. And I think the Iran deal is a potential disaster for the Middle East.
J: You wouldn’t call it a current disaster? There are some Republicans who have called it a hostage payment.
F: What I’m saying is that it is a potential disaster for the U.S. and peace in that part of the world. It has truly upset many of our traditional allies in the region, and again, they don’t see the U.S. as being a reliable partner and they don’t trust without justification. The leadership in Tehran has to live up to their commitments, I mean I certainly do not trust them.
J: The one question we had in our minds, because we were looking through your statements, is that you have said that you hadn’t decided who you were going to support for president, but you had referred to Trump as “our candidate.”
F: I have always said, right from last year when I started running, that I was going to support the Republican nominee.
J: So you do support Donald Trump for President?
F: Well, we said that I will support the Republican nominee. I certainly don’t support Hillary Clinton. Do I agree with much of what Donald Trump said? No, but the fact is I don’t agree with much of what Hillary Clinton says. I think there are some severe problems with the way she has handled this whole e-mail thing. Why did she do it? Well, the reason is obvious, she wanted to shield herself from scrutiny that she would be exposed to if she were using the State Department server. And now we learn this business about the interactions with the Clinton Foundation, it is very disquieting. You talk about pay-to-play, that’s a pretty significant situation. The thing I hear most from people in this district, and again, my job is to win the 19th Congressional District, it is not to opine on the presidential race, because not everything I say will matter anyway. The thing is that out of 330 million people, this is the choice that the two parties have given us. We have never in our lifetimes had two presidential candidates with as high a negative view. It is really unprecedented, I’ve never seen anything like it.
M: You yourself, you seem to have a very good understanding of foreign policy, so doesn’t Donald Trump as Commander-in-Chief sound disastrous?
F: It gives me concern.
M: Even the other night Trump said on the Commander-in-Chief forum with Matt Lauer that he knows more than the generals.
J: There was the praising of Putin, there are things that go counter to what you just said to us in what was a very articulate discussion. So we are just curious as to where that line is drawn between supporting what you said and reconsidering Trump.
F: Whenever I am asked about a specific policy proposal, whatever it is, you know you asked me about Hillary Clinton’s support of the Bernie Sander’s college thing, I said I don’t think that is necessarily workable or advisable. And I have said the same thing about many of the things that Mr. Trump has said along the way. I am running on my own record, proposals and agenda. Try as folks may to get me to opine on the presidential election, I am running for the 19th congressional seat.
J: I went to a Teachout event for the paper a few months ago. She was saying that she didn’t think that the SAFE Act, the way it was passed, caused her some concern as a progressive Democrat. What are your thoughts on the Second Amendment and what is the best course of action in the wake of something like Orlando?
F: I support the Second Amendment. We have a very strict regiment of background checks now. Takes you six to eight months to get a pistol permit in New York State for instance. I do support making sure that people who are legitimately on a terrorist watch list can’t purchase firearms. I do think that you have to make sure that people who have mental deficiencies or diseases are not permitted to purchase firearms. I do think if you are trafficking guns or you commit a crime with a firearm, you should have a mandatory prison sentence. But Teachout is inconsistent here, as with so many other things. Because when she ran for Governor just two years ago, she supported the SAFE Act. Now she’s against the way it was passed. Well, the fact is that the SAFE Act has been wholly ineffective; it was a political exercise by Andrew Cuomo, not a substance exercise in terms of making the state more secure. And major parts of the law were declared unconstitutional or have been completely ignored by the state police and firearms owners in the state, so nothing happened. So the SAFE Act has had virtually no impact on anything.
J: On a federal level, would you support the reinstatement of the  assault weapons ban?
F: No, because the Justice Department’s own study said it was ineffective, it didn’t do anything. So these things are generally kind of reflex reactions from people that don’t understand firearms and the gun-owning culture that exists in this district, for instance, and the vast majority of firearms owners are reasonable responsible citizens. Go to the state prisons. How many people in the state prisons were convicted of using a legal firearm legally? You will find virtually no one. But you will find a lot of people who committed crimes with illegally obtained firearms.
J: Just because you brought up prison, this is an issue that I believe is happening in Virginia, do you support the proposal to give felons the right to vote?
F: No. Not the way [Virginia Gov.] Terry McAuliffe is trying to do it. There is something in New York State for instance called a petition [relief of civil disability]” where you can make a petition to relative disabilities from voting or other legal license kind of things if you were found guilty. And yeah, I mean I am a Roman Catholic. I believe in the forgiveness of sin. So people maybe have committed a crime, may have served their time and then may be leading a productive law-abiding life. Are we going to forever say you can’t vote? There is a process someone can go through to relieve their disability, which in New York State is something that has been there for a long time and I fully support it. So what McAuliffe is trying to do is so patently absurd and declared illegal by his own Supreme Court. I think that this is politics, he’s trying to help elect Hillary Clinton in Virginia this year. Why should we be surprised? But you can’t do it in an illegal way so that’s why the Virginia Supreme Court said no, you can’t do that.
M: Moving onto the topic of healthcare, do you support the defunding of Planned Parenthood?
F: I think that this is issue that has to be looked at by the standpoint that they provide a lot of services, routine medical services, to their patients. I don’t support efforts to single out a particular organization. In New York State for instance, none of the allegations of the selling of fetal tissues have been made against anyone in New York State. So, if they violated a law they should be sanctioned and penalized, but that doesn’t mean you single out every aspect of this nationwide organization because someone in California did something therefore you should be punished. I don’t support singling out an organization by name and attempting to do what some in Congress are attempting to do.
M: Do you think that employers who provide healthcare should or shouldn’t be responsible for providing birth control?
F: You getting at the  Hobby Lobby case?
F: Remember that Hobby Lobby was a Christian, small, closely held company that has 500 stores. So it’s an anomaly in and of itself. They live their values. They tithe 10 percent of their earnings to their church, they close on Sundays, which is against their economic interest to do so.
J: Just like Chick-Fil-A.
F: Yeah and they objected to two forms of birth control that they said were more akin to abortion. Not the 12 others that they were paying for. So the question is, should the government be able to come in with major fine and sanction against an employer in this narrow set of circumstances and say, ‘you must do everything that we insist that you do,’ when there are clearly other options that could be afforded these employees. In the case of Hobby Lobby, these options were afforded to routine birth control. I think birth control is now well-established enough in terms of the medical components, we have enough medical experience and history with it. It should be over-the-counter, it shouldn’t even be a prescription. You get into the question, the narrow, narrow question, of your First Amendment religious liberty as opposed to the ability of the government to provide and confer benefit through legislation. And when that conflicts with religious liberty, then you have to examine the circumstances. And in the narrow case of Hobby Lobby, they decided, I think correctly, that the two forms of birth control that the government was trying to force them to cover that were more akin to abortion. They didn’t want to pay for it, but they provided cover for other types of routine birth control. This financial sanction, this privately, closely-held company—we aren’t talking about General Electric or some publicly-traded company. We are talking about the financial sanction that would be imposed on a business like that would be tens of millions of dollars. The government’s power to force them to do something against their moral belief would financially cripple them. So that is where the rub comes in. I think that this issue has been grossly mischaracterized by opponents. Because as a bottom line, most companies aren’t going to get involved with this stuff, they are just going to do what they are required to do, especially if they are a publicly traded company. The Obama administration has had a very narrow view of religious liberty. They tried to impose EEOC hiring requirements on a Protestant denomination, they objected saying ‘you can’t tell us that our religious scruples and values say that we can only hire someone that subscribes to our faith.’ The Obama administration sued them; nine to nothing they were overturned. The liberals and the conservatives on the court agreed the Obama administration’s interpretation of religious liberty was too constrained. So I think one of the things we have to recognize in our country that it is a big, broad, diverse country, everyone doesn’t have to agree on everything. We can tolerate people that have different points of view on things like this and we have to be very, very cautious when the majority opinion comes in and says ‘this company must do xyz even if it violates your individual religious beliefs you must do this under threat of penalty and sanction from the government.’ That’s when you really have to put close scrutiny on it. And strict scrutiny from a lawyer’s analysis on those kind of things because we should want to allow religious liberty in our country to flourish and not be concerned when the government attempts to require every religious organization to do everything they say they must do, even when it conflicts with their moral belief. Look at this Obama suing the Little Sisters of the Poor. Is anyone going to argue that the Little Sisters of the Poor don’t have a moral belief that is sincerely upheld? And yet they wanted them to follow those strict rules or they would be penalized, that’s the problem that they run into and it’s important that we defend the First Amendment, not just for budding journalists, but also to protect religious liberty in our country.
M: Should that be kept at a state level?
F: I wouldn’t argue that. The federal government enacted a mandate on healthcare and said you have to have certain forms of coverage. They said that no matter who you are or what your moral belief is you have to follow what we say and if you don’t follow what we say we are going to sue you and fine you. That’s an enormous power we are giving to the government. Our constitution was formed in part to protect the rights of the minority and we should be very wary of giving away that power to the government and the rights of a majority, because the majority opinion may shift from time to time in our country. So uphold religious liberty, understand that we need a tolerant viewpoint and be faithful to the constitution and respectful of people’s legitimate religious opinion.
J: We are at the most diverse SUNY, while it is 65 percent white, we have a high black population, Asian population, Hispanic population and many other races. We’ve had a few instances here where there have been issues of racial discrimination or at least accusations of it. On a national level, racial relations have been playing out quite publicly. So I am curious as to your opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement and race relations in this country.
F: I think race relations in our country are much better today than they were a generation or two ago. The main evidence I bring forth to support that proposition is that 30 to 40 years ago, three percent of marriages were interracial. Today 15 percent are. This is not evidence of a society that is cleaving itself apart, this is evidence of a society that has a growing acceptance of religious and ethnic and racial diversity. And that is very good. There is no doubt that there have been instances where there are going to be interactions between police and minority communities that are not warranted, but there is also no doubt that much of the agenda that is being pursued by Black Lives Matter is troublesome. Particularly, I’m troubled by the anti-Semitism that is evidenced in much of what they have put on their platform. Particularly, the anti-Israel stuff that is in their platform. It is true that black communities in particular have felt issues with police and some of that is legitimate. I think that police today are much better trained and cognizant of these issues than they were years ago. I would argue that race relations in our country are better and I think that our media today uses social media to amplify unduly rhetoric. It tends to give people the impression that things are so bad. Things are manifestly better than they were in 1960 in this country.
J: But when you look at instances like Dallas, where five officers were killed and not by a Black Lives Matter, and you have these cases like LaQuan McDonald or Michael Brown what—
F: But Michael Brown, the evidence indicates that he was the aggressor in that instance. It spiraled out of control and there was definitely a tension in the community that manifested itself.
J: How do you think in a community, where you refer to something like Michael Brown, where, yes, there was a tipping point but there has been a long history of tension, how do you think the tension can be relieved or at least improved between minority communities and the police community?
F: I think that that’s happening with police training, with better follow up and things like cameras. I support body cameras. That is the kind of thing that can be useful in not only making sure that we have an accurate depiction in what went on, but to protect those communities and individual citizens in interactions to protect police against false accusations, it works hand and glove. From my vantage point, yes, we have difficulties. Yes, we have problems. No, we aren’t perfect, but we are better as a country in terms of our racial relations today than we have been at any time in our history. And I really think that that is true. The evidence I give is that interracial marriages are real and that isn’t acknowledged enough. Perfection, no.
J: We had a sexual assault that happened off-campus. In instances like the Brock Turner case, what do you think?
M: As far as perhaps introducing consent classes in high school, hand-in hand with sex education?
F: I do think that college students, like everyone else, should understand what the boundaries are. And I think if there is an infraction, it is best reported to the police. It is best handled in that context and I do think that if I had a son or daughter going to college now, I would have a very clear discussion with them ahead of time on what to do and not do. A lot of this is fueled by excessive drinking, but some of it is just garden-variety criminal behavior. Either way, it isn’t acceptable I think that parents need to be frank with their children going off to college. These things need to be handled and resolved at the campus level, but if someone commits a crime, they should be reported to the police and it should be investigated by law enforcement.
J: Do you support mandatory minimum sentencing for convicted rapists?
F: I think that there’s are a lot of argument for that. Once again, this is a state level matter, it’s not a federal matter. These kinds of prosecution and criminal activity will be handled at the state-level. So I am a little reticent to opine on what the changes are warranted in New York State. I am not familiar with the California law but from what I read it was unbelievable how the judge handled it. I was as outraged as anyone else.