What issues do you think are the most important facing the Hudson Valley?
This district- it’s the mid-Hudson Valley, the Catskills, part of the Capital Region and out to central New York. The largest issue people talk to me about are jobs, the economy and taxes. After that, it’s security; national security, domestic security. Then it’s personal issues, drugs and the heroin addiction issues we’re facing along with opioids, pharmaceuticals, issues of Lyme 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.
What are your thoughts on Zephyr Teachout billing herself as the ‘grassroots candidate? She has challenged Paul Singer, who is a backer of one of the Super PACs, [New York Wins], backing you, instead of challenging you to a debate.
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 on this is merely political theatre and nothing more.
Who did you represent as a lobbyist?
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.
So you are not backing down from your career as a lobbyist?
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.
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?
Their solution to this is twofold. 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.
What changes would you be willing to make when the Koch [Brothers] say they’re willing to spend up to $1 billion dollars and Hillary [Clinton] raises $123 million in a month?
I think one thing we have to understand is why do people want to influence what government does? Because government has a major 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.
You would not support the overturning of Citizens United?
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.
What are your thoughts on higher education?
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. 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, 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 a wise policy.
So to reiterate, you’re not advocating for the abolishment of the Department of Education?
No. I think the federal government should assume an appropriate role. Right now, it has overstepped its boundaries.
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?
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 that they probably did it without authority under the Administrative Procedures Act, which has been a challenge that some states have brought against it.
You don’t think states brought it forward because they’re opposed to the transgender community in their state?
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 hereby 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.
Can you expand on when you said it’s a ‘local matter?’
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.
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?
Yes, and I think that these things can be handled on a local basis, in a discreet, sensitive way and the old expression, ‘not make a federal case out of this.’ These things just work themselves out and the worst thing to do is make this into a big deal and 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.
Do you think the U.S. should take in more refugees? It has been a huge point of contention after Paris, Brussels, etc?
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. First not getting a Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq was a tremendous mistake.
Do you support idea of putting ground troops on the ground in either Syria or Iraq?
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 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 US from Iraq has in essence fostered the kind of instability that we are seeing today. The US clearly made a mistake in the Iraq invasion, 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 US. I think that would not be wise, politically, militarily wise 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 has been particularly successful.
So you do support Donald Trump for president?
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, this whole email thing? Why did she do it? Well the reason was, it 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 apine 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.
You yourself, you have a very good understanding of foreign policy so doesn’t Donald Trump as Commander-in-Chief sound disastrous?
It gives me concern. 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 Sanders 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.
Do you support the defunding of Planned Parenthood?
I think that this issue has to be looked at by the standpoint that they provide a lot of routine medical service to their patients. I don’t support efforts to single out a particular organization. In NYS for instance none of the allegations of the selling of fetal tissues have been made against anyone. 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.
Do you think that employers who provide healthcare should or shouldn’t be responsible for providing birth control?
Yes. 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 birthcontrol. I think birth control is now well-established enough in terms of the medical components, and 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 narrow question of your first amendment religious liberty as a opposed to the ability of the government to provide and confer benefit through legislation. When that conflicts with religious liberty, then you have to examine the circumstances. The government’s power to force them to do something against their moral belief would financially cripple them, and I think that this issue has been grossly mischaracterized by opponents. 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 and 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.
Do you think this should be kept at the state level?
I wouldn’t argue that. The federal government enacted a mandate on health care and said you have to have certain forms of coverage, and 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 tolerance of viewpoint and be faithful to the Constitution and respectful of people’s legitimate religious opinion.
What is your opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement and race relations in this country?
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 30-40 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 antisemitism that is evidenced in much of what they have put on their platform. Particularly the anti-Israel stuff that is in their platform.