This past Tuesday, October 3, Canton High School’s auditorium was brimming with local community members, eager to hear from candidates running to represent New York’s 21st congressional district.
Eight candidates — Don Boyajian (D-Cambridge), Tedra Cobb (D-Canton), Russ Finley (R-Lisbon), Ronald Kim (D-Queensbury), Steve Krieg (D-Plattsburgh), Emily Martz (D-Saranac Lake), Patrick Nelson (D-Stillwater), and Katie Wilson (D-Keene)– sat on the stage, all ready to tackle the various questions posed by moderator Matt James.
After a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Las Vegas tragedy, the forum ensued. Encapsulating nine questions in total, the event lasted a little over two hours.
Before delving into question time, two minutes were allocated to each candidate for introductions. While the candidates employed their respective few minutes as a means of highlighting their unique qualities, their short speeches were markedly similar in content; they all emphasized their relationship with the area and their frustrations with the current U.S. government.
Question time commenced thereafter, beginning with a question centered on the necessity of campaign finance reform. Each candidate was allowed a mere minute to answer the question, ensuring that the forum moved swiftly.
All of the democratic candidates were quick to condemn the current status of campaign financing, though Krieg said that he does not necessarily believe that there is a possibility of altering the present state.
Russ Finley, the sole Republican candidate, shied away from critiquing the ongoing trends in financing campaigns. He instead opted to be crystal clear in his intent to accept money from “large donors,” as he did not wish to take money from the struggling constituents that make up the majority of the 21st congressional district. Rather, he intends to inject the funds given from major donors back into the district.
The next few questions were concentrated on health care in the North Country, ranging from options for healthcare reform to measures for targeting the opioid crisis. Candidates stressed various options for adjustments to the current healthcare system, with the majority stating their support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and their desire to expand the accessibility of Medicare.
Candidate Patrick Nelson discussed the effectiveness of Medicare, stating that it was the most efficient health insurance. However, he also remarked that our health care system requires consistent upkeep, stating: “we’ll never stop reforming healthcare.”
Russ Finley, when discussing necessary alterations to the health care system in the U.S, stressed that government needs to be taken out of the equation. He stated: “[the] government has never done anything right or efficient.”
Finley also reflected on his time in Germany, and how he received markedly poor treatment in a nation with a supposedly successful socialist health care system- to which Nelson responded that Germany has a mandated health system, not a socialist one.
As the candidates came together a mere 48 hours after the largest mass shooting in modern American history, gun control was one of the more sensational topics discussed. Finley was quick to jump into defensive mode, emphatically declaring that the question on gun control should not have been brought up given the recent events; he called it “so insensitive.”
The other candidates were less dismissive of the question. Nelson asked: “If we don’t discuss this now, then when?” The democrats across the board were all in agreement that the issue needed addressing, but their outlooks varied.
While some, such as Katie Wilson and Steve Krieg, chose to focus on their pre-existing relationships with guns, others, such as Emily Martz and Don Boyajian, referred to the ongoing discussion of silencers in Congress. Both Martz and Boyajian stressed that silencers and automatic weapons had no place in the hunting culture of upstate New York, with Martz stating: “We don’t put food on our tables with automatic weapons or silencers.”
The forum ran smoothly, but blatant faux pas on behalf of the candidates were unavoidable. When discussing climate change, Republican candidate Russ Finley was quick to point out that being a farmer, he saw climate change daily in the last 20 years, and that it had nothing to do with human involvement. Individuals in the audience, as well as his competitors, were quick to point out that the changes to which Finley referred were alterations in the weather, not the climate.
Democratic candidate Patrick Nelson was quick to respond, stating that “the nice thing about science is that it is true whether you believe it or not,” which elicited a few laughs from the audience.
Nelson also nipped the misstep of another candidate in the bud. In the final question, which asked candidates to highlight what made them qualified to defeat incumbent Elise Stefanik, Katie Wilson delved into a diatribe, blatantly stating that she was the only candidate who could beat Stefanik because she was “an outsider” and therefore electable.
Wilson made the mistake of encouraging her fellow candidates to back her in order to avoid a run-off election, stressing that in doing so they would forego spending a ton of money on a fruitless campaign.
Nelson was quick to point out that New York State does not have run-off elections, and that if a candidate wanted to declare himself or herself the only feasible opponent to Stefanik then perhaps they ought to know the electoral system in their own state.