Watertown Daily Times | Stefanik holds forum in Moriah

MORIAH — Rep. Elise M. Stefanik met with constituents from across the political spectrum Friday, answering their questions at her 17th “Coffee with Your Congresswoman” event at the Moriah Volunteer Fire Department station.

Hosted by Sun Community News and moderated by Dan Alexander, the paper’s publisher and CEO, the event drew over 60 individuals and featured a calmer, more tempered crowd than Thursday’s event in Glens Falls.

Stefanik has not held many of these public meet-ups in recent years, talking with constituents on a more individual basis or doing teletownhalls. These 17 events put her and constituents in the same room to talk things over.

A few questioners had some back-and-forth debate with the congresswoman, being moved along by Alexander occasionally. There were not boos and laughter like at the Glens Falls event — more grumbling and shifting in seats.

Stefanik covered some of the same issues as Thursday, saying President Donald Trump’s tariff policy choices threaten a trade war between the U.S. and China, and again calling for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to resign. Pruitt was recently found to have several possible ethical and spending violations.

She also addressed new issues, like Russian meddling and national debt.

Money and guns

In a media-only meeting before the event, I asked Stefanik: If journalists are not allowed to take money from the people they write stories about, what makes it different for a legislator from people they write legislation about? Instead of answering directly, the said she has broad support from political affiliations across the district, including humane societies, pro-environmental groups and labor groups.

“I think I’ve worked hard representing this district, and I think that’s a testament to my broad support,” Stefanik said. Coming back around to the question, she added, “Contributions should never impact how you vote, and they certainly don’t in my case.”

Stefanik also receives contributions from the National Rifle Association, pharmaceutical companies and political individuals such as John Bolton, Trump’s choice to replace H.R. McMaster as national security advisor.

On the topic of gun control she said she supports the Second Amendment and disagrees “vehemently” with retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, whose March op-ed piece in the New York Times was titled “Repeal the Second Amendment.”

She has advocated for several programs that address gun owner information systems, increased safety resources for schools and more mental health funding, but she has stopped short of supporting the banning of new weapons, aside from bump stocks that make semiautomatic rifles operate like automatics.

Several residents of Moriah spoke up about the economic and infrastructure needs of the town, asking for assistance on the federal level.

She said the more specific the issues communities bring to her to address, the easier it is for her to request federal funding for them.

Several questions revolved around the recently added tax bill, and Stefanik had to clarify that she did not vote for it. She restated why she did not support the bill as a whole — the elimination of the state and local tax deduction — and the parts of the bill she did like, such as building a larger standard deduction.

Because she did not vote for the bill, she did not comment on how it is estimated to add over $1 trillion to the national debt.

Stefanik said the country can start solving its debt problem by setting up a two-year budgeting schedule, passing a “balanced budget amendment” and ending outdated programs.

D.C. discussion

Stefanik fielded several questions about Trump as voters voiced their displeasure with him or her reaction to his actions and words.

“Some people want me to agree with the president 100 percent of the time, others want me to disagree with the president 100 percent of the time, and that’s just not my job. I have got to call ’em like I see ’em,” Stefanik said. “Certainly, he tweets too much. I’m stating the obvious. I think most Republicans will agree with that.”

She said she voted for Trump in 2016 for the same reason the majority of voters of the north country did: She wanted the country to take a new direction and end the “status quo.”

When the topic of Trump’s tax returns came up, she said she believes he should release the documents. She added that in previous elections she was the only candidate to do so and challenged the other candidates to follow suit. Saying she does not want to legislate against individuals, she said she will support legislation to have all federal-office candidates release their tax returns.

Stefanik said she supports the Robert Mueller investigation into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.

Stefanik was asked how the U.S. can protect elections against meddling by foreign countries such as Russia, and said the superpower poses a serious online threat to the democratic process. She wants Federal Election Commission guidelines updated so political digital advertisers have to disclose where their funding comes from.

She said news channels such as Russia TV are “propaganda” and she wants to see them register as foreign agents. She also said paper ballot backups are a good solution.

When state Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, asked what she found most frustrating about working in Washington, she said “pace and gridlock.” She said she is exasperated by the national media’s focus on fights within Congress instead of bipartisan cooperation.

After the event was finished, John Sharkey, a sporting goods store owner from Ticonderoga, said though he agrees with Stefanik on several fronts, he disagrees with her on issues such as climate change and bipartisanship.

“If the roles were reversed and the Democrats had control of the House, the Senate and the presidency, they would say, ‘Elise, go sit in the corner,’” Sharkey said from beneath an “I’m a deplorable” hat. “I don’t like her working with them because they mean her harm and they mean the country harm. I really believe that.”

Stefanik said she is proud of her bipartisanship and believes it is a cornerstone of an effective democracy.

“It’s an example of us coming together and solving our nation’s problems,” she said. “I think our communities do it every day at the local level.”

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