By: Don Boyajian, Democratic Candidate in New York’s 21st Congressional District
The beginning of any new year presents a key moment of reflection, allowing us to prepare for the next 12 months. As we begin 2018, I want to reflect upon Elise Stefanik’s record and why the North Country needs a new voice in Congress. Rep. Stefanik recently touted her accomplishments during the past year. She presented her record with rose-colored glasses. In reality, her actions solely cater to her political interests under the close watch of her mentor, Speaker Paul Ryan. Rep. Stefanik is not helping us; she’s actively working against us.
Let’s take a look at what Rep. Stefanik actually did during 2017. She voted to take away health care from nearly 90,000 people in our community. She voted that way nearly three dozen times. Why? Because Speaker Ryan demanded her vote. In the most disingenuous way, she claimed her vote was undecided. In reality, she knew what she was doing. Rep. Stefanik was a key whip on the House floor during the vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She knew her vote was wrong for her constituents. She put people’s lives in jeopardy. But she didn’t care. Or at least, she cared a lot more about rising within the ranks of Speaker Ryan’s leadership team.
The contrast between her rhetoric and voting record does not stop there. Recently, she was the deciding vote to defeat a bill that would have made farmers and veteran service organizations eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. That is exactly the type of program that communities in Upstate New York would benefit from. She claims to be focused on creating jobs in Upstate New York, but instead she votes for the Financial CHOICE Act – a bill which caters to big banks, weakens the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, and is a direct threat to the middle class. She pretends to be an independent voice when it comes to the environment, but votes lock-step with Speaker Ryan to roll back the Clean Air Act, cut funding for our National Parks, and to allow mining companies to pollute our water supply. Make no doubt, Rep. Stefanik is a highly skilled politician. That’s what makes her so dangerous. She creates a positive façade, all the while, actively working against the best interests of our communities.
With respect to the tax plan, Speaker Ryan did not require Rep. Stefanik’s vote to pass the bill. She had an opportunity to discourage other members from supporting this dangerous legislation. But she did not. She would not dare. Why? Rep. Stefanik is part of the failing Paul Ryan leadership agenda that caters to special interests, while leaving the middle class behind. Whenever Speaker Ryan needs a vote, he knows he can count on Rep. Stefanik. But we cannot count on her.
Let’s examine her constituent services. During 2017, she held exactly zero in-person town halls. Look at the members of Congress from nearby districts. Each held several town halls during the past year. In New York’s 20th Congressional District, Congressman Paul Tonko held nearly ten town halls last year. The difficulty with town halls is that you’re often required to give people straight forward answers – something she is incapable of. It requires a willingness to get off the talking points, and to have an actual understanding of the issues. Rep. Stefanik much prefers the closed-door meetings and carefully orchestrated press opportunities. Though members of Congress rarely accomplish all of their legislative goals, they can always make themselves accessible to their constituents. That’s what a good member does. She does not.
Rep. Stefanik is said to be a popular member among the D.C. Ranks. She’s the ultimate political insider. She doesn’t care about us. She only cares about her political agenda: rising within the Paul Ryan leadership team.
I don’t want to be all doom and gloom. It is a new year, after all. I’m hopeful for 2018. People are tired of watching Congress continually pursue legislation that only serves the interests of an elite few. If we’ve learned anything in 2017, it’s that people can do big things when we act in concert.
We need to work towards two goals in 2018. First, we need to return to a system of checks and balances. That is dangerously absent in our current government. Speaker Ryan and Rep. Stefanik are a part of the problem. This current administration is volatile. What’s even more concerning is that Speaker Ryan lacks the leadership to stand up to the misguided proposals of the administration. Elise Stefanik is just another rubber stamp for Speaker Ryan. We need checks and balances. That starts in Congress.
Second, we need to demand that Congress start working on initiatives that reinvest in the foundation of the American economy: infrastructure, public education, tax relief for the middle class, and providing high-quality affordable health care for everyone. We’re only 11 months away from realizing that agenda, and it starts with voting out Elise Stefanik and the failed Paul Ryan leadership team.