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Democratic candidates tout strengths at congressional forum

Michael Goot
June 13, 2018

GREENFIELD — As they largely agreed on the major issues, the five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the 21st Congressional District stressed their individual strengths and why they are the best person to be their next representative during a candidates forum on Monday evening.

Tedra Cobb of Canton cited her experience as a St. Lawrence County legislator who was elected and re-elected in a conservative district. Emily Martz of Saranac Lake pointed to helping businesses in her role as director of operations and finance for the Adirondack North Country Association, which is a nonprofit economic development organization.

Stillwater resident Patrick Nelson stressed his experience getting the mood of the district while knocking on doors during the last two congressional campaigns. Dylan Ratigan of Lake Placid cited his connections to politicians as a television journalist. Keene resident Katie Wilson said she represents a person with a younger perspective that can connect to low-income people who does not have the traditional resume of a person elected to Congress.

Voters on June 26 can select only one of these people to try to defeat Republican U.S. Rep Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, who is seeking her third two-year term in November’s election.

Wilson said that is the most important goal.

“People say over and over they wish they could roll (us) into one and they’d have the perfect representative and perfect person to go up against Stefanik. The only thing that matters is taking the seat back,” she said during a forum at Maple Avenue Middle School. About 200 people attended the event sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County and Citizens Acting Together for District 21.

The candidates had slight differences over health care. Nelson, Martz and Ratigan support Medicare for all. Martz said it will help businesses and people.

“That will help our local government, who are drowning under the cost of health care, particularly for retirees,” Martz said.

Nelson said the United States spends $4,800 per person on health care, which is among the highest in the world, and not everyone is covered.

“Congresswoman Stefanik is being wasteful with your tax dollars. You cannot be a fiscal conservative and not be in favor of Medicare for all,” he said.

Ratigan said money in politics is preventing health care solutions from being implemented.

“It is a political choice made because the people who profit from our sickness and our death pay our politicians on both sides of the aisle and unless you actually call it out and reform the Democratic Party, you will never have the obvious solution,” he said.

Cobb said she is open to looking into the idea of Medicare for all. She wants to make sure that everyone has access to affordable care.

Cobb said high health insurance premiums hurt businesses such as that of her husband, who installs solar panels. Their premium went up from $13,000 to $15,600 with a deductible of $10,000.

“We could invest those dollars into a business and hire more workers,” she said.

Wilson supports legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, to allow people to purchase Medicare on the open exchange. She believes that would be a bridge to universal coverage.

“We can pass it now. We must do something right away, and we have to be realistic about what we can do in the time we have,” she said.

The candidates agreed that more infrastructure spending is needed.

“I do not want a wall in Mexico, I want a bridge to Canada,” Cobb said.

Wilson said she moved back to the area and found she had no cell coverage or broadband, no public transportation and lack of access to hospitals and other basic services.

Wilson also criticized Stefanik for rolling back environmental regulations.

“She voted for acid rain,” Wilson said. “Our natural resources are a huge part of our local economy.”

The candidates all support universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons and bump stocks.

The candidates also support campaign finance reform to one degree or another. Cobb said she believes a constitutional amendment is needed. Martz said she would support legislation for public financing of elections.

“When I first decided to run for Congress, I was told if I couldn’t raise $100,000 from my close friends and family, I had no business running. That’s exactly why I should be running.”

Nelson said Citizens United did not open the floodgates of money into the political system. He said it was already there and that Supreme Court ruling just broke the dam. He and Ratigan support rank choice voting in which people can prioritize which candidates they like first, second or third.

Ratigan said he believes that campaign finance reform is best implemented at the local and state level and then built up to the federal level.

Wilson said people have to be realistic in terms of what can be accomplished. “The system is much more flawed than just this one issue,” she said.

She is in favor of a system that installs caps on how much candidates can spend based upon the race.

President Donald Trump was not mentioned much until toward the end of the forum, when Ratigan said these were not normal political times and Trump’s presidency is a risk to the country. He said leadership must emerge in the Democratic Party that can “defend the values of this county from those who would prey upon it.”

The forum had a few comical moments, including when most of the candidates said they had not read or did not have an opinion on the Better Deal platform endorsed by the Democratic National Committee.

Ratigan called it “political pabulum” to placate the masses.

“You can rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic as much as you want. It is time to reconnect the government to the voters,” he said.

Nelson said he recalled that the slogan was “better jobs, better health care, better wages.”

“Some consultant and staffer in Washington, D.C., got paid a whole bunch of money to come up with that. Boy, who wouldn’t want that job?”

Cobb said regardless of what it is called, the party is fighting against income inequality and for access to health and education and compassion.

“We’re seeing families torn apart at the border. Those are not core Democratic values,” she said.

The candidates said that they would support whichever candidate won the primary.

“With pleasure, although I would like whoever is stealing my yard signs to bring them back,” Ratigan said.

“We’re not stealing your signs, but I think we all know who is,” Wilson quipped.

Cobb chimed in. “If anybody sees my signs from Watertown being taken, maybe it’s the Republicans. They’re getting scared,” she said.

Emily Martz also pushed for unity. She has suggested holding an event at The Queensbury Hotel on election night. Nelson has confirmed attendance and Wilson has said she would attend such an event. Martz said that she plans to hold a summit after the primary to bring together progressives and volunteers from all campaigns.

“This is a moment in our nation that is bigger than our individual campaigns. This is a time where our party must come together to stand for something,” she said.

Nelson said the nominee had his unequivocal support.

“I have spent the last four my years of my life trying to beat Elise Stefanik. You can bet with 100 percent full-throated certainty that I am going to support whoever you select as your nominee,” he said.

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