NORWICH – Last week, Claudia Tenney, the Republican candidate for the 22nd Congressional District visited the Evening Sun and talked about the top issues in the election.
Tenney, a former congresswoman, held the district’s seat prior to the last election cycle, when she lost to Anthony Brindisi in a close race. The two are again the prime contenders in a closely contest race this year.
When was the last time that you visited an organization here in Chenango County? How are you staying in touch with the local community?
“I’m here every week. We recently did a village walk with the mayor of Sherburne, we went to a couple of drive-thru graduation party celebrations, I’ve been to three fire department drive-thrus in Chenango County. We’re doing a lot of door-to-doors and virtual events right now because there aren’t events - everything’s cancelled. People don’t want to gather in groups, so we’ve done a lot of virtual stuff. I’ve done several virtual town halls with small businesses, farmers, veterans, etc,” said Tenney
Do you have confidence in how this election is going to be handled in the state of NY?
“Not after 2018, I don’t. I have 100% confidence in the post office though, I don’t have any problem with them because they do a great job.”
What happened in 2018?
“A lot of people who were voting were standing in line doing provisional ballots and provisional ballots were being put into the machine that should not have gone in there; they should have been set aside and counted as an outside vote because they were not verified. Once a ballot goes into the machine you can’t do anything about it. We have video of that happening in the district.”
“There was also no guarantee of voter ID – a number of people who were overseeing the race said that signatures didn’t even match in some cases. So when you rely on a signature as the verification of id, and the signatures don’t even match, then how can you verify that? It’s very easy to cheat in NY.”
Those issues in 2018 could be potentially made worse by dependency on remote voting on a large scale? What are you doing to ensure that the votes that get counted are legitimate?
“It could be even worse. We put more resources on our campaign for that. I think the boards of election do what they can with the resources they have. I know this was a tough primary because there were all these absentee ballots, the governments weren’t getting enough revenue from sales tax, there’s the COVID crisis, and so you have a lot of board of elections without a lot of resources that are suddenly tasked with managing all of this. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the people that work there, I think they just need assistance.”
Are you skeptical the election will go smoothly?
“We’re all worried about it. When going door to door, there are two big things that everyone says – first is they’re worried about their safety and their security. They’re very concerned about the violence. Thankfully that isn’t here, but they’re still worried about it. That goes hand in hand with taking resources away and defunding the police.”
“Another big thing that is said, especially by republicans, is that they’re concerned about the cheating on the ballots in swing states and election integrity. Almost at every door someone mentions that.”
So what’s your advice to those people?
“I say get a mask, get some hand sanitizer, and go in and vote if you can. If you can’t vote in person, then make sure when you send in your ballot you take a picture, or ask for a ballot by certified mail, or some other way that you know you can prove that you actually requested a ballot on time and that you received it in a timely manner. People don’t really care sometimes at first, or they think that their vote doesn’t matter - until the race is closed.”
Why do you think there hasn’t been agreement on another COVID relief package yet?
“I’d like to know why (congress was) not in session. Why aren’t they working together to try to come up with something right now? We still have businesses in peril, we have schools that are going to be devastated because they’ve had to invest in all this new technology, and then have to do split schedules.”
What would you like to see happen? Do you think there should be some sort of bailout?
“I don’t want to call it a bailout. We’re a small business and we’re down substantially in sales because a lot of our customers were negatively impacted by this – it’s the same for a lot of businesses.”
“Especially in the hospitality industry, businesses are borderline close to closing because they’re being forced to close down by the government. This isn’t just all the sudden you’re running a bad business, it’s because you’re being forced not tot take business and forced to be safe. For a period of time we did that, and initially there was the $600 per week for the unemployment insurance because we wanted people to stay home. We closed our facility in Sherburne too because we didn’t want people to come in to work during the height of this thing, and we wanted to flatten the curve and do all the right things.”
“But now we’re at the point where, if we can do it safely, we need to get the economy going. We just can’t shut down forever.”
“The governor is dictator of the state right now. He’s still keeping his powers enforced.”
If you were in office, would you have voted for the most recent COVID-19 relief measure earlier this week put up by Republicans?
“There was some good stuff in there. There was money for school districts. It’s hard to teach kids with learning disabilities over a Zoom call. It’s also hard to teach a four or five year old how to read over a Zoom call and it’s challenging for parents as well. I think we have to find a way to get the schools the resources they need,” said Tenney.
“They tried to make a compromise on the $600. I have not talked to a single small business owner that supports the compromise of $300 for unemployment insurance, because they need their employees to go back to work. They said they’d accept a compromise, but they really need people to get back to work. So I think we need to phase that out eventually, because it is hurting the employers.”
Do you think schools in our district are safe to open?
“I think they can open. Teachers are more concerned because they’re in a more vulnerable class, depending on their age. Children tend to be more resilient to this thing though, we’ve proven that. So, I think if we can be safe, we have to do what we can to get as many kids back to school as we can. We’re not going to get everyone back. By the way, as I go door to door, I’ve learned a lot of people, if they can, have chosen to do homeschooling for their kids. But some people can’t do that because they have to go to work.”
We have 10 or less COVID cases in Chenango County right now and cases have been low compared to other areas. Do you think schools are safe to open in our specific area?
“When I went to school it wasn’t safe to open in some ways – there were all kinds of diseases going around. When my son when to school he got every disease you could get in school. This is a little bit different because this is a risk that is showing it can be deadly and is very contagious, so I think we have to be careful.”
“But I think for most people that assessment needs to be made from the parents and the school, whether they feel it’s safe open the schools. But that costs money and time to bring in experts and make sure we know that the kids will be as safe as they possibly can be. We’re not totally going to prevent the spread of this disease, it’s going to continue to spread but just hopefully not as much as they predict it’s going to. We just want to make sure that it doesn’t spread to the point of having catastrophic effects on our healthcare facilities and hospitals. But I think we can go back safely.”
Do you think your district in particular should be opening back up slower or faster?
I think it should be opening at whatever rate they deem is at a safe level. There are fewer and fewer cases in our area.
You are in a contested district where you have to be able to speak to both sides. How do you get your message out to everyone?
“It’s very challenging for us because of media bias. We can’t get coverage, even on major things that we’re doing. And if I could put a list together of every horrible adjective you could come up with to describe someone, almost every week there is some article where I’m horrible, Trump’s horrible, everything’s horrible. I’ve had numerous people come in from other campaigns, other media people and consultants, and they all say the same thing. They say, ‘you get the worst press of any member of Congress I have ever seen.”
Are you being outspent in the election?
“Oh yeah. The problem is the Democrats have so much money. I had 34 million dollars spent against me from the 2016 election up to now. I was shocked that Kim Meyers had 9 million dollars, because no one’s ever had anywhere near that amount to spend – and then Brindisi had 15 million. It’s the most ever spent in the history of our region. In terms of ad saturation, in 2018 it was the number one most saturated ad buying in the entire country.”
Do you think the President Donald Trump is racist?
“No, not at all. I think he’s probably the least racist president we’ve ever had.”
“He wants to help people, I really think that’s his mission. I’ve been with him so many times when he’s just earnest about caring about a lot of people, and that just doesn’t come through in the news.”
“I’ll give you the perfect example. I used to live in Yugoslavia before the war. We have the second largest population of Bosnians in Utica. I worked in the Olympics in Sarajevo, I worked for the consulate, I’ve been going there for 39 years and helped bring Bosnian refugees to Utica. I did a newspaper for them, did a radio show with them, spent a fortune at the refugee center for their fundraisers.
And now I get this, ‘I’m anti-immigrant and the President’s anti-immigrant’. I was at the White House with the president during an anti-human trafficking bill signing, and he says to me, ‘Claudia, what’s wrong with you people over there? Why can’t we do something about this DACA situation? We’ve got to help these kids.”
“Some of our solutions were about giving them a path to citizenship, as long as they’re not dependent on public assistance unless they have special needs that make them dependent and unable to work and earn for themselves, and that they don’t have a criminal record. With a path to citizenship solution, they would be given time to get in the back of the line to get citizenship, but in that waiting time period they would be given a status so that they wouldn’t get deported. That seemed like a fair solution.
So when people say the president is inhumane and racist, he’s not at all. He was concerned about that. I witnessed him on several occasions asking what can we do about this. He’s very much a task” completer, and he’s done a lot of great things.
When it comes to immigration, do you believe in securing the southern border like the president has been saying?
“Yes, because the two biggest problems we have there are human trafficking and drug trafficking. The reason you have to have a border wall, and anyone who is in the military or the police will tell you this, is that it’s much easier to control a border that is very porous rather than having an open border where many of the people are coming in, just helps the police administrate and makes it easier for them to control. Having those concentration points does help.”
Do you have an opinion on what should happen with all of the people who are already here illegally without documentation?
“Again, I think you need to apply that analysis to people. If they are committing crimes, they should be deported.”
Do you have an opinion on whether or not NY State should be issuing drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants?
“I am totally opposed to illegal immigrants to having drivers’ licenses because it’s a path to voting. If you go to register to vote, I can bring in a document that says I’m eligible to vote, and on the form where it asks if you are a US citizen, you can say yes, and it’s on your honor at that point. I think voting is too important for that.”
“What I would rather do is legalize those people. Come up with a way to have a year-round migrant worker program. I put in two or three different bills on that – I coauthored one with Elise Stefanik . Right now we have a legal migrant worker program where you can come in an pick crops like green beans, orchards, all kinds of other seasonal crops. You can do it, but you can’t do it if you’re a year-round dairy farmer, it doesn’t make sense.”
“The state went the other way. They’re creating sanctuary cities and that’s putting a burden on the taxpayers.”
What is your take on the bail reform and this whole new approach criminal justice that is taking place?
It comes from, I believe, the notion that a lot of these people that I worked with in Albany believe that nobody who’s in jail is guilty and it’s a terrible system that unfairly puts people in jail even though they may be innocent.
We know that there is a very small percentage of people who have been wrongfully convicted and put in jail, the system isn’t perfect. But for the majority, there are repeat offenders, people who are committing crimes, and the problem with bail reform is that initially it took the discretion away from the judges and they lowered the standards. So I can throw a brick through the window here, and as long as there’s no one in here, it’s not bailable. If there’s a person in here, then it could be bailable.
I’ve heard from a number of police officers, that basically, in a community there’s a certain group that are always repeat offenders. If you go into court, it’s typically the same people in court all the time, and those people have no respect for the police or the system. There has to be law and order. One of the big things they did in Congress is zeroing out the legal services budget. So I do a ton of pro-bono work, helping all kinds of poor and needy people go into court. That’s critically important, because guess who doesn’t have a lawyer usually.
The poorest people tend to have representation and the wealthiest people have representation. It’s those people that are just on the poverty line who have no one to represent them. You realize there’s a lot of lower and middle class people who are not represented.”
“One of the biggest problems we have today is this out of control problem with drugs. We have the highest opioid death rate based on percentage in this district.”