With less than three weeks to go until Election Day, candidates for office around central and northern New York have been holding debates. The candidates running for the 24th Congressional District, Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) and Democrat Colleen Deacon, sat down with WRVO for their first debate of the campaign.
Katko was first elected to Congress in 2014, defeating then-incumbent Rep. Dan Maffei (D-Syracuse). Before running for the seat, Katko served as a federal prosecutor for more than 20 years.
This is Deacon's first run for office, but she is no stranger to politics. She spent six years working with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand as her central New York regional director. Prior to that, Deacon served as press secretary for former Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll.
The 24th Congressional District includes all of Onondaga, Cayuga and Wayne Counties and the western part of Oswego County.
Grant Reeher (GR): Welcome to the first debate between the two candidates running to represent New York's 24th Congressional District, incumbent Republican John Katko and Democratic challenger Colleen Deacon. I'm Grant Reeher, host of the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. And we're coming to you from the WRVO studios in Syracuse. The 24th District includes all of Cayuga, Onondaga, and Wayne Counties and the western portion of Oswego County. We don't have a formal set of rules for this conversation, but I do have a number of questions I'd like to put to the two candidates. So I've asked them to keep their answers relatively brief. As always, I wish we had more time. If the conversation runs substantially longer we may include answers not broadcast here on our website. The full audio of the debate and a full transcript is available at wrvo.org. Congressman Katko, Ms. Deacon, thanks for agreeing to talk with me.
John Katko (JK): Thanks for having us today and good luck to you, Colleen.
Colleen Deacon (CD): Good luck to you too, John.
(GR): I want to start with some questions about your messaging during this campaign and some of the messaging that's been done on your behalves, particularly television messaging which is what most voters see. Congressman Katko, when you were here two years ago as a challenger I started with the incumbent for this line of questioning and so I'll do that again, which means I'll start with you. One theme of your messaging is that your opponent is thin on knowledge regarding national and international security. Can you explain that criticism.
(JK): Sure. I mean the bottom line is the national security issues are probably one of the most preeminent issues facing our nation right now. That and jobs and the economy. And anybody running for public office, I think, needs to have at least somewhat of a working knowledge of the issues and have some opinions on them. And so I think it's incumbent upon anybody running for national office -- now don't forget this isn't running for, you know, local offices-- this is running to be a member of Congress, where day in and day out you can be making votes and issuing votes on national security decisions and and she's not immune to this process. She's worked for a senator for six years so she's been exposed to the information on a daily basis. So I think you need to have a little bit more knowledge, a little bit more of a priority placed on it than she has. And, on the other hand I look at myself. I went to Washington I got placed on --
(GR): Let me interrupt you there with a follow up. So the question was why do you think she doesn't have the knowledge? On what basis are you making that?
(JK): Her answers and her, and her lack of discussion on the matter. She doesn't have anything on her website to discuss the issue or even what her position is. When she's asked the question "What will we do about ISIS?" and she basically says "I really don't have a position." Those are her words. That's not anything we took and doctored up. And those are her words. And that was eight months ago and since that time she's had an awful lot of time to try to develop an answer. And she just hasn't.
(GR): OK. And I'll get to Ms. Deacon for a response to this in a minute but I did want to ask you another follow up about this. Don't you think that you yourself have learned a lot about this issue through your experience being in Congress, and the committee work that you've done and so on. Wouldn't you think that Colleen Deacon would do the same if she were in office?
(JK): Well, of course, yeah of course. But also don't forget, she's worked for a senator for six years. She's been exposed to these issues every day. When you're working in a congressional office or a Senate office, you're exposed to these issues on a daily basis. The information flow that comes across your desk is quite significant. And you know, my staff knows more about these issues than I do. And her, as a staffer for a senator, I would presume that she knew more about these issues.
(GR): So Ms. Deacon, will get into some specific questions about foreign affairs later in the conversation. But for now, can you explain briefly, but specifically, how you've gone about learning about national and international security as a candidate for Congress.
(CD): Sure. Well, first I want to, you know, talk about what John Katko just said. I mean, he said I'm somebody who doesn't have the knowledge about foreign policy when he took a snippet of my answer and selectively edited what I said. Actually what I said on your show, Grant, and you can attest that that wasn't my answer. I had a full response that he just took a portion of to make it sound like I was saying something that I was not saying. Frankly you know he feels like he has to mislead the voters and you know try to smear my record as somebody who is...
(GR): And let me interrupt again in the same way. But can you tell me how you've gone about learning about national and international security issues as a candidate? What's been your way of learning about this?
(CD): Sure. So we do a number of conference calls with generals, with folks on the ground, you know hearing directly from people who are involved with these issues and you know developing strategy for our country. I haven't wavered from my position of foreign policy. I have said this entire campaign we have to make sure we're keeping America safe, both at home and abroad. And I've mentioned, you know, a number of ways that we can do that. John Katko just feels like he needs to misrepresent me because he doesn't want to run on his record. He doesn't want to run on the fact that he doesn't support common sense gun legislation that would keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. I mean, that's something that we should implement right away and he refuses to support it. So, I mean, if you want to talk about ways we can address this issue, that is a perfect example of how Congressman Katko stands with his party and refuses to support legislation that would prevent terrorists from getting their hands on a gun.
(GR): Well maybe we'll get into the gun issue later. Let me take another piece of messaging here.
(JK): If I may just for just one quick...
(GR): Sure. Quick.
(JK): She yet has another opportunity to describe what she would do with respect to ISIS after she has been called on this for months. And what she just did there is just a perfect example of what I'm talking about. She didn't answer the question. She didn't propose any plan except some ridiculous generality. The bottom line is she's been exposed to these issues a lot longer than I have. A lot longer, and she still, to this minute, didn't have an issue. She pivots to guns, which I hope we talk about and give a little time to, because I think that's really important.
(GR): OK, well let's do that then we'll do guns and we'll also do this issue so, provide the answer. That is the larger answer on how to go about thinking about the challenge from ISIS rather than the soundbite. Go ahead.
(CD): Well, John you know he took a clip from an interview I did in December. So this is almost a year where I've been saying what I've been saying about ISIS. So for him to say I haven't developed an in-depth thought about this topic is completely false. I have said we have to make sure we're keeping America safe. We have to make sure we're keeping Americans safe both here at home and abroad. We have to work with our generals, work with our allies, our coalition partners on the ground to be able to gather the intelligence we need to not only contain but eliminate the threat of ISIS. We need to work with our technology companies to stop ISIS from their online propaganda of recruiting people both here in America and overseas as well. We have to do everything we can to take out ISIS for good. I know we've done, we've made some, some headway. We've been able to reclaim 45 percent of the territory that ISIS has taken over, we've been able to take over some of the oil fields that they've had. But we have to keep working hard to continue to make sure we're doing everything so that these terrorist organizations aren't threatening us anymore and that we have a strategy moving forward. That is smart and not reckless.
(GR): So what's missing from that, congressman? And be specific.
(JK): Of course. What's missing is any specifics. I mean, I'll give you an example. Juxtapose her answer to mine. I was head of the Foreign Fighter Task Force as a freshman in Congress. I was appointed to head up a task force with four other Republicans and three other Democrats. And our job was to go see firsthand what the threat of ISIS was and then to issue specific recommendations regarding it. And so two-thirds of my answer is regarding that. I issued a 72-page report and it reports 32 findings and 50 recommendations. Half of those recommendations become law. Instead of talking about saying in generalities, "Well, geez, we got to talk with the internet companies." Well, of course you do. But how? What do you do? They're telling you they don't want to, they don't want to give up their encryption, so therefore we can't monitor those discussions. So the 32 recommendations, 32 findings and 50 recommendations, that's my blueprint for how to deal with ISIS domestically and in Western Europe, because there's three stages, there is domestic, there is Western Europe and then there's boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq. And so what we got to do with respect to the last prong, is to beef up the bombings, have a robust bombing campaign and basically take the gloves off. There's too many restrictions with this administration. We need to make sure that ISIS doesn't metastasize more than it already has. We need to make sure that in Afghanistan they don't metastasize. Through the reckless workings of this administration, Libya is now -- ISIS now -- has a stronghold in Libya because it's so destabilized. We also have to make sure that we provide better support, we're providing better support on the ground than we did and that's allowing ISIS to be on the run. So that's part of it as well. We need to work with our allies to form a more united coalition. And then the last piece of the puzzle, in my opinion, is to take the Middle Eastern nations that are concerned about ISIS and get them to somehow come together and unite against them because it's kind of a fractured thing now. So that's a difference because she talks in complete generalities. And again she's been in the game a lot longer than I have and I'm talking specifics of going on this year and a half. I think that's a difference.
(CD): Can I add to that, Grant?
(GR): Very quickly and then I want to move on.
(CD): Nothing that John Katko said was specific, it was all generalities and half of it was just repeating what I said.
(GR): I'm Grant Reeher and I'm speaking with Colleen Deacon and John Katko, the two candidates for Congress in New York's 24th District. Well, we're spending a bit of time on this at the outset, but that's fine. You brought up guns; we said we would do guns. Now you've delineated your positions on these previously. So I'm going to summarize them here on what I'm, what I want to try to get out is where the real difference is. So you brought up the question of denying guns to people on the no fly list. Right. And your position and that's you're in favor of this.
(CD): Absolutely, yes.
(GR): Congressman Katko, you've articulated a different position which is one of, I guess, to see if, or to provide a method for the government to prove in a sense that there's a danger there and that there's an ability for the individual to protest the decision. So in a sense you're on somewhat similar ground.
(JK): Absolutely. We absolutely are and the only difference between their proposal and mine is that we have constitutional protections built in. Of course I want to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. For 20 years, I spent my career in a great personal risk to my wife and to myself taking guns off the street. I dealt with the most violent, nasty criminals this world has to offer. And I've had to move out of my home. I've had, I've had security issues where we had moved my family out of Puerto Rico when I had finished a trial down there without them. So to me this is a serious matter.
(GR): So, on this particular issue. What is the problem then with just taking this list and saying, 'it's a good place to start. And if you're on this list if you can't fly you shouldn't be able to own a gun.' What's the problem?
(JK): Because, guys like Ted Kennedy, a senator, were on that list mistakenly. But the problem with that list is it's not a, it's something, there's an awful lot of people on the list that shouldn't be there. Sen. Ted Kennedy was on a no fly list when he was in the United States senator, he'd been a United States senator for decades. He was on the list and it took him a while to get off it. Now listen, I'm all for it. I get briefings every day in the basement the Capitol about national security matters. There's no one who is going after terrorism more than I am. But you've got to do it the right way. It's the biggest difference between their bill and my bill is that if someone goes into a gun shop and tries to buy a gun and they're on a no fly list or any watch list for that matter, right, there they are immediately denied getting the gun. And then the attorney general has 72 hours to certify that in fact he's rightfully on the list.
(GR): This was your proposal.
(JK): Yeah. And once he does that, once he does that, the guy has a 72-hour waiting period, he goes back and says, "can I get the gun?" and we say, "no you know you're on a no fly list and you're there for a reason, so no you can't." So I'm not, it's kind of crazy for her to say I'm not for that.
(GR): So, Ms. Deacon, what would be your concern about having that 72-hour period. And why are you not concerned about, Ted Kennedy is going to be our example here, of you know, Ted Kennedy not being able to get a gun.
(CD): Look, if you're on the no fly list, surely you should not be able to purchase a gun. For those of your listeners who don't know what the "No buy, no fly" is, it means if you're on the no fly list if you're a suspected terrorist and you're not able to fly on a plane, you should not be allowed to purchase a gun. I mean you could go to Hancock Airport and be denied to fly but then you can go to Vermont and buy an AK-47. You know we've got to do something to stop this from happening and I don't think we need to add in 72 hours, rule for the state to make a case. I mean that's just crazy. We can work out people who are on accidentally, but let's make sure we're doing everything to keep America safe.
(GR): And how many how many people are on the no fly list? How large is it?
(CD): I don't know what the number is on this day.
(GR): Approximately how many people are?
(CD): Thousands. Thousands of people.
(GR): Congressman Katko, do you know how many people are on this list?
(JK): It's a very large number. And the problem is of the actual number of people on a no fly list that are not Americans, it's quite small. I mean, I'm sorry, the number Americans on a no fly, those are quite small, it's like, around 900. The number of foreigners on a no fly list is quite substantial. And they don't have the constitutional rights. But I, you know, quite frankly, I think she says we can deal with people that are wrongfully listed on a no fly list. Tell me how you would do that. This is a very good, the 72 hours is very common sense. They don't get the gun. The attorney general, they can make these decisions very quickly because they have the information. They can look there and say, "Oops. This is not John Smith, it's not the John Smith from Massachusetts who was involved in a bombing or talking about bombing somebody on the phone. This is John Smith from Arkansas. This isn't the same one. Oops, He shouldn't be on here, so yeah. No problem." They make those decisions quickly. So tell me if my proposal is flawed, what would you do to ensure that citizens aren't being wrongfully on that list?
(CD): Look, let's be honest, John Katko. He said when he was running against Dan Maffei "you are where you get your money from." And John Katko has received thousands of dollars from the gun lobby. Thousands of dollars, so he supports the legislation that the gun lobby supports. I mean I think that's what it boils down to. He knows where the money that he's receiving from his campaign is where his, where you get your money from, John, you said it yourself. And let's be honest, if you're on the no fly list, if you're on a terrorist watch list, don't you want to make sure that people don't have the ability to buy a gun and do it as quick as possible? I mean this is bipartisan common sense gun legislation that you don't support.
(GR): I think we've reached the end of the difference in the positions here.
(JK): But I do need to say something, Grant, because this is important.
(GR): Just a couple seconds.
(JK): She's talking about me and some outside influences. You know, go ask the 14 people that are serving mandatory life sentences for, for gun-related crimes and I put them in prison for, and go ask 160 gang members in Syracuse, New York who were taken off the streets, gun-related crimes because of my advocacy, and go ask my wife who put up with 20 years of the threats that I had to go under just to get guns off the street. Don't ever tell me or don't ever tell my wife that I'm not the biggest advocate against gun violence in the United States, because I am.
(GR): I'm going to move on because we've covered my first question so I do have more questions about your messaging and this is important, I think, to cover in terms of the candidates owning and, and being able to explain the messaging that most people see most of the time. Congressman, I have another one for you. And Ms. Deacon I have two questions for you. Let's try to be brief though on these. Congressman, another theme of your messaging is that Ms. Deacon will not depart from her party leadership if she is elected. Now since she has not held elective office, that claim is necessarily a prediction. Why are you making that claim?
(JK): Because she, I'm just using her own words. She was asked point blank in an interview on Time Warner Cable whether or not, what she would do to break with her party and they specifically asked her what would you do to break with the party and tell Nancy Pelosi "No. I want to work with the Republicans on this one." And her answer was "I can't think of anything I disagree with the Republicans on." So then, she went back on the show while later, had an opportunity to answer the question again and she says "it's about, I would break with them on trade." Well the Democratic platform is anti-trade, trade agreement anyway, so that's not breaking with your party, that's breaking with Obama. And she still to this dayn she hasn't given an example.
(GR): All right. So we'll get into that then. Ms. Deacon, I put this question to you. Going on the assumption, I think it's a reasonable one at this point when we're talking, that Hillary Clinton is elected president. Therefore Hillary Clinton will be your party's leader. Are there any significant policy areas where you take a different view from Hillary Clinton?
(CD): Well, first I want to go back. John lives in a selective editing world. The Liz Benjamin interview that he's talking about, they cut it off right before I said "but I am an independent..."
(GR): But you have the opportunity here to tell me where you could take a different view from Hillary Clinton.
(CD): I understand. But I just want to make it clear that again John is misleading the voters with these ads.
(CD): Second of all, Hillary Clinton, absolutely you know she is somebody who is kind of waffled on the fracking issue and it's something. I'm anti-fracking. I have been anti-fracking this whole entire campaign. I mean here in Syracuse, we've got Onondaga Lake. We've got one of the most polluted lakes in the country and Skaneateles Lake one of the cleanest. So we know firsthand what happens if we were to pollute our waters. That is a position I have been very firm on. You know Trans-Pacific Partnership, I know John thinks I'm not breaking from my party but he just said that it was Obama's legislation. Last I checked Obama was in my party.
(GR): OK. I'm asking you about Hillary Clinton.
(CD): Well, that's where I was going, is that she had, you know, she's kind of changed her position on Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well, which is something I have been firmly against since I've been on this campaign trail. I've been talking about it. It's something that I've talked about that's been in the news and something, you know John, who says he's against it. But the only reason he's against it is because Obama has the ability to do the deal, not because he cares about the American workers but because he doesn't want Obama to be able to make the deal.
(GR): Let me interject now. Are there any significant policy -- so for Hillary Clinton, you specified fracking, where she's waffled. And the the TPP, where she has changed her view and is now against it and you're against it too. Are there any significant policy areas where you take a different view from Nancy Pelosi?
(CD): Well I think you know at this point, I know Guantanamo Bay was something that people were, you know, working through and working on and, you know, prior to this debate today I was against closing Guantanamo Bay. I don't think we have a plan in place that would really prevent bad actors from getting onto American soil. So that was something that I was going to stand firmly against to make sure that we're not, you know, putting American lives in danger.
(GR): If you're just joining us you're listening to a candidate debate from WRVO Public Media between John Katko and Colleen Deacon. They're vying for the 24th congressional seat in New York.
(JK): If I may just briefly, just briefly respond. She still hasn't said anything of substance. She said anti-fracking, Hillary's anti-fracking. That was on the record, it's in the Democratic platform and TPP is in the Democratic platform. That's not a break, in the first time since she's been in this campaign for over a year she's, she's finally said something that she's against, closing Guantanamo Bay. I congratulate you. That's a good thing to find something that you disagree with your party on, because I do that every day in my job in Washington.
(GR): I want to turn now, though, to some of Ms. Deacon's messaging. So we looked at yours, now I want to look at Ms. Deacon's. Ms. Deacon, much of your messaging in this campaign has focused on women and women's issues, and you've connected those to Donald Trump. You organized something that you labeled "a rally by central New York women against Katko and Trump." That was the heading on your press release. The photograph that your campaign released 15 women on the steps of Syracuse City Hall. So I have three linked questions here for you. Do you think that John Katko is like Donald Trump in some important way? What should he have done or said differently regarding Donald Trump's campaign? And why is that important here in central New York?
(CD): Well, thank you. I appreciate the question. Absolutely. John Katko is somebody who said he would support Donald Trump. You know back during the Republican primaries. Then over the summer he said, "Oh I know he's got to earn my vote." He kind of waffled on the idea of Donald Trump. But you know, Donald Trump had called women pigs. He said Mexicans were rapists in the first kickoff of his campaign. He's insulted entire religions, mocked people with disabilities. So, I mean, I don't know how you could earn his vote after all of the terrible things that he said. And then just recently, you know, after these tapes came out of Donald Trump on a hot mic saying terrible, terrible things that I can't even repeat here, 30 days before an election John Katko decides that it's too much for him. And once he got a permission slip from Paul Ryan he decided to jump off the Trump train.
(GR): So your argument then is that he should have denounced and said he wasn't going to vote for or endorse Trump much earlier.
(CD): Absolutely. I've been saying it for months since I've been on this campaign. That's something that we've really been focusing on. I mean Donald Trump is unfit to be president and for John to stand with him is scary.
(GR): A lot of prominent Republicans have gone through this process as well. So why is this important? Why is that sequence important here?
(CD): Well I think it shows leadership, it shows who John Katko really is. I mean he's somebody who said something on the campaign trail and does something completely different when he gets to Washington. He waited until he saw you know, the way the political, the way the polls were, were showing before he decided to jump off the Trump train.
(GR): So let me turn to Congressman Katko. Now why, congressman, did you wait until you did to formally not endorse Donald Trump?
(JK): I didn't wait. During the primary process, I said that when there were 17 candidates, I said I would support whomever the Republican nominee is. I never said anybody in -- I would sort of support the nominee. She's taken those words to say that I've endorsed Donald Trump, but never have. From the moment he was a nominee, I was profoundly concerned about the things he said and I was asked point blank question about what do you think about the, about barring immigrants and everything else. I made it perfectly clear I completely disagree with him. And for the moment he was the nominee. I've said I do not -- I have serious concerns. I withheld support. I withheld saying I was going to a vote for him and withheld saying I was going endorse him. I've never endorsed him. I've never said I was going to vote for him. And so what happened during -- the only thing that happened on the weekend after that tape came out, was I came out and said that, not only am I not going to support him and not vote for him like I said, like I never said I was going to the whole time. I also think he should step down. Now think about that, from a courage standpoint to stand up that strong to your party. And juxtapose that with Ms. Deacon, who is completely 100 percent in the tank for Hillary Clinton, who is probably, she's the second most unpopular presidential nominee in the history of our country to be surpassed only by Donald Trump, and I've stood up to him. And she's not standing,she hasn't stood up to one thing about Hillary Clinton and there's profound problems with her.
(GR): All right.
(CD): Can I just add to that?
(GR): Very quickly.
(CD): John Katko said that Donald Trump has good principles. He said he was going to support the Republican nominee. These are his words. So if he's trying to backtrack now, I think it shows he waited until it was politically expedient, 30 days before an election after 30 members of Congress who are running jumped off the Trump train.
(GR): Congressman just in a couple of seconds, what are the principles that Donald Trump has that you agree with? What are they?
(JK): The one thing I agree with is that we're getting screwed on our trade deals. There's no question about that. I don't agree with his moral principles, because I think they're lacking. And you know, Ms. Deacon is revising history here. It's absolutely clear I've never endorsed him and I never said I was going to vote for him. So listen carefully to her words. She's trying to splice things together. And it's just not true.
(GR): All right I want to move to another one. Ms. Deacon, another prominent theme of your messaging is that Congressman Katko is not a moderate. That that is just an appearance, and that actually he is a conservative who's loyal to the conservative core of the Republican Party in Congress when it counts. What specific evidence do you have for making that claim?
(CD): Well look, he's somebody who when he ran for Congress he promised he wouldn't vote to defund Planned Parenthood. And since he's been in office he's done just that four times. He's somebody when he ran he said he wouldn't let a terrorist get their hands on a gun and he does not support the "No buy, no fly." He's somebody, who when he ran for office he said he was going to focus on jobs and the economy. But he's focused on anything but jobs and the economy in this district, because the Republican Party hasn't worked on a jobs package to help provide opportunities for people --
(GR): So what makes him not a moderate, then, is the Planned Parenthood votes, the difference between you on the way you're going to approach the "No fly, no buy" issue and --
(CD): I'll also add too, the environment. I mean John Katko, when he ran he didn't even, you couldn't say that climate change was man made. And he's voted against legislation that would help our environment, help improve global warming. So I think these are huge issues to show he'll say something on the campaign trail, do something completely different in D.C. and is not a moderate, is only focused on himself winning re-election and his party.
(GR): Congressman Katko then why should voters view you as a moderate Republican?
(JK): Because multiple independent groups have rated me one of the most independent persons in all of Congress. I have, I have 15 bills passed the House. Fifteen. My predecessor had zero in four years. Six of them have been signed into law and every single one of those bills the first co-sponsor on those bills was a Democrat. You don't get there by being a hardcore conservative like my opponent tries to paint me to be. You get there by being a principled independent person who's willing to break with the party when necessary to get things done. And those bills aren't about naming post offices. They're about keeping this country safe, they're about getting heroin off the streets of our country and keeping them out of our... And stop and reduce the number of funerals of people have for heroin. It's also about keeping our airports safe. That's pretty meaty stuff and for a freshman to have that type of responsibility and that type of success. You do not get it when you're as she's trying to paint me to be, you just can't. It just won't happen.
(GR): You're listening to a debate from WRVO public media with the candidates for New York's 24th congressional district. Incumbent Republican John Katko and Democratic challenger Colleen Deacon. I want to turn now to some more specific policy issues and we'll start domestically and work outward. Some of our listeners have asked me to ask the two of you about infrastructure and about I-81. Ms. Deacon, what specifically should the federal government be doing about the nation's infrastructure and how high of a national spending priority should it be relative to other priorities.
(CD): Yeah, actually...thank you for that question. Infrastructure is something I've been talking about this entire campaign. I think it is imperative that we invest heavily in our infrastructure. I mean our roads, bridges, water and sewer pipes are crumbling. You know, the time to act is now, they're not going to fix themselves. We have water pipes in the city of Syracuse that are made out of wood and are over 100 years old. And it seems like we're seeing a water main break every winter, every day. So I think an investment in infrastructure is imperative, not only for you know to help improve our infrastructure but also to create jobs. I think this is an awesome opportunity for us to be able to put thousands of people directly to work. You know, these are jobs you cannot outsource. You know you, we can put people... give them the skills you know give them the tools they need to be able to help improve our roads, our bridges, our water and our highways and also improve our economy at the same time. I would be fully supportive of any investment in infrastructure. It is huge.
(GR): Is there something that you're willing to give up or spend less on in order to get more on that?
(CD): It's all about priorities. I mean let's look at the budget, let's look and see where we can take away and put in. But at the same time too, I mean we're talking about borrowing dollars at record low interest rates. You know next to nothing to be able to put people to work to invest in our infrastructure and add dollars to our economy almost will pay for itself in the long run.
(GR): So if spending more on the nation's infrastructure involved raising the deficit higher and increasing the national debt you would be OK with that?
(CD): Well, I don't want to... I don't think we should be encouraging raising the national debt but at the same time I think we need to look at it as an investment. Look at it you know 10 years down the road. What is the payoff? Let's not just look to tomorrow like the Republicans are doing right now, seeing spending is bad, as opposed to looking it as an investment. So I am all for you know investing our infrastructure, putting people to work and improving our roads and bridges and water and sewer pipes.
(GR): The other part of this do you have a position on the two remaining options for I-81? A new version of the elevated highway and a street level boulevard.
(CD): Well look, I've been working in this district for the last 12 years. I've been hearing directly from people, from leaders you know talking about how this is such an important issue for the future of this region. You know we have to be bold about this. We have to look at this not about just tomorrow but the next 75,100 years. And you know what we saw in the 50s it was a top down approach. And the community was not included. And I want to make sure that the community…
(GR): Ok, but do you have a position, do you have a position on the two remaining options for I-81 it's a new version of the elevated highway and a street level boulevard. The decision has to come from the state and be pushed up to the national government and the local leaders are all taking positions on this. Do you have a position?
(CD): At this point, you know I think we need to look at the data, look at you know what the draft environmental impact statement says in December and then decide you know once we have the facts and the figures to really make a strong decision about what we should do for this community. But I will add too, it should come from the community, it should come from people of this district. It shouldn't come from a top-down approach. It should come from people who are living here.
(GR): Congressman Katko, do you have any different views from what you just heard on either infrastructure and the way to think of it as a national spending priority, or the positions on I-81?
(JK): We've already made it an actual spending priority. When I was campaigning against the suggestions of my campaign manager at the time, they said "Don't make promises during the campaign." I made the promise that I was going to get, I was going to get it a long-term highway bill passed. After 35 short-term extensions over last year -- or in the last decade -- that completely stifled highway construction projects, because they didn't know whether they were going to have money in two months because they kept a series of continuing resolutions. We delivered the first long-term highway bill in a decade and I was a lead negotiator as a freshman on that bill. I was even appointed to the conference committee to meld the Senate and House versions of that bill. And that bill, plussed up spending for highway infrastructure and related projects by 10 percent over, over the span of the project. And I'm very happy to report that I also was able to get Interstate 81 designated a high-priority corridor, which is ensuring that that's going to be properly funded and that an environmental impact review it's going to get the proper attention. I was also able, as part of that, to restore $15 million in cuts that were coming to CENTRO that would have crippled them and cripple people's ability to get to work. So we've already started, but that and the roads and bridges that you see the construction projects are already starting, and it's a start. I mean, there's also things we can do, I think, that we've got to start thinking more about. The water systems nationwide are struggling, we saw what happened in Flint. I'm an advocate and I advocated for the city of Syracuse on their behalf and I received some requests from the mayor to do so, to support the clean water, clean water grant programs that are block grants to the states. We need to beef those up --
(GR): And so what about the same issue though about -- so you've delineated a lot of new spending and the importance of it. Are you, where are you willing to give up some spending in order to provide more infrastructure support?
(JK): Sure, we already did. And I'll tell you what we did for the highway bill, which we should do the same thing for the others. The highway bill didn't increase, it didn't increase spending. It found other areas. There's this thing in Congress we have now, a "pay-for." In other words, no new spending without finding cuts elsewhere in government. I know this is going to come as a shock to you and the listeners out there, but there's a significant amount of fraud, waste, and abuse in the government. And you can find areas we can cut. We should find those areas to cut. And we we keep doing it and one of the areas that may be an area that's going to be from an infrastructure standpoint that might help is to bring the repatriation of foreign corporate assets. There's trillions of dollars overseas that has been sitting there because, because of this tax structure United States. If we incentivize those corporations to come back home and then to use that increased tax revenue for infrastructure projects, that's one thing I think that --
(GR): So to interject again, you think that we can make the investment in the nation's infrastructure that we need to make without borrowing more money in order to do it?
(JK): We have to. You know, and we're doing it and that, that's what we're trying to do, we're trying to find ways to it. And again, I just said we plussed up spending on the highway bill in that first long-term highway bill in a decade and the plussed up spending by 10 percent and we did we didn't increase, increased taxes to do so.
(GR): What about I-81? Do you have, and we'll give you Ms. Deacon, a chance to respond quickly here in a minute, but the other piece of this. Do you have a position on the two remaining options for I-81?
(JK): No I don't. My job as a federal person is to deliver the dollars, which I've done, and to make sure that Interstate 81 is going to be properly funded, which it is. My job now is to make sure that all four areas were properly funded. And if you remember back in January when I first got into office they were going to issue a scoping report, that back then that only had the boulevard and viaduct options, and through my advocacy they delayed the implementation, the scoping report, for four months to include the tunnel option and the recessed highway. Those have been knocked out because of cost, and probably justifiably so. But the other two options now, I have to make sure that the outlying areas, like I've been advocating for DeWitt to have a town hall meetings. Tonight, Skaneateles is going to have a town hall meeting and Auburn, the outlying areas need to have discussions on this highway, because if it becomes a boulevard, people are going to be cutting through those small towns to get south to 81 and west to -- on the thruway. And we need to make sure they understand the increase in road traffic and that DOT understands that, and puts that as part of their overall plan, make sure the roads can handle it.
(GR): Ms. Deacon, I want to give you just a very very quick chance you wanted to rebut a couple of things, and then I do want to move on to another issue, so very briefly please.
(CD): I just want to add, too, you know, John said that he helped get this infrastructure legislation through. Well it was not nearly the type of investment we need. We need to see significant investment and this was, you know, just baseline increases to what we had previously. Second of all, you know, I think John mentioned something about repatriation and bringing companies back onto our land after they move their headquarters overseas. He voted against legislation coming to the floor to do that. So how can you say he wants to see companies come back on to our soil when he is actually preventing legislation from getting to the floor?
(GR): All right. Very quick on that last issue, then we are moving on. Congressman.
(JK): It's just not true, period.
(GR): OK. I'm Grant Reeher and I'm speaking with Colleen Deacon and John Katko, the two candidates for Congress in New York's 24th District. I want to move on now to another issue, the Affordable Care Act. It has had some successes over the years, in terms of insurance coverage and overall costs. But it has hit a pretty big bump in the road in terms of premium increases for the plans on the exchange, and some previous supporters have now begun to express some concerns about it. Congressman Katko, is it time to seriously rethink this legislation? What specific kinds of changes would you want?
(JK): Sure. I absolutely think it's time to. I mean, like you just said, the increases in premiums are a huge problem. We have Aetna, the largest insurer nationwide pulling out of the exchanges. You have the cooperatives on the exchanges that have gone belly-up or are going belly-up nationwide. And one of the fundamental principles of Obamacare was edging to get millions of young Americans to come on -- healthy young Americans -- come on to the health care exchange. It hasn't happened, so the funding mechanism isn't there. That's part of the reason why the prices are being driven up. There's some good ideas about Obamacare. Having up to 26-year-olds on your policy. Great idea. We should keep that. Having portability of insurance when you have a pre-existing condition. Absolutely, things like that are good idea. And the premise of having insurance for everybody available in the United States. Absolutely. We should keep that. But there is a better idea, and we've got the skeleton outline of one, and quite frankly, part of it's based on my advocacy. I stood up to my party time and again when they voted to repeal Obamacare without replacement. I'm very proud of that, and I kept my campaign promise to do that. And I did that because I'm under a forced leadership to tell them "look, no, people like me are not going to support these ridiculous votes unless there's something ready to go." And because of that, there's a working group, has come up with a skeleton outline of a plan that's going to basically -- having more of a market-based solution to Obamacare where people are going to be able to have insurance and they're going to get incentivized to get insurance either through tax rebates or through tax credits and also to open up competition for insurance companies across state lines to establish high-risk pools. Because that's what's really causing a lot of this funding costs. It's not the healthy people, it's the people that are really sick and we need to have, we need to have the government support as high-risk insurance pools. That's going to help keep the costs down. That's basically a skeletal outline of it.
(GR): Ms. Deacon, the same question about the Affordable Care Act. Do you think it's time to really seriously rethink this legislation and what specific kinds of changes would you be willing to support?
(CD): Well, first of all, I think it's interesting that John just said there's a skeletal outline for a new plan. Skeletal outline -- it's been six years. It takes that long to come up with a new plan, when you just said, though that it has a lot of good aspects, like allowing students to stay on their parents plan until they're 26, or to not allow insurance companies to deny people with pre-existing conditions. So it sounds like, hey, a great skeletal plan is the Affordable Care Act. Let's work to make it better. Let's work to improve it. You know as somebody who didn't have health insurance for a time in my life, I know how valuable it is for people to be able to have the option to go to the doctor, to get, you know, the health care that they deserve. You know, some of the things I think that we can do to look to improve it, let's repeal the excise tax, which means if you sign up for a high-cost health care plan, right now there's a 40 percent tax on top of that. And I don't think that's fair for, you know, people who maybe signed up for a high-cost health care plan because maybe they wanted to get good benefits. But, you know, their salaries a little bit lower. So let's make sure we're working with people so they have the opportunity to have affordable quality health care. But let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let's work to improve it and make it better.
(JK): That's pretty much what I'm saying. I mean whether you call it a radical restructuring, which it desperately needs.
(CD): John you have said you wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
(JK): Now, I said only if there is a replacement. I said radical restructuring or repeal. Either way, unless there's replacement ready to go, I would be against it and I'd back that up with my words.
(GR): So could you, Ms. Deacon, maybe follow up a little bit and speak a little bit more specifically about the kinds of changes that you really would want to see?
(CD): I just mentioned the, repealing the excise tax. You know, I agree with you, I think we need to get the cost down. As somebody, actually I was on the exchange when I was working in the senator's office and although my monthly payment went down, my deductible went up. So you know I experienced it.
(GR): But the excise tax, we're really talking about a marginal change there, so I'm really wondering, do we really need to rethink something important about this law?
(CD): No. I think I think the Affordable Care Act is a great first step. Absolutely. I think we need to improve it, make it better. But I'm, I'm pleased that we're looking at the 19 million Americans who now have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act.
(GR): Let me move on. Listeners have also asked me to ask you about the environment and climate change. So. Ms. Deacon, last month President Obama signed an executive order requiring that impacts on climate change be factored into national security policies and plans. Do you think the United States needs to become more proactive in addressing climate change? And if so, again what tradeoffs should the nation be willing to confront in order to do that?
(CD): Well look, I think you know climate change and global warming is one of the biggest threats that we face, and we have to take it very very seriously. I mean I've talked about this issue the entire campaign. It is something that we you know we have to look at it, you know, how it's affecting our entire world. You know, there are places in the Middle East right now where kids are joining terrorist groups because they don't have any other options, their farming has been in a drought for the last 10 years. So that's, you know, that's, that's why we're seeing, you know, the terrorist groups being able to recruit so many people, and we have to understand that this is a problem worldwide. We also need to look at it, I think, is an economic opportunity. You know, we've got, we need to transition off of fossil fuels and into renewable energies. Let's take some of our old factories and turn them into a wind turbine production facilities or solar panel production facilities. Let's use it as an opportunity to help America lead by example and, you know, really be able to capture the renewable energy sector. I think it's the step we have to take, we have to look forward. You know, we have to make sure that we're keeping our, our water and our air safe for, you know, my generation, my son's generation and for future generations to come.
(GR): Congressman Katko, do you have any different views on those questions about how to address climate change and the priority it should have and what tradeoffs a nation should be willing to --
(JK): Sure, slightly. I have a slightly different view. You know we have to, we have to face reality that renewable energy is not advanced enough to to solve the problem entirely. I absolutely agree with you, we've got to keep championing, going to windmills, for example, and solar energy, but it's not there yet and it's going to be a long time. Every expert says that. I've supported legislation to shift funding from fossil fuels to renewables, especially with respect to research, because that's important for us to do that. I also have supported keeping, you know, with new factories being built, having more strict carbon emission standards. But you also have to balance that with the economy, and its borderline economic suicide for us to unilaterally disarm completely on carbon emissions. And while the rest of the world gains a competitive advantage because it costs more to produce goods in the United States. So we have to balance the two and I think going forward, I reflect that in the way I've implemented my environmental policies, and quite frankly, I think they're working, because a lot of environmental groups are supporting me. I got home yesterday in my house and I got something in the mail from another environmental group championing me being a good environmentalist and finding the proper balance. But the bottom line is I agree with her, it is a profound problem. I don't think it's why ISIS came to existence, though is global warming. ISIS came to exist because of hatred for the West and the bottom line is going forward I think we need to have a policy for renewables that is going to balance the business interests and to keep jobs here but also to make sure that we're doing everything we can.
(GR): If you just, if you're just joining us you're listening to a candidate debate from WRVO Public Media between John Katko and Colleen Deacon. They are vying for the 24th congressional seat in New York. Well I want to -- you both have mentioned trade. And I wanted to come back to that. It has received a lot of attention during this election. And again it's been part of your messaging as well. Ms. Deacon, I'll stick with you for the first question here. Can you explain specifically, specifically how the Trans-Pacific Partnership would affect the economy in central New York? How exactly would that produce big job losses for the region?
(CD): Well, yeah, I mean what we saw, you know, with NAFTA, you know, thousands of jobs have left this district over the last 30 years. And it's because of these trade deals. I mean when you're -- I'm all for trade and making sure that, you know, it's a global economy. But we have to make sure it's on a level playing field. We have to make sure that when we're entering into these agreements with other countries that we have the same environmental standards, that we have the same safety standards, that we have the same pay and benefit standards. Because if we don't, then that's not fair. And that puts the American worker at a disadvantage. You know, right now we are seeing a trade deficit with other countries. And this, you know, we have to be cognizant of the fact that we need to make sure that American workers are the ones that are going to be able to go to work everyday and have opportunity, not workers in other countries. You know, I'm fully supportive again of trade deals. But we have to make sure that they help the American worker and give them opportunities.
(GR): Congressman Katko, I wanted to get your reaction to one specific claim Ms. Deacon made and, I've talked to my economist colleagues about this. Do you agree with her that the main job losses in this area have been because of trade deals?
(JK): I think it's definitely a contributing factor and I'll tell you why. Because when I was talking to folks on the floor about the TPA, which was, which was passed with Obama's was pushing, and then against my objections, and another example I broke my party. But then also the TPP was just coming up. I had people look me in the eye and say "you know John, there's winners and losers in these deals in the United States and quite frankly the Northeast is probably going to continue to be a loser in these deals." Well, I don't accept that, and I absolutely positively think that we can fix this by not getting into these ruinous trade deals. These trade deals are allowing jobs to be exported to other countries. We know that for the last, 30,000 jobs have left central New York since NAFTA. Now some people argue it wasn't because of NAFTA, it was because of lower labor costs elsewhere. I know that because I saw when I was a prosecutor in El Paso, across the border, they are paying $1.50 an hour for people working in Ford plants. I understand that, but the bottom line is that those deals are ruinous. So I agree with Ms. Deacon regarding that. But I have a way -- if you will indulge me a moment -- I have a solution. And that is, before we enter into these trade deals and give all our, give a lot of, decide who in the United States we winners and losers, I think we should take a step back and see why are we losing jobs overseas and why are companies moving overseas in record numbers. They're moving overseas because it's wicked expensive to do business here. The playing field is not level. I have great faith in the American worker, the ingenuity. I've visited pretty much every factory in this district. Some of them multiple times. They're lean and mean and they are succeeding against unbelievable odds. And I'm convinced that if we leveled the playing field from a tax structure and from a tariff structure that we would absolutely, positively bring those jobs back and then people will be knocking on the doors to do business with us and we would have our economy flourishing. It would also help the poverty issue. So I think leveling the playing field internationally is the priority one before we enter any more these erroneous trade deals. So, she's right. These trade deals stink and I think we need to take a look at the bigger picture.
(GR): Ms. Deacon, let me just give you a very brief opportunity to respond to just the last part of what the congressman said there about another way to look at possible ways to remedy a problem that you're both identifying.
(CD): Well, I mean what specifically?
(GR): Well, I'm sorry. I saw you shaking your head there.
(CD): I mean, I've mentioned earlier, John Katko, the only reason he voted against the Trans Pacific, or excuse me, the Trade Promotion Authority was because Obama was the one that was the lead negotiator. He said, he's quoted in the Auburn Citizen as saying that he doesn't think Obama can make the deal. Second of all, you know, I'd add, you know, he says about corporations moving overseas. I mentioned it again. He has blocked legislation from coming to the floor that would end these tax loopholes. So you know he says something on the campaign trail and does something completely different when he's in D.C.
(JK): I need to respond on that.
(GR): On that last point only, please.
(JK): Sure. I mean first of all, it's not true what she's saying. And second of all, the reason I voted against the trade deals is because I, too, saw a lot of my friends and a lot of family members lose jobs because of what happened over last 30 years here. And I desperately love central New York and I don't want people moving overseas or losing their jobs because of these trade deals. When someone looks at me now and says, "John, there's winners and losers in these trade deals." And I said "well not for me." And that's why I stuck up for these people and that's why, quite frankly, I've got tremendous support from the trade unions and labor unions because they are supporting me, because they know that I've got it right. And I understand what they're going through and what they've gone through.
(GR): I want to move now to the Middle East. There are so many questions that could be asked related to the Middle East, but I want to try to boil it down to this, if possible. Normally in recent American politics when it comes to the use of force internationally, Republicans are typically quicker to exercise that option than Democrats. But this is not a normal year. And one of the concerns that has been raised by Democrats during the primary and by others since, is that Hillary Clinton seems to be a little more hawkish than Barack Obama, more willing to involve the United States militarily overseas. In some ways, Donald Trump seems less eager to commit troops abroad, but he also talks very aggressively in other ways. So I want to use the Obama years as the comparison point here for this question. And Ms. Deacon, I'll start with you. Would you regard yourself as more or less eager than President Obama to employ force internationally, given the region as it is right now, or were you about the same on that issue?
(CD): Well look, I think you know, boots on the ground is our last resort. We can't, you know, send troops overseas in these endless wars. You know, my father is a veteran. My two uncles were in Vietnam. And I, you know, I see firsthand how these wars can affect families. But, you know, we have to do everything that we can to make sure that we're we're fighting ISIS and we're, you know, eliminating these threats. And I can tell you, Hillary Clinton, she has the knowledge about foreign policy and Donald Trump, I mean he is somebody who is completely unfit, doesn't have the understanding or the ability to be able to be our commander in chief. I mean, he's somebody who is terrifying to think about having the nuclear codes. He's somebody who has called our generals, that they've been reduced to rubble he's said our POWs --
(GR): But I want to focus on the comparison to the last eight years. And again, you know the likely outcome of this presidential election is that Hillary Clinton is going to be the president. So, so focus on that. I mean, how do you see yourself in comparison to what's happened in the last eight years. You say boots on the ground are the last option. But can you give me, and can you give voters, a general sense of where you sort of, your basic orientation on this because again, there is concern among Democrats that Hillary Clinton is more likely to involve the United States in a protracted intervention over there in that area.
(CD): Well again, you know, boots on the ground is a last resort. I mean, we have to, you know, have all of the options on the table, but obviously, you know, making sure that we're only use them if if necessary. I mean, this is a crisis and we do need to, you know, work together to make sure we're doing everything we can to help stabilize the Middle East for good. So, you know, I would look at, you know, every idea, every every piece of legislation, everything that comes my way and judge it appropriately at that time.
(GR): Congressman Katko can you place yourself relative to the last eight years?
(JK): Well, to begin with, Barack Obama is Neville Chamberlain on steroids. By that I mean he is, he thinks he can win over his enemies through appeasement. I can tell you from being a gang prosecutor for 20 years, the only thing the bad guys understand, like Putin and like Iran and the folks in North Korea, is strength. Ronald Reagan projected strength, because they knew they didn't want to test Ronald Reagan. You can't do that with, by trying to have appeasement and when you have appeasement you have ruinous deals like the Iran nuclear deal, which my opponent supports, which is a terrible thing. The bottom line is Hillary Clinton, let's not forget ISIS metastasized on her watch. ISIS in Libya was destabilized on her watch and her advocacy. The Middle East was destabilized through her advocacy thinking that these, these nations could all of a sudden magically become democracies. And those are the types of things we've got to consider now. On the other hand, projecting strength, whether it be from Hillary Clinton or from Donald Trump, I think is critically important. Having a strong, well-funded military and the bad guys looking you in the eye and sizing you up and saying "OK I don't know if, I don't know if I want to test this person." Well, Hillary came in and she is she wanted to have the "reset" with Russia. What happened? Russia, all of a sudden invaded the Crimea and for the first time in 40 years they're involved in Syria. Aleppo is a mess because the Syrian regime is being backed by Putin, and they hadn't been in Syria in 40 years. So whomever the two people are, I think having strength and the character to look them in the eye and say, "you do this and going to be a problem." But I do not under any sense -- I agree with her on one point. I think boots on the ground should be a very last resort, and I say that from a personal standpoint. I have a 21-yearold son who I had to swear into the Army, who is in the Army National Guard. He's graduating Geneseo as an officer. If there is a conflict, he's going. He's in the infantry and he's got go as an officer. He'll be on the front line, so for his sake and everyone else's, we shouldn't put anybody in harm's way unless it's absolutely positively a last resort.
(GR): We only have a couple of seconds left, literally a couple seconds. Ms. Deacon I want to give you the last word. Anything that you just heard there that you want to respond to.
(CD): No. I mean, I think this is an extremely important issue, something we should absolutely be focused on every single day to make sure that we're keeping Americans safe and doing everything we can. You know, I respect John's son's choice to join the military. I think that's very commendable and I'm glad to know that we have soldiers who are willing to go to war and help keep us free.
(JK): Thank you.
(GR): This has been a conversation from WRVO Public Media with the two candidates for Congress in the 24th District of New York. Democratic challenger Colleen Deacon and incumbent Republican John Katko. Thanks again to the two of you for talking with me.
(JK): Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
(CD): Thank you.