The two candidates vying for the Republican Party's nod in the 21st Congressional District showed a lot of similarities during an hour-long primary debate held Thursday in Watertown. The debate between Matt Doheny and Elise Stefanik was broadcast on WWNY in Watertown and North Country Public Radio and public television.
Both candidates want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and repair the medical care system for veterans.
They were also both against the 2008 bailouts for automakers and the big banks, though their reasons why differed a bit, and they used that topic as an opportunity to criticize each other. Stefanik called out Doheny for the time he spent on Wall Street. Doheny noted that Stefanik was working for Republicans in Washington who supported the bailout.
"My family's small business, we aren't a Wall Street company," Stefanik said. "We're a Main Street company. If we fail, no one is there to bail us out. So we need to have an even playing field for small businesses to be able to compete with larger corporate interests and Wall Street. I don't support the bailouts, I didn't support TARP."
Doheny agreed, saying that certain businesses shouldn't be given preferential treatment.
"Companies that go ahead and make bad decisions have to live with their actions," Doheny explained. "And if you run out of money, you don't have liquidity, you actually had a bad business model, guess what? You file for Chapter 11. The companies, the banks, the insurance companies and the auto companies that could have actually survived, would have survived within Chapter 11."
The two Republicans agreed on several local issues, like supporting rural hospitals in the district and Fort Drum, and both oppose Common Core.
But the pair disagreed on the building of Interstate 98, also known as the Rooftop Highway, across the northernmost portion of the state. Stefanik said the government should be investing in the infrastructure it already has.
"My family's small business, we have trucks on the road five to six days out of the week," Stefanik explained. "We feel firsthand the challenges stemming from our crumbling infrastructure system. So I hope to be a committed voice to invest in what we have. To invest in rail, roads, waterways, sewers, so that we can have a 21st century economic growth."
Doheny disagreed, saying Route 11 needs to be improved in order to bring continued economic growth to the area.
"Every door I knock on, how are you going to create jobs?" Doheny said. "Guess what? If it's hard to get in and out, if it is physically hard to get there, guess what? People aren't going to do it. They can vote, they choose with their feet every single time out. So that's why we need to upgrade our infrastructure. And Elise is right, it's not just necessarily roads, it's rails and otherwise."
Both did agree that there needs to be more focus in the North Country on expanding cell phone and broadband Internet access throughout the largely rural district.
Voters will decide who will be on the Republican ticket June 24. Either Doheny or Stefanik will run against Democratic candidate Aaron Wolfe and the Green Party's Matt Funicello.