The race for central New York's 22nd Congressional District, which spans from Binghamton to Utica, is heating up. Incumbent Richard Hanna and Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney are competing for the Republican Party's nod in June's primary election. Monica Sandreczki speaks with Hanna about his congressional record and working in Washington.
Morning Edition: This is your second time up for reelection. Why should you be reelected?
Richard Hanna: We have a great record down here. It’s outstanding by every measure. And I think if people took a minute and looked, most people would agree. Now, we’re all going to disagree on particular issues, but one of the things we do here - we have done my first two years - have more work pass the floor, become law than every other of the hundred, roughly hundred new members. We’ve made our work in the district the hallmark of what’s great about this job: helping people. But we’re getting back to people in 48 hours. We tell thousands of people – veterans, IRS, social security, immigration, you name it, the small business administration. I put myself on different committees to really make the most of it for where I live. I’m chairman of contracting and labor and small business. I’m vice chair of railroads. I’m vice chair of hazardous materials and pipelines. I pushed hard for the Keystone pipeline. I’m also on the Joint Economic Committee.
We are engaged. We run a very efficient office, which I take pride in because I ran a great business for thirty years in upstate New York and I brought that here with me. We’ve got wonderful people, bright young people who enjoy the job for the opportunity it brings. And that’s the way I look at it. We’re very responsive. I don’t know if I did this before, but I give out my cell phone to anybody that wants it. It’s 315-794-9602, just call. I’ll tell you something else I do that nobody else does. And that is every time we take a vote and I just checked, we write a detailed explanation on the bills. I’ve written 514 as of today and it’ll be 515 by the end of the day. So we’re absolutely transparent. So when you hear things about our record, all you have to do is go to our website, hanna.house.gov, and read it. People joke that I do my oppositions’ research for me, but the reality is this isn’t my life. This is something I’m doing late in life with the experience I’ve gained and whatever value I can bring, so we’re transparent and we’re out there everyday voting not just the way people do on bloc, but reading, understanding and explaining why we do the things we do. So, that’s my way to lead, that’s my way to show good governance, and my way to hang myself out there for people to criticize and I think it’s appropriate.
That, and I like New York and I don’t want to leave. And don’t want my kids to have to. If you look at New York and what’s happened to it since I got out of college in the 70's, it’s gone downhill for a lot of the reasons this country is in trouble. Voter bureaucracy, too much regulation, killing a spirit of entrepreneurs. New York’s got some of, well not some of, the best educational institutions in the world and Binghamton University is right there with them. 87th in U.S. News and World Report. I’ve been there many times. I’m head of the science, engineering and math caucus, co-chair, and those are things I believe in. I look at the opportunities of New York and we work everywhere we can with businesses. We’re just out there everyday to find this job, bleed the blood for all we can as long as I’m here and, you know, it’s never going to be about me. It’s never going be about the people that work in the office. It’s about the people we work for and it’s about restoring the country and restoring New York. That’s what we do.
ME : What’s one of the most significant things you learned about the way Congress works during your first two terms?
RH : Ha! How badly it doesn’t work! How dysfunctional it is. How hard it is to create consensus. How the extremes of everything control so much of what goes to the floor. How kind of eager people are to get their own way and compromise on certain things is difficult, but it shouldn’t be a dirty word. We’re a country built on trying to get along, trying to work on our differences. Very pluralistic country with lots of different interests and ideas. Right now we’ve got a situation where the far left and the Republican Party have deep, deep disagreements.
So you find yourself in a position where you really want to get things done and we have so many things we need to work on; education reform, focusing on so many things to grow our economy, make ourselves globally competitive and yet at the same time we’re not talking about tax reform and we have some of the most punitive tax rates in the world.
We ask corporations who make billions of dollars stored overseas to pay taxes on it overseas and we want to charge them the highest rates in the world to bring it here. And there’s estimates of $1 trillion to $2 trillion floating around out there that a lot of people believe most of it would come back. I certainly believe that. So tax reform is critical, but we’re not doing it!
Immigration reform is something we should talk about. Binghamton University is a perfect example of that. We have people who are educated come here with doctorates and great degrees and knowledge and they want to be here and we make it hard for them. I get criticized for that, but you’ve gotta find value and you gotta grab it. We have a right to know who’s here, why they’re here, how they contribute, how they don't. I think we need to pick and choose who we invite. But sometimes science, technology, engineering, if you look at Silicon Valley, half the companies there were created by foreigners. And I love Binghamton University, I can’t say enough positive things about it. I meet people having issues pursuing their life’s dreams in a country they want to be in. I know that makes some people upset, but that’s part of what grows an economy.
We’ve got a great record down here in terms of being productive. I voted to ban earmarks; I voted for a balanced budget; I voted against Obamacare something like 48 times. And we focus on Second Amendment rights and all the things I think people in the district hold deep in their hearts.
I was one of twenty-something members who voted for reauthorization of the Patriot Act because I looked at it and said, “they can fix these things” – the lone wolf provision, the roving wiretap position. Those things are, frankly, an anathema to our democracy and we saw that with the NSA. You know that’s kind of who I am. I’m not a complicated guy. I’m gonna go home this weekend and I’ve got six acres of corn to get in with my kids.
ME : What do you see as the most important issue in your district?
RH : Oh God! That’s easy! Everything that’s wrong with New York state is emblematic of the direction this country’s going. We are killing businesses; we are forcing people out of state just like we are forcing businesses to leave the country with our tax code and other reasons. New York, when I came back from college in the 70's, the late 70's; it was a place I knew I could build a life, build a business and I was fortunate. I started with nothing. My dad died when I was 20. I had my four sisters and mom, but I was eager to come home. And I love the Adirondacks, I’m a pilot; I love to fly around up there. But you can’t do that anymore! Why can’t you do it? It’s because we took our prosperity for granted. We spent all the good things that built our state and we took it for granted. We built a welfare state. We built a state with the single most bloated bureaucracy in the country. We’re number one in debt per person; we’re number one in local income taxes; we’re number one in gasoline taxes; we’re number two in local corporate taxes; we’re five in state and local property taxes. I mean you can’t - how can you sustain a business with 49 other places that do it better than us? Yet here’s the irony; we’ve got Binghamton University. We’ve got the BCCC (Broome County Community College), I guess they don’t call it that, but we have 20 or so universities in my district. Graduate, educate some of the best minds in the world. You think those kids don’t want to be here, those young people? A lot of them do! But they leave. And why do they leave? Because opportunity is other places.
New York has made it so that the sign is out. The governor can say what he wants, “we’re open for business,” but where’s the proof? Where’s the evidence and where are the structural changes? You know it’s a nice ad to run, but people don’t believe it. That’s why I’m sticking around. I’m not afraid to fight back, I’m not afraid to be a thoughtful complainer. I’m not somebody who just lashes out. I’m somebody who wants to find solutions and believes in my home and my community and I watch poverty grow; I watch downtowns become vacant, second and third floors of businesses leave. You know, I don’t like it and I want my kids to be able to do the same things I did. And frankly, right now they can’t, but someday maybe they will.
ME: Now, you’re fairly socially liberal – you cosponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which prohibits job description based on sexual orientation. Do you think you’re isolating yourself from your more conservative Republican constituents?
RH: Not at all! Not at all! Look at the Supreme Court decision – who was right? Who was wrong? It’s the way we’re going in this country and it’s the way it should be. You know, I think the true definition of a conservative is staying out of people’s lives, not getting more involved in people’s lives. I support personal freedoms just like I support gun rights. It’s interesting because I’m running against a lady who apparently feels exactly different than I do on a whole host of things. She voted in the Assembly to censor the Internet, to censor by making it necessary for people to sign any post. That’s a violation of the First Amendment. Where I live there’s something called a nanocenter they want to build. There was a big push on that in our community; has been for fifteen years. It has a hope of saving where we lived and she voted against that. She voted against NUAIR; she voted to raise taxes on energy. I know how much different I am than her and I think some of it may come out on social issues, but the place where we’re more different than anything else is the fact that I never forget who I work for. I don’t take my job to be some kind of statement everyday about who I am. I try to make it a statement about what I want and what I see and what our community needs. And that’s the way I do it. There’s a bill in the Assembly she voted against that would have cut one and a half billion dollars in property taxes. Crazy stuff. All to be, I think, somehow extremely ideologically pure, but certainly the antithesis of leadership.
That’s who I am and people have a chance to look at my record. I’ve been here for 3.5 years; we’ve worked hard. I’m everywhere you know, I’ve had close to 60 open meetings where people can come in and sit down one-on-one and talk to me. I don’t think there’s anybody more accessible than me. I don’t like the title of “congressman,” I’d rather that people just use my name. Makes better sense to me. I don’t want to set myself aside from people; I want to be a part of them. So that’s what I do.
Although my little boy was on a commercial the other day and he complained to me, “people are asking me about it. I don’t like it.” So ha! It doesn’t work everywhere.
ME: This is an unusual race in that it looks like there will only be a primary and no Democratic challenger in the general election. . .
RH: That’s right and I understand that. I think the democrats are waiting until 2016 when Hillary Clinton likely will run and the Obamacare thing, I hope, will be off the table one way or another. And I get that and frankly, maybe the thing that sets me aside is I’m not here talking bad about people. I find common ground where I can. I try to be very civilized, very thoughtful and deliberate in my speech. I’m not here making enemies. One of the reasons I get so much work done is I work with people.
Unlike my opponent, who you know I’m being called out because I work for people. Well, you know, that’s the job! How do you get anything done? And my opponent Miss Tenney has never passed a single bill in her time in Albany. Nothing! And she’s been in office five times longer than I have! An office, rather, in Albany. She’s worked in Albany, she’s now in office. Her campaign and to quote the Oneonta Star has been nothing but inane name calling. And I agree with that. People are complaining that I don’t want to debate her. Well I debated the guy I beat, Mr. [Michael] Arcuri, something like 15, 20 times and I’m happy with that. But how do you debate with somebody who doesn’t have the capacity to represent their record or your record honestly. It's not helpful; it doesn’t matter.
Bob Loonsbury, WSYR in Syracuse, he called her out on something she accused me of. I have never supported, never will support late term abortions. I’m a pro-life guy who believes in personal freedom. And this is his quote, it’s kind of interesting. "It’s good to be a conservative, absolutely, but you’ve got to have your feet in reality and you have to conduct a principled campaign and going out there and saying falsely that your opponent supports the government paying for late term abortions doesn’t smell to me like a principled campaign. You can’t do the right thing the wrong way. You can’t lie to advance the truth." That’s his statement about her. Her whole campaign is like that. I think she saw an opportunity to get in an election, raise the ire of some people. But we, we’re confident that we will do well and we’re working hard to prove it. We’re not going to let up. I believe that by any realistic measurement, we’ve focused on jobs and the economy and people’s personal needs and their personal lives. And we’ve been successful at that and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. 717,000 people live in my district; my office is open equally to everyone. I represent a conservative set of values that understands how government can destroy opportunity, how it can interfere in our personal lives and how it can affect its decisions with its growing regulation, and bureaucracy can kill entrepreneurship and that’s all I am – just an entrepreneur who’s been blessed to do well. And I’m here to undo a lot of that, so that’s what I do everyday.
ME: Because there’s no democratic challenger, though. How do you think that will change the race?
RH: I have no idea. It’s a primary. My hope is that all Republicans - and there’s about 120,000 - show up. 130,000. I’d like to see every single one of them vote. I think one of the ways we hold our democracy in tact is by showing up for an election. And if people want to lose their democracy, the best way to do it is to turn it over to their neighbor, whoever that is, whatever they believe. So I’m just saying, get out and vote. That’s what people need to do. It’s the 24th of June. It's an off day, so it’s a little harder for turnout.
I think it’s worth noting that Miss Tenney is clearly running for two offices. I mean how the hell do you run for the Assembly and the Congress? They separate the dates, so in my book that’s opportunistic. I don’t think she has a right to do that. But people should get out and vote and support the candidate of their choice and we’re confident we’ve earned the right to go back.
And with that, I’m looking at the clock and I see I’ve got a minute and 20 seconds to get down to the floor and vote.
ME : (laughs) Alright. Well, don’t want to make you late. Congressman, thank you so much for talking with me today.
RH : Oh you’re welcome! And it’s my privilege.