Interview: Republican Kellie Greene, candidate for 21st Congressional district
June 26 is Congressional primary day in New York. In the newly redrawn 21st district in Northern New York, Republican Kellie Greene is running against Matt Doheny. The winner of that race will face incumbent Democrat Congressman Bill Owens in November. Doheny lost a close race to Owens two years ago. This year Greene hopes to get the chance to take on Owens. Greene spoke with WRVO's Catherine Loper.
Why did you decide to enter this race for Congress in this new 21st district?
"Well I'm originally from Oswego, and of course when I entered the race, Oswego was still part of the district, it is no longer part of the district. I live a little north of Oswego, but my mom still lives in Oswego. You know, I’d been thinking about entering a race for quite a while now. I've been very active politically when living in Arizona for a while; I was very active in politics. You know, I was tired of yelling at my television set and feeling like the United States Congress, both sides of the aisle, aren't getting anything done, and we have a lot of problems facing our country. And I know that I can bring a different level to this role, simply because I am running for the right reasons, and I'm running to represent all of the people, and I think I have a lot of good ideas, so it seemed like the right time to get into a race where there really weren't many people running, only one Republican and one Democrat. And as a voter myself, I would rather go to the polls and have a choice."
Why do you think you should be the republican candidate to run against Congressmen Bill Owens over opponent Matt Doheny?
"Well I am a main street kind of girl. I'm like most people in upstate New York. I'm not a wealthy person. And since Mr. Doheny, even though he comes from the area, he comes from a Wall Street type background. And not that that's always bad, if you look at the makeup of Congress right now, we have a lot of Wall Street people and legal backgrounds, and it's certainly not working very well for us. And that's opposed to the candidates, I'm running against, Mr. Owens and Mr. Doheny. But you know, I'm a staunch conservative. And you know Mr. Doheny said he's a conservative this time, he ran more in the middle last time. And so I do believe that's where his true affinities lie, more in the middle as a moderate, and he's a lot closer to Mr. Owens in terms of his policies, his fiscal and social policies. So I don't see a lot of difference between the two of them, and I'm more to the right. So I believe that I am different and I give the people of this race more of a choice."
How would you sum up your campaign platform? What are some of the most important issues you’re running on?
"Well the number one issue of this race right now is economy and jobs. And how do we bring that back both to the United States, and more specifically our district. And I believe that I have a pretty good plan, that involved the Port of Oswego, but that's in a different district now, but it's still there, and they’re doing some wonderful things that I think will bring back revitalization back to that area, and the Port of Ogdensburg as well. So what I would really like to see is both of those ports getting up and running as container ports that would attract more manufacturing companies back to our area that rely on importing and exporting, as most do right now.
It would also be another stream for the rail, and for agriculture which is a big business that we have in our district, to be able to get their products to market, and that's one of the big deterrents is a price stand point, is the transportation costs and the distribution costs. So if we can utilize the resources that we already have in our existing infrastructure, instead of reinventing the wheel, which is what they always want to do. Invest millions of dollars and twenty years to build a new road. We have an existing infrastructure so I have a pretty solid plan to use what we've already got to bring manufacturing back, increase our tourism, and so that's my number one platform that I'm running on.
"I’m a big border security advocate. We do have our northern border, and people don't think about it.You hear about the southern border on the news, I did live on the southern border so I'm pretty aware of that issue as well. But our northern border is a pretty open border, and we’re the number one entry point for the drug ecstasy in our district, into the entire United States. So that is a pretty big issue, and we've seen drug abuse increase in our district. So a border security plan, and I fully expect those on the southern border be pushing through a border security plan, and I want to make sure we are included in it, and it's not just the southern plan, that we have a northern border plan.
"But obviously our fiscal problems are extremely important, and I'm certainly running on fiscal responsibility. I will not vote to raise the debt ceiling. We have to get our fiscal house in order. And we have to start cutting the budget, getting rid of unnecessary programs. We have over four hundred seventy-nine government agencies, at the last time I looked, so it's probably closer to five hundred by now. And we really cannot continue to operate in the manner we are and we need to go back to basics and go back to what the Constitution intended, which is a limited government with purpose."
Can you describe your position on reducing federal taxes?
"You know what I would really like to do is to see a flat tax. I am a big proponent of a straight flat tax where everyone receives a reduction, not just the wealthy, but you and I and everyone who's the average income earner would see a significant reduction, not just the people who are paying the twenty-plus percent range on their federal taxes.And I believe the number that's been tossed around on a flat tax, would be between seven and nine percent, so we’d all see a reduction. Now what would go away on a flat tax would be all those reductions and of course your April 15th tax forms would go away as well. And I think most of us would enjoy not having to do that. But I think a flat tax would give us a steady stream of income coming in and it would give a lower tax rate for all of us, and what it does is it forces the government to be fiscally sound. So they'll know what exactly is coming in, and they can mathematically calculate it, and do a fiscally sound budget. So I do believe in tax reduction, as opposed to tax increases, we just need to spend our money better. There's an awful lot of waste in Washington. I mean the military, even though I'm a strong proponent of making sure the military has what it needs, there's a lot of waste even in the military budget. Like it costs them something like a few million dollars to ship a tank during the Iraq war to Iraq. I work with shipping and logistics, and I would have been able to get it done for ten or fifteen thousand dollars. So it's a big, big, big waste there and how we negotiate our contracts, I think there's a lot of low-hanging fruit. So I don't think raising taxes just so we can encourage them to be wasteful, further in their spending. The answer is to reduce taxes to stimulate our economy in a true manner, and that's what tax reduction does for you and me, too. If we got money in our pocket we’re going to spend more.
As a Republican, how do you balance being for spending cuts, you've talked about, reducing taxes, but still helping your constituents by bringing home some federal dollars to help the struggling economy in northern New York?
"You know, I think that we always think that money is answer. Most politicians say, 'I'll get you more money for that, I'll get you more money for that,'" instead of looking at innovative ways and using the private sector. And often I think the private sector has far better solutions. And we want to get the money into our district that needs to be there. One of the first bills that I hope to introduce if I'm elected, when I'm elected, I should say, is that I would like a comprehensive infrastructure bill. But what we've got right now, which you’re probably aware, is there's a transportation bill in the House and one in the Senate, but neither seems to get pushed through. So if you look at the transportation bill it's all about highways, there's very little in there about infrastructure.
"I’d rather see a true infrastructure bill that addresses all infrastructure, that addresses the rail, the seas, and our ports, and our roads. Also our telecommunications infrastructure, there's a very big part of the Adirondacks that you can't get high speed broadband, you can't get cell phone coverage, that's also a deterrent to business. So a real infrastructure project that has a return on investment. Because when you spend money in an area, you want to be able to see the realization by seeing businesses growing, businesses coming into the area. And when they do, guess what, they’re going to be paying taxes and that's how you get your money back. So I don't think it's all about getting money, which we do in grants and subsidies, that's the wrong strategy. We need to be looking at this more like a business would look at it -- as an investment."
Turning to more social issues -- you mentioned border security, what is your position on immigration?
"You know, having lived on the southern border, I've seen this first hand. We absolutely need to do something about immigration. Right now illegal immigration costs the American taxpayer a hundred and thirteen billion dollars a year. That's the estimation by the Federation of American Immigration Reform. That number for the state of New York is nine billion. We are second as a state, only to California. Arizona and Texas have lower amounts that they're spending and most of us would think that there's would be higher because that's where the majority of the illegals are. But New York State's portion is very, very high. We cannot, as taxpayers, continue to support the illegal immigration from everything from their education, medication and incarceration. We really just don't have the money. We already know that we have a fiscal issue in this country, but this is just egregious. You know, as much as I care about the plight of people, I think that's something as individuals to care for people as well as the church. It is not the government's responsibility. I think what we need to do is to crack down on illegal immigration and we need to come up with a better plan. What that plan looks like, everyone has talked about expanding guest worker permits, I'm really not in favor of that especially when we have such high unemployment in this country and in my district its over twelve percent. We need to be getting our people back to work and focusing our economy before we can start thinking about bringing people in to work, even legally. They are typically low-wage earners, and view on immigration is, when people come here we need to give them parameters. They need to learn the language, they need to be able to be productive members of society. Too many immigrants we bring in end up on our social system with Medicaid and on welfare. So we need to make sure that when we do bring people here, that they’re productive members."
Do you consider yourself the underdog in this race?
"I think its kind of hard not to. I'm coming into the Republican party, and they’re not exactly thrilled with me. They’ve pretty much ignored me, as has my opponent. But I don't think that's a bad place to be. I am absolutely not the establishment candidate, I think we established that pretty quickly. I'm the anti-establishment candidate. But you know, at a time right now, most of us are pretty fed up with what's going on in Washington, both with the establishment and the Democrats and the Republicans. Most of us are not happy with what we see. I think it's a good position to be in, to be running against the grain. And as quote "an underdog." Never underestimate the underdog. I went to Oswego High School, never under estimate us."
Matt Doheny did come very close to beating Owens two years ago, if you do win the primary, what would you do to beat Congressman Owens this time?
"You know, I' running on my values, and my integrity, and my principals. And my principals are honestly conservative. So I think that differentiates me from Mr. Doheny on how I would run against Mr. Owens. Mr. Owens is a moderate liberal, so we’re going to disagree on the issues in terms of everything from spending to fiscal responsibility and jobs, and taxes. We’re going to disagree. He supported Obamacare,I do not. It' going to be pretty easy for the voters to see the difference."
"Our district tends to be pretty heavily population of Republicans as opposed to democrats. And I think there' a good compilation of conservatives in my district. I think running on good sound principals and good ideas is what will make the difference for me versus what happened for Mr. Doheny in the last election."