Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld) is leaving Congress at the end of the year. This week on the Campbell Conversations, the three-term Congressman reflects on his time in Washington with host Grant Reeher.
Hanna also discusses some of the more difficult votes he's made in his six years in Washington, the three candidates running to replace him in the 22nd Congressional District, and whether or not he's interested in running for governor of New York in 2018.
Grant Reeher (GR): What would you regard as your biggest accomplishment about the work that you did in Washington and what would you like people to remember about your time there?
Richard Hanna (RH): I think the word independence is thrown around a lot, meaning a whole host of different things to different people. But for me, it means being intellectually honest, being able to explain what you do and not looking at the direction of the party that you belong to or the other party, but saying "what is the right thing to do in this circumstance." And so to that end, what I've done, which is different than everybody I know in the House and Senate, we write about every bill we vote on. We've written about 935 or so vote explanations. So transparency is one of the hallmarks of our office. And of course, you could say that's good or bad thing because you're basically putting yourself out there, and as a member of Congress you don't necessarily have to explain anything. You know, it's hard to find a record like that of anybody in Congress other than us. And I do it because it helps us work through the process, it helps us understand what we're voting on, and it forces us to think differently sometimes. So we find ourselves having one of the lowest, or I guess most independent records there, not by design, but by outcome based on what we learn about what we do for the people of the country and the 22nd District.
(GR): And what would you regard as the most important thing that you failed at in Washington.
(RH): I failed to be entirely comfortable with the two party system. When I joined the Republican Party 25-30 years ago, it was a much different party than it is today. And I can say the same about the Democratic Party in different ways, though the the orthodoxy of both parties that's expected of members today I think is extremely intellectually limiting and narrow. And the lines that are drawn that you're supposed to stay in don't allow you the latitude to do and build what has always made this country do well, and that is have a pragmatic middle. Have a group of men and women who go there knowing that tolerance matters, pluralism matters, outcomes that everybody feels like they have something to say about and that somehow they may not be happy but it represents a future that they can say "I can identify with this. This is part of America and we're there a lot of different attitudes. But there's something of mine here." Today, you look at the way the parties run their elections, it's a winner take all four years and two years. Everybody is running now to have the House, the Senate, and the presidency so they can get their way so they can win. Well for my money that's the definition of losing, because you will always have these two and four year battles like that. And because there's a lack of swing districts in this country, like this one thankfully, you have 35 or 40 maybe, 50. The Syracuse [24th] district is one of those also, a swing district, where people are, whether they want to be or not they're forced to be more pragmatic. They are forced to be more considered in their view of the people they represent and they can actually be rewarded for it if they do that. We've lost that through gerrymandering in this country, you're always going to have districts that are deeply red and deeply blue. But we shouldn't have so many that that a party that's so successful at it like frankly the Republican Party has been throughout the state, We don't have a chance to break that foothold.
(GR): So as far as the idea of what you failed at, it sounds like that's what you're saying is you failed to make a dent in that culture.
(RH): That's right I didn't quite get to your question I know, but but yeah I looked at that and it wasn't what I expected. I expected more. I expected more pragmatism at the middle, because it's like in Washington when I'm been there... I've been in business all my life, not in politics. I've always had an interest, but I didn't do this until I was 57 and I thought "My God, look at all the things we can do." The need for immigration reform, tax reform. Pick any number of subjects, a permanently funded transportation bill. All of those things are so profoundly important and not that hard to do. But when you go there and people have signed 'No new taxes under any circumstances.' I've never signed any of those. I voted against the government shutdown. On and on and on. You know we kept a thoughtful and hopefully independent record. But I went there thinking God, there's so much to do here and so much opportunity. But the team sport nature of it kind of forbids that from happening.
(GR): So what was the most difficult vote that you had to cast. You've explained them all, but which one was the toughest one to come to the decision.
(RH): I think that being consistent over social issues for me has not been difficult, because it's where I've always been. I've always supported LGBT issues. I've always supported Planned Parenthood and a right to choose, precisely because I too am against abortion. And I think the things that are provided by a place like Planned Parenthood with contraception and everything else that goes with it and education, those are important elements and they do it quite well. Taking those votes was never hard, but it was never... you always feel the pushback from the people around you, because so many times I've been you know 1 of 200 and something, and you know I do that because I believe that's the right thing to do, and it's not something I can explain away if I do it wrongly. But those votes, being consistent on those votes. And in the environment. I mean I support the notion that we ought to talk about global warming. I'm with a party that... there are less and I think there's like less than a couple of dozen members who've actually signed a letter asking that we make that part of our platform.
(GR): Well one of the things that has come up there's been a recent conversation about you and a possible pursuit of the governor's office. You didn't start that conversation but now that it has started, can you comment on that?
(RH): I think it's started and ended. I've been asked over the years by a number of prominent people in New York City, downstate if you will, to run for governor. And the reasons are all to do with my record. If you look at some of the people that the Republican party puts up to run for state wide office you'd have to say it's an exercise in suicide. I mean Carl Paladino did terribly. Wendy Long has done terribly and will do terribly against Chuck Schumer. Now that's not a reflection on them or what they think. Chuck Schumer, or Kirsten [Gillibrand] or anything like that. It's the reality that if you want to win statewide office, and Republicans don't hold one right now, you need to appeal to downstate. You know Mr. [Rob] Astorino did a phenomenal job, won in almost 60 of the counties, right out of 64 I think, but if you can't carry downstate. So I've got a good record on gun issues. I'm an NRA guy and I believe in the Second Amendment. I also believe that the best thing that gun owners can do for their own protection is to too close certain loopholes and help with background checks or at least support them in most circumstances. But so you add that all up and I've got a great fiscal record. They say "you could win." Well fine. But you got to want to do it right?
(GR): Have you watched the candidate debates for your Congressional District between Kim Myers, Claudia Tenney and Martin Babinec?
(RH): A little bit, but not entirely no.
(GR): OK what are your impressions from your little bit of watching.
(RH): Well as you know, it's not news, I've been in Washington long enough to know that the fundamental problem with Washington is an inability or unwillingness and intractability to get things done that don't meet your 100 percent no compromise under any circumstances idea world view. And so I can't support Claudia Tenney, because it's nothing in any way personal, but that's the problem. You've got these extreme people who don't want and are reinforced, they become brands not legislators, not leaders. They take polls and decide what to say. On the other hand, I look at Kim Meyers, her story is a wonderful story. She's in Binghamton her whole life certainly doesn't have to be, the Dick's Sporting Goods company is in her family. And then Martin Babinec, a guy who built his own company and came back here with millions of dollars in his pocket. And they're both well-off people and said "you know what this is my home. I like the place I'm going to stay here." And you know Kim Myers is the same way. They're invested in their community and their lives show it. They're not just career politicians looking for a job. There are people in their late 50s, 60s, I think, and saying "this is a next step for me I can do it." So I think there's a real opportunity here with Kim Myers and Mr. Babinec. The question is can they be elected. And I think parties tend to go home, so as much as I admire anybody who can run as an independent, his path to victory is clearly a more difficult one. But I love the notion of Thomas Jefferson, kind of citizen legislators, people who come from something, add something and go home. Having been in Washington for six years and having met members who've been there 40 years, and all the crazy money that flows to them because of the committees that are on, the banks of phones that they have, and the fact that the local parties support them because they're easier to get re-elected. None of that's a reason to re-elect people. I think people have an opportunity here to vote for somebody that's that, if they don't like it at least they know their motives are good.