Interview: Republican Richard Hanna, 22nd Congressional district incumbent
June 26 is Congressional primary day in New York. Congressman Richard Hanna was elected in 2010 and is running for re-election in the newly redrawn 22nd district. Hanna spoke with WRVO's Catherine Loper.
Congressman Hanna, what made you to run for reelection and why do you think the voters of your district should elect you to another term?
“I can tell you what didn’t make me want to rerun and that is my wife and kids, but beyond that, a number of things. I think that one of the things that is so sad about being in Washington, and I mean that word exactly how it sounds, is that there are not enough people here with long histories of private life; a lot of career politicians, a lot of people who I think assume that they know a great deal. But having built a business and had hundreds of employees and dealt with everything that the state can do and put upon a business and an individual and having done well in my life, I thought I was at least qualified to offer myself as someone who is different, someone who came here not to build a career but to make a difference in terms of the future for upstate New York which is so deeply depressed in so many ways. And you know, to that end, I think we have accomplished a great deal.
“I always feel like I can do more but we have helped virtually thousands of people in the district. We have closed out almost 2,000 Social Security, IRS, veterans, immigration issues and we’ve made individual service a hallmark of what I try to do, because it’s how I’ve built my life too. We’ve also have more bills pass the house than any other member of the freshmen and I am one of three freshman members who have refused to sign any pledges so I keep my independence and I know who I work for and I try to be thoughtful of that every day. So I’m not telling you this is the greatest place in the world to be, in many ways it’s simply not. It's as partisan as it looks. But if the voters want to look at our record and at my record they’ll see that I am one of the most independent. I try to be thoughtful and deliberate and another thing I do that other people don’t do is, if they go to our Facebook page, they will see that there is only one other person in congress that does this, every time I take a vote I put an explanation. It’s not just yes or no, which is easy, I write and our staff writes, what we were thinking when I voted that way. It opens us up to a lot of criticism but it also is the number one thing that I think government lacks and that is transparency. So I am who I said I would be, I try to stay that way and I am open to change where it seems appropriate -- and new ideas -- and I think that we have done largely what we said we would do. It’s a process. Nothing happens in two years, nothing big anyway.
“We started the North Eastern Congressional Working Defense group. We’ve got eighteen other congressmen in New York to help defend Griffiss [Air Force Base]and six other assets, big bases, around the state. We’ve worked closely with a number of businesses and been helpful to many of them. We’ve got other bills out right now that I look forward to seeing passed. One is on bonding, something I know a good deal about, for insurance. You know, it’s just a long list. I don’t get out on the floor and talk in demagogue; I don’t talk bad about people. I have sponsored a number of what I think are very good Democratic bills and they’re happy to sponsor my bills when they like what I’m doing. We are a bipartisan, thoughtful, deliberate office and we’re here early in the morning and late at night. It’s just the way I ran my life; that’s who I am. We’ve tried to raise the bar for ourselves every week, every month -- just do a little bit more returning questions and letters around in less than three days which is a record in this place.
“So if that answers your question, I think I would never assume that anybody has the right to be here, I think there is a great many people who have this job who feel deeply entitled to it. I think they’re wrong about that. It was originally designed for people to come and serve and impart their wisdom and knowledge and go home someday. That doesn’t happen enough. I have been here two years and I frankly think if I could stay a while longer, take it two years at a time, we will see results. I believe people will be comfortable that they made the right decision if they vote for us. And when I say us I mean there are seventeen people on our staff. I know I am in charge and I accept that, but it’s a team and we are all working in the same direction.”
What do you think needs to be done if you get a new congressional term to help the struggling economy in central New York?
“ Well you know it’s a good question but it’s not the right question. And I’ll answer that one too. New York is in many ways emblematic. It is a microcosm of what is wrong with this country. We have come from a great place; New York was a great enriched state and it’s over taxed, overburdened, over-regulated and it has become a place that people leave. The young people can’t find a way to make a living here and businesses that aren’t here don’t want to come here. We live in a very competitive country. The forty-nine other states, all of them do something better than we do. We have a great many assets to sell but good governance has not been one of them. Letting people keep more of their money has not been one of them. New York has kind of become a poster child for big bureaucracies and expensive place to do business, and without small business there is no economy. It represents over 80 percent of our general economy or something like that. Seventy to 80, I guess. And about 70 percent of all the jobs that people get. I look at New York and I say ‘gee whiz, if you can survive New York you can do well just about anywhere.’
“But the country is doing the same thing. We have this huge 75,000 page tax code, we have huge bureaucracies, and we have so many things that put us at the highest corporate taxes in the world combined with the most complicated, and I think in many ways the most unfair, tax code -- to everybody it’s unfair. And we also don’t have an educational system that I think recognizes the true plight of the middle class, which is shrinking, and I am very concerned about that. Middle class has always been those people who not only pay the taxes but support all of the economy.
“Our educational system, in terms of what it is focused on and what it spends and what people go to learn, should be more and more in STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. We are losing our edge as innovators and the entrepreneurs and people who are creating those value added products the world wants. We need to do that; we need to focus deeply on education.
“We can’t just throw money at the wall in education. We have to, as a country, decide what is going to advance everybody. To that end, my office and I, and as far as I know we are the only people in the building that are really desperately and daily committed to it, we are working on a bill to make science, technology, engineering and math affordable for people. And that is for teachers to teach it, which the president clearly wants to do and I agree with it, and for veterans to come back and get involved in STEM, learn STEM, and for undergraduates and hopefully even graduates to pursue STEM careers. That is the future of the middle class; those salable products.
“You know in the last 30 years about 98 percent of the jobs we created in this country have been service jobs -- $12 to $20 an hour jobs. Fine, but those are not the jobs that are going to rebuild the middle class and provide that historic notion of upward mobility and the American dream -- a car, a couple of kids, college education for those children and a dignified retirement that provides you with the same kind of lifestyle you lived when you were working. But STEM can do that. The world is changing. People don’t keep one job for a life time as we all know; they all have seven or eight. Two percent of the jobs, but the best paying jobs in America, have been STEM. So I focus on that.”
“What do you think needs to be done to tackle the problem of the deficit and can you explain your position on the debt ceiling?”
“Yeah, absolutely. I voted to raise the debt ceiling but only after a lot of really unpleasant-looking, sausage-like negotiating. We were able to cut, for the first time in history, the deficit going forth for ten years by almost a trillion dollars – 900 and something – and the sequestration was supposed to take care of the rest of it. I’ll put it to you this way -- if we had defaulted on a debt, and our interest rates went up a single point over ten years, it’s a trillion dollars. Two points is two trillion. It’s actually more than that. That’s at a time when interest rates were at a record low and we’re still paying over 40 cents on every dollar towards servicing our debt. So you had to vote to increase it. The question wasn’t whether that was going to happen; the question is, ‘what can we do so that we don’t have this debt, this fiscal cliff that we are facing, going forward?’
“To that end, whether people want to hear it or not, we need to address our health care, Medicaid, Medicare, in ways that are thoughtful and provide all those things that we want to provide. I believe absolutely that people should not be prevented from getting insurance because of preexisting conditions and a whole lot of other things. But that’s the big thing that we have failed to tackle. We’ll see what the Supreme Court does, but then the onus is with Congress to come up with a plan and I think the Republican Party will take on a bigger sense of responsibility in that regard. I mean, it’s one thing to say they don’t like something but it is quite another matter to say what they like instead. It’s going to be everyone’s job here, particularly I think the Republican House, to come up with ideas to provide health care that is affordable and doesn’t require us to spend 18 percent of our GDP on healthcare but something more in line with the rest of the world, which is nine, 10, 12, 13. Everything we ship overseas is a premium because of that – the high cost of health care in this country. It’s what’s causing the biggest portion of our debt. That’s why I haven’t voted with other people in de-funding a great many things that people would like to see de-funded; because I think it is tinkering at the margins and we need to kind of stand up and be counted and make harder decisions and less politically popular decisions about those big issues that really are driving our debt.”
Has redistricting affected the way you’re campaigning at all this time around?
“Well, only in that I am campaigning in places that I would have never had to. But no, not really. I’m the same guy. I’m a businessman who is committed to my community. I was president of the Community Foundation for Herkimer and Oneida County. I started a fund for woman and girls called Annie’s Fund. And I’m a guy who’s blessed to have started with nothing and been fortunate. I’m just a guy who’d like to see my two kids and other people’s children not just stay in New York but thrive in New York like I did and boy, it’s hard to do.”
Is there anything else you’d like voters to know before they go to the polls Tuesdays for the primaries?
“You know, I know I am not the perfect poster child for the extremes of my party and I’m comfortable with that. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t vote the way I do. But I’d like people to know that I generally try to be thoughtful, deliberate and considerate of everything I hear and everybody I meet and want to enter into my process of thinking and deciding how to vote, the widest variety of opinions. And I think to that end, I have been representative of a great many things Democrats like, and a great many things Republicans like very much, particularly on fiscal issues. So if that appeals to people, they should make sure that I don’t get a primary surprise Tuesday. Send us back to the general election and let’s have some real debates. Right now I am being opposed by some real extremes of both parties and I accept that and I look forward to being a thoughtful guy in defending my record.”