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New York's 21st Congressional District includes all of Clinton, Franklin, St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Hamilton, Essex, Warren, Washington and Fulton counties and parts of Saratoga and Herkimer counties.0000017a-3c50-d913-abfe-bd54a8740000The incumbent is Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro). Stefanik was first elected in 2014 -- in which she made history by becoming the youngest woman in the House -- by defeating Democrat Aaron Woolf 53-32 percent.Other declared candidates in the 2016 race for the seat include Mike Derrick (D), retired Army colonel; and Matt Funiciello (G).

In North Country, Republican candidate Stefanik says "people want a new generation of leaders"

David Sommerstein/NCPR
Elise Stefanik, 21st Congressional District Republican candidate at her campaign headquarters in Watertown.

This week, WRVO is profiling candidates for Congress in central and northern New York. Today we take a look at Elise Stefanik, the Republican running for the open seat in 21st district in the North Country.

Stefanik hopes to return the North Country’s seat in Congress to the Republican side of the aisle as it had been for decades before Democrat Bill Owens won three times. She would become the youngest member of the House at 30 years old.

Stefanik moved to her family’s seasonal home in Essex County a little over a year ago. She grew up outside Albany, where her family owns a plywood company. Before moving to the Adirondacks, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked in George W. Bush’s White House. Later she served as a policy analyst for vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and helped him prep for debates.

Stefanik sat down with NCPR reporter David Sommerstein and began by talking what she would do to change the North Country’s stubbornly sluggish economy.

Elise Stefanik: At the national level, I think that what we’re seeing is President Obama’s failed economic policies, an overreach at the federal level in terms of regulations, higher taxes. So I’m focused on fundamental tax reform, throwing out the tax codes, starting from scratch to help lower taxes, cut taxes for hardworking families and small businesses, so that families are able to save more, but also small business are able to reinvest and hire those additional people.

More locally—as I think about potentials for economic growth—investing in rural broadband and infrastructure. This is an issue that I’ve talked a lot about. If we’re able to compete in the 21st century economy, we have to have the technological tools to do so, and I do think there’s an important federal role, to ensure that we have access to rural broadband. Additionally, infrastructure; I visited the Ogdensburg Port and Bridge Authority yesterday. This is an example where there’s an important federal piece to ensuring that our roads, bridges, waterways, seaways, sewers, have the infrastructure funding they need.

David Sommerstein: This district is hugely reliant on government jobs and government spending. So, how does an idea like investing in rural broadband, how does that square with the conservative notion of a smaller federal government?

ES: You know, I think the best way to grow the economy is not increasing the size of government; it’s actually cutting government so small businesses are able to thrive. This is a district that used to have a very high presence of manufacturing and as the corporate tax rate in the United States continues to be uncompetitive, we need to make sure we can compete with our largest trading partner in Canada, for example. But I do think there is a role at the federal level to ensure that there’s long-term infrastructure planning. So I think there’s a way for it to go hand in hand, but I fundamentally disagree with my opponents that I don’t believe that increasing government—more spending—is the answer to growing our economy. I believe that we need to have government that lives within its means and gets our budget under control.

DS: There’s broad consensus in the scientific community that climate change is real, that it’s human-caused. First of all, do you agree with that?

ES: I think that climate change is happening today, but I believe that we need to tackle the issue with partners around the world. If you look at China and India and other developing countries, we need to ensure that we’re tackling this not as the Unites States going it alone, but also with other foreign powers to ensure that we tackle this issue. But I think it’s an important issue.

DS: So, if the United States were to take the lead on that as the country has taken the lead on so many other issues, what policy issue would we change to mitigate the climate change?

ES: You know, I think it’s an issue where China and India have to come to the table. They’ve failed to do so, and that’s what I would be focused on is ensuring that we approach it globally because it is a global issue.

And, you know, as I travel throughout this district, the top issues that I hear directly from the voters—which is a way for me to hear what they care most about—is how we’re going to grow the economy, how we’re going to create jobs, how we’re going to reduce the regulations.

DS: So would you support, like, a carbon tax or a cap and trade program?

ES: I would not support a carbon tax or a cap and trade program.

DS: why not?

ES: Because I believe we need to have an "all of the above" energy policy in this country. This president has failed at having any comprehensive energy policy to promote energy independence and energy security. We have the resources in this country to decrease our reliance on foreign oil. I support oil and gas as I support renewables and I support wind, but I think they should be on a level playing field. I don’t think we should be picking winners and losers.

DS: This district is very purple. It’s voted for Republicans, it’s voted for Democrats at the presidential level and really all levels of government. You worked in the George W. Bush White House, you worked for Congressman Paul Ryan. You’re associated with what a lot of people would consider a pretty strong ideology. Congressman Bill Owens, one of his great successes here, I think, was his ability to work with both parties. How would you communicate to the more—to the moderates in this district, and to Democrats as well, that you are willing to work in a bipartisan way, and that you don’t share the partisan ideology of those politicians who you’re associated with in the past?

ES: Sure, so my name is on the ballot, and I am running as a candidate with my own ideas. I’ve been, I think, the most forward-leaning candidate in presenting what my comprehensive solutions are for a number of issues that we face in this district. I commend Congressman Owens for his service. There are certainly different votes we would have taken on certain issues, but he was able to work on a bipartisan fashion.

When I think about bipartisan issues that the 21st congressional district you can really have a voice—ag policy is a great example, negotiating the farm bill. That’s done on a bipartisan basis; it’s something that Congressmen Owens worked with other upstate New York representatives from the other party, Congressman Gibson and Congressmen Hannah, on. Additionally, promoting our relationship with Canadian businesses. I hope to be able, if I’m elected, to step in to Congressmen Owens shoes and serve on the National Northern Border Caucus, which is bipartisan organization, raising the awareness of protecting that trading relationship with Canada and promoting it.

DS: The House Republican Caucus took a very hard line stand, which led to the government shutdown and sequestration. Would you be willing to break with that caucus to change that, to move towards more longer term spending?

ES: Absolutely. I think we need to have longer term economic certainty. I spoke out against the government shutdown. This was before my Democratic opponent had even registered to vote in the district. I was a voice actually fighting back against the failures of Washington to solve the problems, and in that case in particular, again you had a short term budget solution not a long term budget plan for how we’re going to live within our means as a country.

Absolutely I’d be willing to break with the party. There are issues like equal pay for equal work for women, which I’ve been in support of and it’s something that I feel strongly about. What necessarily fits for national parties may not be the best fit for this district, but I’ve been an independent voice, talking about what my views are for this, to represent this district.

DS: You’ve been really all over the district, campaigning for about a year or more, over a year. You’ve met with many businesses, many community leaders, individual voters, and at that point when you started this, you were relatively new to being here full-time in this district. What is a big take away that you have gathered from those interactions?

ES: The biggest takeaway is the frustration with Washington and the understanding that Washington, as usual, is broken. The other big takeaway is that people are looking for a new generation of leaders. If you look at the top issues, whether it’s tax reform, whether it’s our increasing debt, whether it’s healthcare reform, our incumbents in Congress are continuing to kick the can down the road, and these are generational issues, so the fact that I’m running as a new generation candidate with an independent voice, I think that’s why you’re seeing so much support out-pouring across the district for the campaign.

David Sommerstein, a contributor from North Country Public Radio (NCPR), has covered the St. Lawrence Valley, Thousand Islands, Watertown, Fort Drum and Tug Hill regions since 2000. Sommerstein has reported extensively on agriculture in New York State, Fort Drum’s engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lives of undocumented Latino immigrants on area dairy farms. He’s won numerous national and regional awards for his reporting from the Associated Press, the Public Radio News Directors Association, and the Radio-Television News Directors Association. He's regularly featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Only a Game, and PRI’s The World.