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Coverage of the 2016 presidential election from NPR News and related blogs, including candidate profiles, interviews and talking points.On-air specials will also be broadcast as Election Day approaches, including the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.WRVO also provides coverage of regional elections both on-air and online.

Claudia Tenney on the Campbell Conversations

WRVO News File Photo
Republican State Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, right, speaking with Campbell Conversations host Grant Reeher

Central New York promises to provide some competitive elections this fall. One of them is in the 22nd Congressional District, which covers parts of 8 counties across central New York, the Mohawk Valley and the Southern Tier. That seat is open due to the retirement of Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld).

This week on the Campbell Conversations, Grant Reeher speaks with the Republican running for that seat, State Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney. Tenney lost in a close primary against Hanna two years ago, and is facing Democrat Kim Meyers this November. 

Interview highlights

(Grant Reeher):I want to start with a broad question about how you'd represent the 22nd District. In 2014, you ran a primary against the incumbent Republican Congressman Richard Hanna and prior to his retirement announcement, you had announced that you were going to challenge him again this time, should he run for re-election. Congressman Hanna endorsed one of your rivals in this summer's Republican primary. So what would be the main difference that voters could expect about how you'd represent this district compared to the way Richard Hanna has represented it.

(Claudia Tenney): As a member of the Assembly, I think that one of the things I'm known for is my aggressive constituent service and the work that I do to really go out and meet the constituents and find out what they're thinking and what they're looking for. Richard Hanna also represents me and I just think that the big differences are that I am much more aggressive as far as getting out and meeting constituents. I'm more of an active problem solver and really trying to figure out what's going on. That would be the hallmark of my time in the state assembly which I didn't start until 2011. And I think that's a big difference. Plus I think that I really liked to be with people and out in the field. I think that's something that Richard Hanna didn't really enjoy doing. I know I helped him run for office in 2008 when he first sought it and lost. And again in 2010 I helped him and went door to door with him and getting signatures for him. And I did try to help him as much as I could back then because I viewed him as someone that would be an outsider and not part of the political process like I was because I was a business owner and a lawyer and had nothing to do with politics as far as being elected official. Of course Richard has accused me of being a career politician when I started at the same time he did, at age 50. So I had a whole life and a couple of careers before I even got into, sort of actually accidentally got into politics. But yeah I think that I would be just different in that way. I think Richard doesn't really enjoy being around people or dealing with, you know, going to senior centers and working with people of all walks of life. Particularly the ones that I deal with in the Assembly a lot of them are retired, many people with special needs. Those are some of the focus that we have in the State Assembly because that's part of the dictate of the state Constitution requires us to focus on education, focus on people with special needs, focus on the truly needy, focus on helping the people in the community that need it most. And that's what government services are for. So the federal Constitution is a little bit different focus you're dealing with. The primary concerns are going to be national defense and border security and dealing with you know larger economic questions as far as dealing with the Trans-Pacific Partnership or trade and those types of things so it's a little different than we deal with on the state level a lot.

(GR): What do you think are the most important differences between your positions on some important issues and those of your Democratic opponent Kim Myers can you pick out a couple that really stand out.

(CT): Oh yeah. The biggest difference between me Richard Hanna and also the possible Independent candidate Martin Babinec is that I believe in small…

(GR): You mean Kim Myers.

(CT): Kim Myers or Martin Babinec, and Richard Hanna too, I’d put him right in with the Democrats is that I'm a small business owner who believes in policies that will favor small business, less taxes, less regulation. And I'm against cronyism. I'm against “crapitalism” or crony capitalism, whatever they want to call it. Taking hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money and giving it to the big corporations and basically begging them to either move to New York, live in New York, be in New York or our country at the expense of the small business owner who's not receiving anything from government. They're the true entrepreneurs and job creators they create 70 percent of the new jobs. And so I support those small businesses as I'm one of them and I run a small business. Perfect example, Kim Myers’ family founded a small business [Ed. Note: Myers’ family founded Dick’s Sporting Goods] in Binghamton and they moved to Pittsburgh and received all kinds of benefits from government to move there. She claims she left because they had to have a hub with an airport. But Syracuse is right down the road from Binghamton and much more convenient and in New York. My business is celebrating its 70th year here in New York. And sadly it's tough to compete because of the high taxes, the high regulatory burden, the high energy costs and the basically just a really unfriendly business attitude. And of course if you relocate near SUNY campus you're going to get all kinds of money from Andrew Cuomo’s failed StartupNY, which Kim Meyers is currently about to benefit from her family business, because now just coincidentally a couple of weeks before the election, they're are going to be moving  a distribution center for Dick's Sporting Goods right back into Binghamton conveniently before the election and Martin Babinec was one of the biggest supporters and proponents and an actively campaigned throughout the state of New York with Governor Cuomo in his failed StartupNY Program.

(GR): All of those things that you're mentioning sound to me like important state issues.

(CT): Those are federal issues. The federal government determines the personal income tax, the federal government determines wages, the federal government is the one that's negotiating the trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, NAFTA ,the Mexico trade deal, the Korean trade deal, the trade deals that have taken jobs out of our area and have made the rustbelt even rustier. There's very little, I mean I don't know, I'm not sure of the exact number of manufacturing jobs have been lost, but I'm one of the last manufacturers left in our in our county there's not too many of us left and it's very difficult to compete when one of our biggest customers who is in an Onondaga County business moved to Mexico because of a better trade relationship. That should never happen. I mean, we just met this week, I kicked off my new jobs program with a wonderful little company called Liberty Manufacturing. It's a takeover of the Oneida facility, the longtime company Oneida silversmiths that was in Oneida, New York. And they're building flatware for use with individuals. I mean it's really amazing they're rebuilding, they're bringing manufacturing jobs back. And this is what we have to do and if we're going to grow jobs and have as, I will say a workforce development person once told me in ‘we need regular jobs for regular people’ and that's what we should be bringing back to New York. I mean I'm not against high tech jobs, we should definitely pursue them, but we have to pursue jobs across all strata. Not everybody is going to be suited to work in the Nano Center for example if they don't have the degree or an engineer and not everybody is going to be an engineer. We have a great middle class that can do wonderful creative wonderful work for us as American citizens. So I would oppose the trade deals unlike my opponents. I would renegotiate them. I wouldn't undermine American sovereignty like the trade deals do. I wouldn't you know eliminate what they call cool labeling. That's the country of origin labeling so we know where something is produced. The TPP if it's voted on and I'm sure Richard Hanna will vote for it later this year, will take that away. So our consumers don't even know if they walk into a store if they're buying something that was made in China, Korea or right here in the USA. So and you know they would subject our private corporations, you know, U.S. based corporations would be forced to go into the world court to litigate claims and that's just not fair to our businesses. You know we were we need to protect our own businesses. We need to certainly trade with the world. But these these agreements can be negotiated in a much more favorable position for American based companies.

(GR):  How do you view Donald Trump’s campaign message and his tactics at present.

(CT): I thought he gave a wonderful economic speech a couple of days ago, exactly with the things that I've been talking about since I got elected in 2010 talking about what we've already said here, you know, low taxes, less government, better trade, deals trying to make the United States competitive again. I thought the economic conversation was excellent in contrast to what Hillary Clinton rolled out, which is going to be the really the end of the United States as we know it. It's going to be a takeover by what is European socialism which is now called democratic socialism. She's moved right into Bernie Sanders’ camp and we're going to see the greatest decline probably in the United States if Hillary Clinton were elected. So I see it as, I do cringe at many of the things that Donald Trump says and the way he says them. But Donald Trump is an alpha male. He is a warrior. He, you know, he chews on ice. He's a different kind of guy than we've ever elected. I do hope that he, you know, I know people don't like his tone sometimes but at least he's a strong person. It's going to take a strong person to reverse the really terrible course that we're on as far as a business owner in New York and we just cannot continue to sustain the debt and the and the problems we have in this country with only a 1 percent growth rate. The worst recovery ever and in a very bad recession we need to you know move into policies that are going to be beneficial for growing this country so we can provide the services that we need to provide.

(GR): I wanted to ask you a question about Hillary Clinton if she is elected. What issues could you see yourself working with President Clinton on.

(CT): I can't think of anything that I agree with her on. Maybe she would change her message a little bit I mean if she were more like Bill Clinton was as a leader and more of a charismatic leader who is willing to work with the Congress I think would be a lot easier. You know I don't know. She's going to have to change some of her positions to work with the House. I know that I don't agree with her on the trade issue. Her economic policy that she put out today and yesterday talking for increased taxes. And you know infrastructure spending that I think that is not the kind of infrastructure spending that I would advocate for. I think it's going to be tough unless she's willing to work and compromise with the House which will certainly stay Republican. And I think that Paul Ryan, you know, is very smart on the economy and economic issues. And he won decisively in his primary this past week. So I think she's going to if she wins she's going to definitely have to come back down to the middle because she's been pulled so far left by the Bernie Sanders group and I know a lot of Democrats who are supporting me who voted for Bernie just because they could not vote for Hillary. So I think that a lot of them would like to see, they’re business people, they'd like to see common sense policy about you know supporting small businesses and dealing with this trade issue. And unfortunately Hillary is not good on the trade issue and this is a big issue in upstate New York.

(GR): So tell me how you see this changing in 2016 if Hillary Clinton is elected president, which seems to be the odds on favorite at this point, and you are elected and you have the colleagues in the House that you are likely to have in the Republican Party. How is this going to change? Where is the progress going to happen?

(CT): Well there's the old expression if you keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting things to change that's the definition of insanity. If we continue to elect someone like Hillary to be the third term of President Obama, you are going to see the same thing over and over, the American people are going to get nothing. There's going to be no change, our economy is going to continue to decline. We're going to continue to be an unsafe country with overwhelming borders, growing national debt. And by the way the former Joint Chief Admiral Mike Mullen said the greatest threat to this nation is our national debt. And if you're going to elect Hillary Clinton we're going to have even a greater national debt greater threat to our communities, no protection on the borders, no protection of our small businesses. The globalists will come in and take over and you're going to continue to see a huge loss in jobs. A deflation that is just a decline of the United States and the decline of individual rights and freedom as designed by this Constitution and our republic. So I see it as a huge negative and as much as I cringe when Donald Trump speaks at least his policies are going to be something that are going to move America in a better direction.

Grant Reeher is Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is also creator, host and program director of “The Campbell Conversations” on WRVO, a weekly regional public affairs program featuring extended in-depth interviews with regional and national writers, politicians, activists, public officials, and business professionals.