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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).

Congressional candidate Tedra Cobb on the Campbell Conversations

Tedra Cobb

Tedra Cobb is the Democratic nominee for Congress in New York's 21st District. In November, she faces Republican incumbent Elise Stefanik. This week, Grant Reeher talks with Cobb about why she's running, and her views on issues including healthcare, gun control, and more. 

Reeher:  Let me just start with a basic question. You are the challenger, so briefly, why should voters in the 21st District not return Congresswoman Stefanik to office?

Cobb: Well, I think the question is why should they vote for me, most importantly. And that is because of the experience that I have and my deep commitment to northern New York and my deep commitment to the healthcare system as a legislator, to my community, to furthering education and to good government. Those are the skills that I bring, but also, those are what we need now. And I think I’m the candidate and the person who should lead this congressional district. And I think the other thing is—and it kind of goes to your first comment about Elise Stefanik not being present on your show—she is also not present in the district. And I am the opposite of her, and I think people and constituents want a representative who is here and who lives here and who knows our needs and our challenges and who will work with us, and I believe I am that person.

Reeher: I want to explore some of the things that you just brought up in a little more detail. Let me ask this question first, though, about the context of this particular election cycle. How much of the case—you didn’t mention this in what you just said, so I’m curious about this—how much of the case for your election is about national party politics, in addition to the local party politics? What I mean by that is how much of the case for your election is about changing the party control of the House of Representatives?

Cobb: Well, for me, it is about, I think, that we can see what’s happening every day in this administration and the chaos that is happening every day, but it is also about Congress not doing their jobs. They’re not passing meaningful legislation. They’re not solving our problems. People here are worried about healthcare. They’re worried about putting their food on the table. They’re worried about their kids going to school and paying for college. And so, for me, as the saying is, all politics is local. I have been running this race with the power—it sounds kind of crazy, but it has been—the power of the people here. I am running with the support and the grassroots and the grit of volunteers. We now have almost 1,500 volunteers. I’ve raised money within this district. I’ve won the primary with, at the end, five challengers, and we had almost 57 percent of the vote. That’s about the work that we’ve done together. So, for me, it’s about representing this district, but I am running with the people in this district. I’m not running with corporate PAC money or with special interest money, and so, I think it just shows why I’m running—for the people here—why they should vote for me—because I know the people here—and how I will represent them—because I’ve been doing it, and I will do it again.

Reeher: So, I wanted to ask you another question about the contrast between you and the congresswoman. You’ve mentioned healthcare and education a couple times, I think. What are the most significant policy differences between you and Congresswoman Stefanik?

Cobb: Well, I think, first and foremost, we can talk about healthcare, at least, Stefanik voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and without replacement. And we know through the Hospital Association of New York, our nursing homes, our clinics, we know that would’ve harmed our healthcare providers, closed nursing homes, closed clinics. We know that we would’ve lost thousands of healthcare jobs in this region, but most importantly, 64,000 people would’ve lost their healthcare. And so, that is, I would say, probably the most stark difference, is that my background has been in healthcare, and I’ve provided healthcare, having started a community health agency, primarily working with who are uninsured. I’ve seen this healthcare system as someone who has written federal grants, used federal funding to try to close that gap, and I know the Affordable Care Act has increased access to healthcare, but it has also shored up our healthcare providers and the healthcare delivery system. And so, that is the most stark policy difference—that repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a replacement.

Reeher: OK, thank you. One of the things that Congress did pass was the tax cut act, and I’m curious to know how you would’ve voted on that piece of legislation and whether that would be different from Congresswoman Stefanik.

Cobb: I would’ve voted no on that legislation. I would’ve voted no for the one reason she gave, which was salt—the salt tax. I do agree on that. However, Elise Stefanik said that she did support cuts to Medicare that were in that, and so, I think that that’s a difference as well. I would not have supported the overall legislation. I also would not have supported the benefits that went to corporations and wealthy people. And remember, those go in perpetuity; those are forever, but the tax cuts to working people are finite. So, to me, it’s a matter of priorities, and my priorities are very different.

Reeher: I’m Grant Reeher, and I’m speaking with Tedra Cobb, the Democratic challenger to Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in New York’s 21st District. One of the big issues in this election cycle, particularly for Republican incumbents, has to do with the relationship with President Trump. And I wanted to ask you a question about your perception of that for the congresswoman. Congresswoman Stefanik invited President Trump to Fort Drum. She’s backed him on some things, like the one that you mentioned—overturning Obamacare. She’s broken with him on other issues like trade tariffs and aspects of environmental regulation. So, how do you view the congresswoman’s relationship with President Trump? How does she fit there?

Cobb: Well, you have to look at her overall voting record, and she has voted with the president 90 percent of the time. So, again, you have to look at the overall and not pick out pieces. That’s what she will do. That’s what she does do. She’ll pick out a piece and say, “I’ve voted for this thing,” but you have to look at the person’s overall record. And I’m going to say one other thing, and this is about speaking up and leadership. Elise Stefanik invited the president to come to Fort Drum, which I think is a great thing. I want the president to come to Fort Drum because, of course, I want him to know about the gem that we have that is Fort Drum. But neither of them honored John McCain, so that is not lost on me. It is certainly not lost on veterans. It’s not lost on our military leaders. And if the president did not mention his name, our congresswoman should have.

Reeher: And let me ask you a question about the president and your views of him. If you were elected, would you be looking to work with the president on certain issues that you could here? Or, would you regard yourself more as part of the resistance against him across the board, like a lot of Democratic members of Congress are doing?

Cobb: Well, I’m going to say this. He is currently the president of the United States, and my mission is to make sure that the people in New York 21 have their needs met. When he ran, he said everyone would have healthcare. He has not met that vision. He’s not secured healthcare for everyone. That’s my mission. If he’s going to help us to do that, I want that to happen. So, are there issues? They’re issues regarding farming. The tariffs are harming us in northern New York. And where we are, we have a wonderful relationship and trade partnerships with Canada. I live on the Canadian border. I’m on the northern end of the district. I go over the bridge to Canada a lot, and so, I would like to secure infrastructure funding. There are things. However, I would say this. This administration is in chaos, and I hope that, as things progress, we will be able to fix that chaos one way or the other.

Reeher: You mentioned Fort Drum before. I think you called it a “gem,” and certainly, indeed, Congresswoman Stefanik has made her advocacy support of Fort Drum a major theme of her campaign. You’ve kind of already intimated the answer to this, but I did want to explore this. How important do you think that role of the supporter of Fort Drum is for a member of Congress from the 21st District? And, specifically, how would you rate Congresswoman Stefanik’s effectiveness in that role?

Cobb: I think that she is focused on Fort Drum, which is a good thing, but I would also say to the detriment of the rest of the district. In other words, her focus is most often on Fort Drum, but not on the other parts of the district. There are times when I’m in Glens Falls or Warren County, and they’ve not seen her. We’ve not seen her in St. Lawrence County, so she will advocate for Fort Drum while she is absolutely not present in many parts of this region. And so, I think that the congressperson, whoever it is—hopefully, it will be me—needs to represent all of this region. And I’m going to take it even a step further, and that is really uniting this region. Sometimes, when a district is this big, we think of ourselves in district parts. We’re not. We share similar challenges, so, when we think of challenges on tourism: We’ve got Lake Champlain, we have the Adirondacks, and we have the St. Lawrence River all facing similar challenges. When we think of farming: We’ve got Washington County, St. Lawrence County, again, the Champlain Valley and Jefferson and Lewis counties’ farming challenges. When we think of education: We’ve got 10 universities here. Challenges: our healthcare delivery system. We’ve got similar challenges. And one of the things I would say is that Bill Owens was fantastic about being in the district and unifying the district and helping us as a district—or region—look at our challenges, work together, and he was the person who leveraged that, who coalesced us. And Elise Stefanik dropped that ball, and so, that is a lost opportunity and an opportunity that I will bring as a congresswoman, working with people to identify the challenges that we have, identifying the solutions that we have and, quite frankly, my experience as a local legislator, working with local government, with state government and with federal government to solve the problems that we face together.

Reeher: You’re listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I’m Grant Reeher, and I’m talking with Tedra Cobb. She’s a Democrat challenging incumbent Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in New York’s 21st District. I wanted to explore some of your views on the issues in a little more detail. Let me start with this one. Your views on gun control have become a theme and sometimes a sideshow in this campaign. And to get at this, let me start with an analogy with healthcare, and we’ll return to healthcare later. But, over the years, some Democrats have said that, in an ideal world, where we could start over, that they’d prefer to have a single-payer system, but since that’s politically unlikely, they instead support more incremental measures, such as, for instance, Obamacare. Now, you were recorded on a cellphone—and we’ll get to that recording itself in a minute, but—saying that you’d like to see assault rifles banned, but then, you said that you can’t say that in that district and be elected. So, let me ask you what would you indeed like to see in terms of changes to the current set of firearm regulations that we have at the national level?

Cobb: Sure. And, in fact, from the beginning of my campaign, I have put on my website—and this is about transparency, actually—I have an issue statement on many things. And guns and gun violence and the epidemic of gun violence is on the website. So, I have clearly stated that Americans, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, agree on banning bump stocks, agree on universal background checks with no loopholes. We agree upon the expansion of domestic violence laws so that families are protected, red flag laws so that people can go to a judge and are able to say to a judge, “Listen, I’ve got a family member who is a danger to him- or herself and others.” So, to me, those have been the things that I have talked about from the beginning. They’ve been the things that Americans, all Americans, agree on. To me, the Second Amendment argument is, in so many ways, a red herring to the issues that we are facing, and quite frankly, those kids brought up the issue of not being heard. And I was meeting with them to listen to them and to listen to their concerns. And I want to just say one thing, and that is the day of that conversation, there was yet another school shooting. And as kids and families are going back to school, we’ve still seen a Congress that has not done the things that we’ve asked them to do. Americans want to ban bump stocks. They want to close those loopholes. They want to have their families protected, and that’s what we need to focus on: their inaction and their lack of really protecting our families and our kids and our communities.

Reeher: So, let me ask a follow-up to that, and I have to ask this question, so, if a ban on assault rifles were to come before the House of Representatives, would you vote for it?

Cobb: People, of course, are asking that question, and they’re asking it within the context of the 1994 law. And the problem with that is that individual kinds of guns were identified, and that didn’t solve the problem of gun violence. I’m not sure if you know, or even listeners know, but in this particular district, the number one gun violence issue or epidemic is suicide.

Reeher: I think that’s true. I think that’s true all across the country.

Cobb: It is all across the country, and so, I think what we need to do, if we were to go to what you’re saying and kind of really have a conversation, get people who are gun owners at the table, get people who are parents at the table, get healthcare providers at the table, mental healthcare providers to the table. If all of us got to the table and started to say, “What should this look like? How do we pass meaningful legislation that solves this epidemic?” Banning an assault rifle is not going to solve the suicide problem, but access to mental health will, and that gets us back to healthcare. So, I think it’s a deeper conversation.

Reeher: Yeah, I understand what you’re saying, and I think that’s an important point, and I’m glad you’re making that point and in that way, but I do have to still push you on this because this has come up. So, if, though, let’s take the 1994 definition, if you like, which was to define an assault rifle in terms of having two of a whole array of certain features on it, if that were to come up again, if that 1994 ban were to come up again, would you vote for it?

Cobb: Well, the thing is, it’s not going to come up again because now we’ve got more issues. I don’t know how to get us off of the issue of one type of weapon. Now, we’ve got 3-D weapons that are coming out. The issue here is that we have got a gun violence epidemic. You can look at the data on suicide. You can look at the data on domestic violence. We can look at that data and say, “OK, here are the problems that we need to solve.” And we can say, “Here are the things that we agree upon.” We agree upon bump stock. We agree upon banning bump stocks. We agree upon closing loopholes. Those are things we agree upon. To me, the discussion about assault rifles needs to happen within the context of meaningful gun legislation and meaningful healthcare legislation, given that the people who have committed mass shootings, in many ways, retrospectively, what we’ve been able to say is, “Wow, this kid or this adult has had a history of mental health problems, and we did not see it. We did not treat it. We did not help their families. We did not help their communities. We didn’t help them in schools.” So, to me, that is the issue, and that has been the issue from the beginning. And as we as a community just talk about assault rifles or weapons, then we get off the deep issue of how do we solve the gun violence epidemic.

Reeher: If you just joined us, you’re listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, and my guest is Democratic congressional candidate Tedra Cobb. Let’s move to a—

Cobb: I want to say one more thing.

Reeher: Sure.

Cobb: And that is this is not about responsible gun owners. This is not about people who own guns and are responsible. This is about people who might be criminals or people who we know might harm other people or, as the schools and, I’ve said about, families suspect or [are] concerned. This is about that. And I think that that’s really crucially important in this conversation.

Reeher: OK, thanks, and I want to move on now to a different issue with the time we have left.

Cobb: OK.

Reeher: So, let’s talk about healthcare. We’ve talked about it a couple times before, but I want to get a better sense of your views on this. Would you, as a member of Congress, be looking to make major changes to Obamacare? Would you be in support for this idea of Medicare for all, which is something that a lot of Democrats have begun to take up? Where are you on that issue?

Cobb: So, for me, it’s a driving principle. Principles should drive our legislation. So, every person should have portable, which means they can move with their healthcare, and affordable—portable and affordable healthcare. That’s the value. That’s the principle. It could be Medicare for all. It could be Medicare down to 50 and expansion of the ACA. In other words, you don’t solve the problem when you start the question. You solve the problem through hearings, which I’m going to circle back and say this Congress—you asked a question about the tax bill—that tax bill never saw the light of day. It was passed in the middle of the night. The AHCA was passed in duress, speedily passed through. That never leads to good legislation. So, what we need to do is think about healthcare, think about the millions of Americans who don’t have it, and say, “OK, how are we going to solve this problem?” because it’s about the provision of healthcare, but it’s also about access to healthcare. This region suffers from what we call a health professional shortage area. In other words, we don’t have enough primary care doctors. We don’t have enough specialists. Our hospitals and our nursing homes are on a razor-thin margin. They’re barely making it. The Affordable Care Act helped to stabilize them and helped to stabilize the perfect vision of care. I am coming into this race with the expertise and the experience of understanding healthcare on many levels, but also, understanding how to mobilize people in a community and pass meaningful legislation at a local level. Well, quite frankly, it’s not that different in Congress. They should be holding hearings. They should be listening to the experts. They should be having the fiscal review of any legislation that comes forward. At the end of the day, we want healthcare for everyone, and what that looks like, we don’t know the answer right now. I don’t know the answer, but we’ve got to be working on that answer and not putting our feet down, as has happened in the last seven and a half years, this mantra of undoing Obamacare. No, what we need to say is, “We need every person to have access to portable and affordable healthcare and, as a right, to have a doctor who cares for them, as a right, to be able to get the healthcare.” And I’m going to also expand that because we’ve just been talking about other issues, mental health issues, the people who suffer from addiction, making sure that there’re services in our communities not only to help people who suffer from addition, but also their families: These are the things that we need, and the healthcare umbrella has got to be much larger. We’ve got to think much wider about this.

Reeher: Let me try to squeeze in one last question. We’ve only really got about a minute left or so, but you were talking about the tax cut legislation previously. You mentioned some things about it that you did not like and would not have supported. If the Democrats take control of the House—I’m sure this will come back up on the agenda—would you be in favor of putting those higher taxes back on those at the top end of the income distribution and some of those corporate tax cuts? Would you be in favor of restoring the taxes there? And, again, briefly, just in a few seconds, if you could.

Cobb: The answer to that is yes, and the answer to that is, when that happens, we need to, again, reevaluate the whole piece of legislation and make sure that it’s fair. This is about fairness. This is about making sure that we don’t benefit rich and wealthy people to the detriment of those who are working. Once they pass[ed] that legislation, the next words out of Paul Ryan’s mouth was, “We don’t have the money for social security, Medicaid and Medicare.” It’s a matter of priorities, and so any piece of legislation, any tax cut that comes forward in the future, we need to look at that and make sure that we are not benefiting the wealthiest among us to the detriment of those who are not wealthy, to the working families.

Reeher: We’ll have to leave it there. That was Tedra Cobb. Again, she’s challenging incumbent Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in New York’s 21st District in this November’s elections. Ms. Cobb, thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

Cobb: Thank you so much. It’s been an honor to be with you, and I hope that I’ll be on again.

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.