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Eric Kingson on the Campbell Conversations

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Eric Kingson is seeking the democratic nomination for New York's 24th Congressional District, currently held by Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus)

Congressman John Katko has tried to position himself as a moderate within the Congressional Republican Party.  One local Democrat who’s not convinced about this is Eric Kingson, the Syracuse University professor recently announced his candidacy for Katko's 24th district seat.  This week on the Campbell Conversations, host Grant Reeher talks with the Democratic challenger, and explores his views about Katko’s voting record, and Kingson’s own plans for expanding the Social Security program. 

Note: This conversation took place before House Speaker John Boehner announced his intention to resign from Congress at the end of October.

Interview Highlights

Grant Reeher (GR): Why are you running for Congress? What's driving your campaign?

Eric Kingson (EK): ?I think I share the frustration of many people, an anger of many people, a disappointment of many people that our economic system and our politics are remarkable disrespectful of the dignity of people. Whether we talk about business taking their money off shore to avoid paying their fair share, or large numbers of people working hard and not being able to maintain a reasonable standard of living and seeing all the growth of the income go to the top. We're living in a disrespectful time and we need to do something about it. I felt I had to run. I've never been in politics before. I've been very active in developing a national organization which is credited with preventing cuts to everyone's Social Security benefits, cuts that were put forward over the last six years. And in laying the foundation, to expand this extraordinary system that we all depend on. Secondly, I want to work hard to take that message out. It's time to expand benefits. We can afford it, we're a rich nation. The problem has much more to do with distribution. It's time to talk about the need for family leave, paid for through social security, paid family leave. It's time to talk about expanding benefits for people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, because they're facing a retirement income crisis, and it's time to do the same for older people. 

(GR): What are the most important differences between you and the incumbent John Katko?

(EK): I'll start with one thing that isn't different. I don't think John Katko is a bad guy. I think he's a decent guy and I think he wants to do a decent job. However, he's always going to be doing the bidding of the far right of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives. He can take some moderate votes, but in the end, he's going to be voting with the people who want to privatize Medicare, who are favorable, if they get their hands on it, to privatizing Social Security, who want to pass huge tax giveaways, and who also have just voted to defund Planned Parenthood. So, he is staking out some moderate positions, we know that. But the bottom line is when Mr. Boehner needs a vote, he'll be there and Mr. Boehner needs to be satisfying the far right extremists in Congress, he'll be there. 

(GR): What are some important votes that Congressman Katko has taken in his first year that you would have cast differently.

(EK): First, I would have cast a vote against defunding Planned Parenthood. I'd go a step further. I would work to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which makes it difficult for low income women to have the same right to make decisions about their bodies than middle and high income women have.* So, I would do that and I would do it very differently. I would vote differently on the free trade bills. He voted publicly against fast track. When the bill ran through Congress and it was killed, he voted on the right side with labor. In the second vote that was public, he voted with labor again. But the critical vote that he took was against labor. He voted on a procedural issue which enable Speaker Boehner to bring the bill back up after it had been killed and to get a second vote out of that. That's not just a little procedural issue. That was effectively what moved fast track quickly. So I would be different on that. I would also be different on the Iran deal. That's not a vote, but I believe it's the best arrangement we can get right now. It carries risks. Working against the Iran deal carries risks and signing onto the treaty carries risks. But we need to take those risks for a decent, more peaceful society. If we don't participate in it, our allies are going to start changing the embargo with Iran and we're going to lose their engagement and we're not going to be effective. 

*Editor's Note: The Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, bans the use of federal funds for the purpose of abortion, except in cases of rape or incest, or when a pregnant woman's life is in danger.

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.