Elise Stefanik stumps on the campaign trail / Courtesy of Elise for Congress
WILLSBORO — Elise Stefanik, one of the two Republicans seeking her party’s nomination in the race to replace outgoing Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh), doesn’t mince words:
“My focus is on promoting small businesses and promoting economic growth,” she said during an interview with the Valley News to discuss her campaign as the race intensifies in the run-up to the primary with GOP challenger Matt Doheny on June 24.
Here’s where the candidate stands on policymaking and other issues facing the expansive 21st District that covers the entirity of the North Country.
SMALL BUSINESS GROWTH
Stefanik said the country’s business climate is unfavorable and comprehensive reform is needed to allow small businesses to grow and thrive.
“The current tax code is riddled with loopholes that have led the country in the direction of crony capitalism,” she said. “We have to start from scratch and get back to a place where small businesses are making decisions themselves.”
During the half-hour phone interview, the candidate spoke briskly and articulately as if she was giving a stump speech and repeatedly referred back to her small business background.
Stefanik, 29, currently wears many hats with Premium Plywood Products, her family’s business that employs over 20 people in Albany County:
“Marketing, sales... you know how it is with small businesses,” she said. “We all play many roles.”
The candidate said this experience uniquely positions herself as a candidate who can combat the challenges facing the district.
“We have to deal with regulations that the industry faces,” she said, citing tightened EPA regulations and federal statutes that she feels have grown more expansive over time.
Stefanik said she envisions a return back to a “main street economy” consisting of individual and small businesses contributing to robust local economies:
“They service local schools, businesses and are done literally on kitchen tables,” she said. “That’s what makes my background unique: we do business day-to-day with hundreds of small businesses.”
Stefanik said the key to job growth is tax reform, getting rid of government-imposed burdens and repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Another measure is exploring increased partnerships with Canadian businesses and promoting tourism of the district’s natural resources that she called “one of the most beautiful places in the country.”
“We have to encourage people to start small businesses that will draw in more tourism and will allow them to set down roots here,” she said.
Stefanik was born in Albany County and moved to Willsboro in mid-2013 after a series of positions in Washington DC.
According to her bio, those included prepping 2012 Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) for his debates with Vice President Joe Biden and a three-year stint with the Bush Administration working with the Chief of Staff’s Office where she “assisted in overseeing the policy development process on all economic and domestic policy issues.”
Documents from the state board of elections show that she switched her voter registration to Essex County from Albany County on April 14, 2013.
The Affordable Care Act is a job killer, said the candidate, citing the higher premiums forced on her family’s business — they skyrocketed 30 percent, she said. Those increases, paired with higher deductibles and higher out-of-pocket co-pays, forced them to make a choice between absorbing costs or hiring additional employees.
The company eventually switched insurance programs.
“This is a lose-lose for small businesses,” she said.
Armed with the trio of increased costs, Stefanik expressed criticism of how the sweeping reforms were presented to the public and cited discussions with voters she has had on the campaign trail since she announced her candidacy last August.
“People were coming to us with questions at meet and greets,” she said. “There was a fundamental lack of certainty — they were approaching us with letters and had no idea of what to do next.”
The candidate said while she thinks health care is a vital national issue that needs to be addressed, it’s important for the country to “take pride in cost-effective and high-quality care.”
Better free-market oriented alternatives, she said, are to make allowances for the purchase of coverage across state lines, pursuing tort reform and allowing individuals to write off costs the way that businesses can.
While the Valley News didn’t specifically discuss the intricacies of the Ryan Budget Plan, the GOP blueprint the House passed along party lines earlier this month that seeks to balance the budget with deep cuts to domestic spending, the candidate said no cuts should be made to those who have already paid into Social Security.
“They deserve their benefits and it’s very important to make that clear,” she said.
Stefanik, noting that she will turn 30 the week before the primary in June, expressed concerns that the program won’t be there for her generation unless it is “modernized.”
“We need to have a bipartisan conversation to discuss the trend towards fiscal insolvency,” she said.
One idea she mentioned was raising the retirement age.
“I think its important for those programs to reflect reality and common sense solutions.”
The candidate said immigration reform is needed and she’s against giving amnesty to illegal immigrants.
“First, we have to secure the borders,” she said. “Then we can focus on the legal aspects.”
Stefanik said reform is needed to help key industries in the in the district — like agriculture, for example — and she will continue to flesh out specific policy positions as she meets with voters throughout the campaign.
“This is the right direction,” she said.
In response to hypothetical allegations by grumbling voters that both major political parties are awash in corporate funding and influence, the candidate referred back to her small business roots.
“My father built it from the ground up,” she said, referring to Premium Plywood Products. “He started cutting doors before moving on to working as forklift operator. I was raised in the reality of a hard day’s work.”
She cited her “half-million” in campaign donations from small businesses across the district as evidence of a groundwell of public support.
Stefanik said she’s running for office to represent a new voice and a new generation of leadership.
“Incumbents should be put on notice,” she said. “The Republican Party should not be the ‘Party of No.’”
The candidate said if elected, she would take a “common sense” approach and hold fellow lawmakers accountable, in part by asking them not to pass any laws they wouldn’t want to live under, citing gold-plated health care subsidies as an example.
“We have to get back to basics and focus on smaller, more tangible pieces of legislation,” she said.
The candidate referred to a pledge she took that if elected, she would limit herself to five two-year terms.
“We truly have to get back to citizen representatives,” she said.