February 25, 2022 by Randy Pellis
TOWN OF HASTINGS – As has happened every time I’ve driven to the town of Hastings, I was lost. Already running a little late for a scheduled meeting at town hall, I threw instinct to the wind and switched on my car’s navigation system.
When I came to the dead-center of a bridge on Route 11 overlooking nothing but train tracks, and the navigation system said I had arrived at my destination, I had the sinking feeling something was amiss here. Instinct told me maybe it was time to turn around.
So, I drove up further until I could turn left and then turn around and came upon a small road and Mark’s Service Center, a rather large business with a nice big parking lot for me to turn around in. But why just turn around and leave, I thought. I still don’t know where I’m going. So, in I went.
It seemed surprisingly active and busy there for such a wintry morning, but I paid no attention. Meanwhile, the woman at the counter captured my attention much more fully and immediately than the assorted bunch of guys jabbering away in a number of adjacent open-door rooms.
Andrea, as her name turned out to be, couldn’t have been nicer, but she wasn’t quite sure where the town hall was. “But I know someone who will know,” she said and was off in a flash to some back room for directions. And she was back almost as fast as she had disappeared, fully informed, including a Google map showing me exactly where to go.
So, off I went, confident I could still make it in time for Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s first time meeting her newly-redistricted eastern Oswego County constituents Tuesday morning, Feb. 15 at Hasting’s town hall. Surely, she would be late for this on such a snowy day.
My first inkling I might be wrong about this theory was the sight of the TV news reporter and cameraman coming out of the town hall and into the parking lot I’d just pulled into. I got right out of my car.
“Did I miss it?” I asked the reporter.
“Oh yeah, it’s over,” she said.
“Is she gone?”
“Oh yeah, she’s gone.”
“Oh God. Where’d she go?”
“Rome. She’s on her way to Rome. I can show you on my phone where she’s going.”
“I can’t follow her to Rome. That’s a good 40 to 50 miles from here. Thanks though,” I said rather dejected as I walked into the town hall thinking I might find someone who’d at least talked with the congresswoman. Maybe I’d have something to report.
I walked into the supervisor’s office. He wasn’t there, but a woman was.
“Oh, yes. She just left. You just missed her,” she said.
“I hear she’s on her way to Rome.”
“Oh yes, later. But first, she’s stopping off at Mark’s up the road. She’ll probably be there any minute.”
“Yes, Mark’s Service Center. It’s just up 11 a ways on the left. Just go through town and over a bridge, and it’s just a little ways past on the left. You can’t miss it.”
At that, I had sort of a deja vu moment but figured it just couldn’t be. And yet it was. The perfect, uncanny coincidence. And there was Andrea to greet me and a “What are you doing back here?” and me with “I guess this is where I was supposed to be,” and Elise Stefanik peering out from behind Andrea, and me saying, “I was looking for you.”
And everyone laughed as they heard the morning’s mix up followed by a one-on-one with our county’s new congresswoman.
County Legislator John Martino was there talking and laughing with Stefanik as a few photos were taken, telling her she would be most welcomed by this county, words she seemed to appreciate. Hastings Supervisor Tony Bush was there too, possibly having come over from the town hall, or possibly, along with Martino, two of the guys laughing and talking with others when I’d first come in earlier but hadn’t noticed, all waiting for Stefanik to arrive, all making for a busy morning at Mark’s.
“Do you have any questions for me?” Stefanik asked, standing right before me after we made some introductory small talk. And I did.
The Republican party and others had serious concerns about the legality of the state’s redistricting by the state’s Democratic legislature and had asked the courts to rule on those concerns.
“I read your statement about the redistricting and how you opposed it,” I said. “What happens, it’s now in court, if it’s overturned? What happens to the districts then?”
“We’ll let that process play out,” Stefanik replied. “As the lines are currently drawn, I’m running for re-election. We’re going to have to wait to hear from the judge how he rules on the coming case. This is a gerrymandered district statewide. I’m looking to earn the support though of the new voters that are drawn into my district. But it’s going to play out over the coming weeks.”
I then asked a question I almost regretted asking, the answer was so complex.
“If it’s overturned,” I asked, “does everyone just go back to their old district?”
“No,” Stefanik replied and turned the rest of the answer over to her very helpful aide, Alex DeGrasse, whose very detailed answer came down to this: there are two arguments that may be before the court, one on whether the process itself is constitutional, which could result in the courts drawing up new maps, and the other argument being over the specific lines that have been drawn, which could result in the legislature having to re-draw the lines, and which could be challenged again.
“So, it’s a long process,” Stefanik said.
Nevertheless, she said, “I’m running in the seat as it’s currently drawn.”
“So,” I asked, “while this is all going on, you will be our congresswoman?”
“Yes,” she answered. “I’m working hard to earn the support. Yesterday I was in Montgomery County, which is a new part of the new 21st district. This will be a new part. Later today I’m in Oneida County. So, we are hitting the ground running. I always outwork my opponents, and I’m going to work really hard to earn the voters’ support. I will always fight for their values, and I have a record of doing that in the North Country.
“Any other questions you want me to answer?”
“Well,” I said, “you’re going through a learning process I suppose. This is one of those learning sort of trips.”
“Yes,” she said. “So, I had the opportunity to visit the town hall at the town of Hastings. Met with the town supervisor, talked to the local mayor, and heard from some of the county legislators about some of their top concerns. We talked about water infrastructure, sewer infrastructure. My office has a record of working with many local elected officials in the current 21st congressional district. We want to continue doing that with the new towns and the new counties in the district.
“We talked a lot about inflation,” Stefanik continued. “That is an issue that’s impacting every family, families that are already on very challenging budgets, now are facing historic inflation, the highest rate in my lifetime, since before I was born,” said the 37-year-old from Schuylerville. “And that’s a tax on every family. I believe it’s a result of far-left, one-party, Democrat policies in Washington and Albany. They’ve spent more money than ever before and are considering passing the largest spending bill in our nation’s history. Inflation came up a lot. That means increases in home prices, increases in prices at the pump, increases in grocery prices. I hear that all over my district.
“And then I talked about constituent services,” she said. “That may not be in the media much, but that’s a lot of what we do is helping people with Social Security benefits, with VA benefits, with Medicare benefits. Our office processes those issues on a daily basis, and we’re going to do so if we earn the support of the new voters in the district.”
“Did anyone talk to you about energy in this county?” I asked. “It’s a big topic here. We have three nuclear power plants, the most of any area in New York state.”
“Yes,” she replied. “I support nuclear power plants, and New York state’s war on nuclear power plants has caused electricity prices to go up and energy prices to go up. We are pro-nuclear power plants. It was important to the upstate economy, and I’m looking forward to visiting, and I will fight to protect those jobs, but also the fact that it’s energy independence. We should not be reliant upon foreign energy. We should have domestic U.S. energy.”
“And on inflation,” I brought the issue back up, “on a national level, can you do much about that in Congress?”
“Absolutely,” Stefanik said. “So, as I said, this is a result of the massive spending bills that have passed under one-party rule. Only Joe Biden, House Democrats and Senate Democrats voted for them. We need to stop the spending, balance the budget. I’ve voted for balanced budgets since I’ve been in Congress that Republicans have put forward. Unfortunately, we don’t have a president or a current Speaker of the House that has any interest in even proposing a budget that will balance. This Build Back Better program that Joe Biden has proposed will be the largest spending bill in our nation’s history. That will pour fuel on the already raging inflation fire. So, what Republicans propose is stopping the spending and balancing the budget.”
And, as a New Yorker, she added, “We need to do that in Albany too.”
“And what about social services for those who aren’t too well off if you stop the spending?” I asked.
“Look at what they’ve done to discretionary spending,” Stefanik said. “That’s (social services spending) mandatory spending, and I have a strong record of protecting the investments in Social Security and Medicare, which are promises and covenants made with our seniors, and I’ve delivered millions in Social Security and Medicare to seniors in our district. The increase in discretionary spending is so significant. They are coming up with totally new programs of government overreach, top-down. That’s not what the North County supports, and we’ve been there when it comes to Social Security and Medicare, and I’m going to continue to advocate for our seniors.”
“You said you talked to people here about water,” I said. “That’s a big topic here too. They’ve done really well in Hastings with their water district, but did anyone talk to you about Parish? The town of Parish, which is in your district.”
“It is is my new district,” Stefanik concurred. “About the water issues? We’re here to help with water infrastructure. And I know the cost of projects has increased over the past few years because of inflation, because of the supply chain crisis, because of labor shortage, so we need to partner with our local elected officials, local town governments and local village governments to help with infrastructure improvements. So, we’re going to look for ways to partner with them.”
And that was it, and in an instant, after a nice goodbye, she was gone. And so, it all turned out despite my bungled attempt at being in the right place at the right time. It seems I was all along.
Read the full article here.