The Men Who Would be Lake George’s Voice in Congress
After Re-Apportionment, Lake George Finds itself in New Congressional District, Meeting the Candidates for the First Time
For the first time in more than a century, Lake George will be represented in Congress by someone from the North Country rather than the Hudson Valley.
Once part of the blue collar, urbanized 20th Congressional District, Warren County is now wholly within the newly configured 21st district, which encompasses all but a few slivers of the Adirondack Park and stretches from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain.
For most of the past forty years, the district has been represented in Washington by moderate Republicans: Robert McEwen, David OB. Martin and John McHugh.
McHugh resigned in 2009 to become President Obama’s Secretary of the Army. Bill Owens, a Plattsburgh attorney, won a special election to fill the vacancy and became the first North Country Democrat to be elected to Congress since the Civil War. He was re-elected in 2010.
Challenging Owens is Republican Matt Doheny. A self-made millionaire, he grew up in Alexandria Bay, the resort town on the St. Lawrence River, attended Allegheny College and in 1995 graduated from Cornell University’s law school. Abandoning the law for business, Doheny became an investment banker and started his own venture capital firm, North Country Capital LLC, in 2010.
Both Owens and Doheny were in Warren County last week, introducing themselves to the voters who, each hopes, will be their constituents in 2013.
Doheny lunched with Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover at Cate’s Cafe in Bolton Landing, met with Lake George Village Mayor Blais and attended a reception sponsored by the Lake George Republican Committee at the Lobster Pot.
Owens was in Glens Falls on Saturday, touring the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council’s Annual Arts Festival with Mayor Jack Diamond.
Both separately stopped by the office of the Lake George Mirror for a conversation with us.
The Contest for the Center
According to Owens, a former law partner of the late State Senator Ron Stafford, the concerns of Warren County voters are no different from those of North Country residents.
“It’s the economy and jobs,” said Owens.
Both Owens and Doheny said the social issues that have polarized the national debate appear to have little significance here.
“Frankly, few people talk to me about social issues,” said Doheny. “They talk about jobs. If immigration comes up, it’s not because they’re opposed to immigrants; farmers want to make certain they have the laborers they need and border cities want Canadian customers,” he said. “Gay marriage? In New York, that’s a non-issue. The state legislature took care of that.”
Upstate New Yorkers tend to be centrists, said Owens.
“I tell people that my district is composed of Rockefeller Republicans and Reagan Democrats,” said Owens.
Owens’ votes in Congress are more likely to reflect the interests and opinions of his constituents than those of his conference.
He voted to repeal an excise tax on medical devices, a major industry in Clinton County as well as Warren and Washington Counties.
He also co-sponsored a bill to protect the federally permitted transportation of firearms from state regulations.
Ordinarily, Matt Doheny would be considered a traditional, moderate Republican, but he seemed uncomfortable acknowledging that, perhaps because he fears alienating Tea Party supporters. (Tea Party favorite Doug Hoffman quite possibly cost him his first Congressional bid with a quixotic, third party run in 2010.)
Explaining his reluctance to identify himself with either the moderate strain of Republicans or with today’s more radical party, Doheny said, “we have to get everybody under the tent. It was Ronald Reagan who said, ‘if my friends are with me only 70% of the time, they’re still my friends.”
Doheny says he is much more comfortable with the language of business than he is with the language of ideology.
“I’m a business guy,” says Doheny. “I want to look at the research. I want to see the data.”
The Economy and Health Care
Asked what he thought the federal government should do to stimulate the economy (other than to stay out of it), Doheny said he will support pro-growth policies. For the most part, that means cutting taxes, reducing spending and deregulation.
But, Doheny adds, “as a businessman, you’re trained to do the deal.” That, he says, will make him more accommodating than, say, social conservatives.
As a member of Plattsburgh’s most prominent law firm, Bill Owens was inevitably drawn into that city’s leadership circles, where he helped attract Canadian companies to Clinton County and led the effort to transform the Plattsburgh Air Force Base into an industrial park.
Those experiences have shaped Owens’ thinking about economic development.
“Every community has to have its own strategy. What you have are assets, and you have to identify the market for those assets,” said Owens.
A representative in Congress can be helpful, Owens explained, by identifying sources of federal funding that will advance projects and by linking communities with common needs and goals.
“There’s no need to re-invent the wheel,” he says. “I try to marry people from one part of the district with those in another who have valuable experience.”
Both Owens and Doheny view broadband as a necessary part of any effort to create and sustain jobs in rural communities.
Both view affordable health care as a priority, but disagree about how that can be achieved.
Doheny opposes the Affordable Health Care Act’s mandate that everyone purchase health insurance. “That’s un-American,” he says.
But Doheny believes that tax policies can be changed and inter-state markets created to make health insurance more affordable and portable, giving people more freedom to change jobs or create new businesses.
Owens voted in favor of the Act, parts of which may or may not be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court later this month.
“It’s the only piece of legislation that’s been offered,” said Owens. “It may have to be tweaked as we learn what works and what doesn’t work, but its emphasis on preventive health care is the key to reducing health care costs.”
A Republican Edge
If enrollment lists are any indication, the advantage lies with Doheny. Republicans, Conservatives and Independence Party voters outnumber Democrats in the district by a two to one margin.
“Clearly, it’s a challenge,” said Owens. “But because people here are willing to listen to what someone says rather than attach labels, we believe we’ll be successful.”
Doheny, too, is confident about his prospects.
“Bill Owens won and held the seat by the narrowest of margins, the narrowest in the country,” said Doheny. “Our chances are excellent.”