A native of Auburn, Ann Marie Buerkle is a nurse, healthcare attorney, mother of six and grandmother of thirteen. After graduating as an R.N. from St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing, Buerkle worked at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. For many years while raising her family, she was a substitute school nurse. In 1994, she obtained a J.D. from Syracuse University School of Law.
Buerkle served as an assistant attorney general for New York state from 1997 until deciding to run for Congress in 2009. She is a former member of the Syracuse Common Council, a former volunteer legal council for abused persons at the Vera House crisis shelter, and former volunteer legal council for Syracuse families through the Onondaga County Bar Association’s Pro Bono program.
Buerkle defeated Dan Maffei for the 24th district seat in 2010.
What have you accomplished during your first term? How will you carry those accomplishments forward? What do you hope to accomplish with a second term?
As your member of Congress, I am proud of the record that I have built in my two years in Washington. I have worked tirelessly to advance the ideals of the people of this district who elected me as their representative. Issues such as the economy, job creation, and the preservation of Medicare and Social Security have taken center stage in the district and will no longer be avoided for political expediency. I have also passed legislation highlighting the needs of our returning veterans and honoring their commitments to our nation. And I have sponsored several symposiums and listening tours around the district to be sure that I am always connecting everything that I do in Washington to the voices and concerns around the district. Perhaps what I am most proud of is the level of dedication I have put toward constituent service. The ability to help constituents struggling to receive benefits or to navigate the maze of federal agencies is an honor for me.
What are the major issues facing the 24th district?
New York’s 24th Congressional District is a unique blend of rural, suburban and urban needs spread throughout a picturesque landscape. It is home to several lakes — both small and large — farms, nuclear energy facilities, heritage sites, factories, hospitals, universities, and the perhaps the largest intersection of highways connecting countries, cities, and communities. The needs of this district are plenty. However, to a man, the most pressing issue facing the 24th district is jobs and the economy. It is the basis upon which the rest of the issues are built. Our businesses need a strong economy to gain the confidence to expand, to invest and reinvest, and most importantly to create jobs. As the representative to New York’s 24th Congressional District, I would work daily to ensure that the economy in Central New York is strengthened so that we may put people back to work.
How will you create jobs?
Our 7.8 percent unemployment rate — the best we have seen in four years — is unacceptable. We must begin to adopt policies that will encourage growth. In my first two years of Congress, I was a member of the majority which took important steps in creating jobs. The majority authored and passed 53 pieces of legislation which will empower small business owners, fix the tax code to help job creators, increase competitiveness for U.S. manufacturers, encourage entrepreneurship and growth, maximize domestic energy production, and pay down America’s unsustainable debt burden. These are the building blocks for a strong economy that will instill confidence for America’s businesses and create jobs.
You stand at odds with a good portion of your district. How will you appease those voters?
I disagree with the premise that I stand at odds with the district. I was elected because I promised to take a stand for the issues that mattered to the voters in this district rather than avoid the tough choices and to be accessible and accountable to all constituents. My record is clear and demonstrates a willingness to address the most pressing issues that the people of the 25th district face daily. As your representative for New York’s 24th Congressional District, voters can expect the same commitment from me: I will fight for policies that put Central New Yorkers back to work; I will not shy away from the difficult decisions; I will continue to advocate for plans which take an honest look at the future of our social safety nets; and I will continue to do all of this while working with any Republican, Democrat or independent who is committed to a better tomorrow.
Bipartisanship is practically nonexistent in Congress nowadays. Are you capable of reaching across the aisle?
As previously mentioned, I have a record of working across the aisle. Here in the district, I have sponsored several veteran efforts with support from the Democratic co-chair of my House Veterans subcommittee, Mike Michaud. I also received the Paul E. Tsongas Patriot Award from the uniquely bipartisan Concord Coalition for being one of the “Brave 38” Members who supported the Simpson-Bowles budget plan for America. I drafted autoimmune legislation along with fellow New Yorker Carolyn Maloney with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats supporting this bill which would boost women’s health efforts. Similarly, I have lead and effort with Mrs. Maloney to co-chair an anti-trafficking task force. I was also elected by President Obama to serve as a Congressional Representative to the United Nations. I am proud of my distinguished record in working in 112th Congress in bipartisan fashion and voters can expect the same in the 113th Congress.
The recession hit on a national level in 2008-09, but Syracuse and the surrounding area have been struggling for much longer. How will you address the economic situation here? What have you done so far?
The most important function for any member of Congress from Central New York is to understand how the performance of his duties impacts the region. To be sure, the recent recession was a national phenomenon. However, certain federal policies have the propensity to impact our region disproportionately. Every vote taken and hearing attended relates to Central New York in some manner. Specifically, I have supported several legislative initiatives in Washington which will have tremendous bearing on businesses in our district. The Medical Device Tax, a provision enacted under the Affordable Care Act, has already damaged at least one local business. One of my first acts of Congress was to lend my support to efforts to repeal that tax. I also lead a listening tour in Onondaga, Cayuga and Wayne countries with several prominent members of Congress to understand how the federal government can better respond to the needs of Central New York’s job creators. A member of Congress is most valuable to the district when listening to his constituents’ needs and I have done that as your Congresswoman for the last two years.
You’ve been lauded as a supporter of small businesses. What have you done to support small businesses?
Indeed, my record as a defender of small businesses is clear. I am proud of the recognition that I have gained both nationally and locally. Our Central New York businesses reached out to major national organizations to share their support for me. As a result, I have been endorsed by the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Business. I have consistently advocated for lower taxes on our small businesses. My opponents both have suggested raising taxes on our small businesses — a move which will cripple their ability to pull through the recession and begin hiring. I also have led a charge in Washington to peel back layers of administrative burden by federal bureaucracies. Over and over I am told by local businesses that too much of their time, energy, and resources are spent responding to arbitrary compliances and requirements from the federal government. As your Congressional representative for the 24th district, I will continue to stand behind our small businesses rather than in front of them.
You’ve made it your mission to repeal Obamacare. What do you propose should replace it?
The Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, has already proven to be a nightmare for Central New York. With its passage, we were promised lower health care premiums — they have gone up. We were promised also that access to care would improve — our hospitals and physicians are facing reimbursement cuts. In fact, Crouse Hospital just announced a layoff of at least 25 employees related to the health care law. We were similarly told to expect better quality of care — our American medical device manufacturers are now subject to a costly excise tax increasing the prices for necessary medical instruments in our hospitals. On the whole, Obamacare was an ill-conceived prescription for true health care reform in America. Of course, there were pieces that will be important to keep in any replacement: fixing the “donut hole,” allowing children under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance plans, ensuring coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions. However, proper reform should also include medical malpractice liability reform, portability of insurance plans, and the promotion of health savings accounts. Most importantly, health care reform in this country needs to include the input of all stakeholders, all parties, and all Americans.
What changes, if any, would you make to the nation’s tax policies? How do you think that would help the economy?
Tax uncertainty continues to be the biggest impediment to job creation according to the businesses that I have visited with in Central New York. America is fast approaching the nation’s largest-ever tax increase. As a result, our businesses are bracing themselves for the worst. Congress should be encouraging pro-growth policies that promote business expansion and job creation. Businesses need certainty in the tax structure and regulatory environments in order to operate freely. In my first two years in Congress, I consistently voted to keep taxes low on Americans to allow them to make the choices which best fit their own needs. Washington should not be in charge of deciding what is best for you and me by redistributing our hard-earned dollars.
Can you explain your positions on Medicare and Social Security?
Medicare and Social Security were promises made to our greatest generation. They were promised guaranteed medical coverage and social insurance. These programs were also a promise to our younger generations that there was a plan in place as they moved toward retirement. Everyone is well aware of the population shift that our nation is facing which has placed an enormous burden on the Medicare and Social Security trust funds. And the recession has only complicated the matter. Unlike my opponent, my solution is not to examine potential benefits reduction. Decades of inaction by Washington shall not necessitate a disruption in these benefits offered to those who have earned them. While in Congress, I have not shied from these complications. Faced with prospects of Medicare and Social Security insolvency in the next 10 to 20 years, I have supported, and will continue to support, proposals by any member of Congress which strengthen these programs for the future.
Why are you the best candidate for this job?
Out of all the candidates running for this office, I am the only candidate who has offered a plan to grow this economy which will put our middle class back to work. I am the only candidate that will not raise taxes on the working class. I am the only candidate who has a record of attempting to balance our nation’s out of control deficit and debt. I am the only candidate who has kept the promises made to the voters: in 2010, I promised to be open and accessible to the voters, and I have been. I have held more than 40 town halls and a number of listening tours to hear the ideas and concerns of the people and businesses here in Central New York and I have taken those ideas to Washington. As we all know, the best ideas come from home.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.