Oct 21, 2011 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
Congressperson Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-25) chuckled anticipating the welcome she would receive at the United Nations, where she has been appointed as an observer for the House of Representatives. Buerkle has been critical of the UN and advocates withholding paying America’s dues to the body pending a restructuring of certain activities. She will walk through the doors of the world organization, however, well prepared for any reaction she might encounter by the experiences logged in her series of monthly town hall meetings. Typically she finds three distinct groups at each location: one ready to kiss her feet, one looking like they want to throw rocks and call nasty names, and a third, declining in numbers at each successive forum, looking at each other as if to ask what could possibly have created this atmosphere.
Republican Buerkle unseated incumbent Democrat Dan Maffei last year by 648 votes, although he outspent her $3.1 million to $758,000. She had hardly had time to settle into her Congressional chair before three potential challengers announced potential challenges two years hence. Last August Maffei announced he would make the move for the 2012 ballot, billing himself a much more moderate choice than current incumbent Buerkle.
Although Maffei held a significant edge in Onondaga County, Buerkle’s tallies in Cayuga, Wayne and Monroe put her over the top. She previously served on the Syracuse Common Council.
Bipartisanship in Congress seems impossible these days. Is there any way to get to it?
“I think we have to. We have to work toward finding the common ground. Start with the majority of Americans and a majority of the people in the Congress love the United States of America, and want to do what’s right. So we start with that. The administration has this Keynesian approach where we spend money. I think there has to be some recognition and realization that that doesn’t work. I think it’s fair to say that doesn’t work. We spend close to a trillion dollars, unemployment did go above 8 percent, it’s hovered at 10 percent at some points. So let’s try something different. We all agree that unemployment and the economy is not a Republican or Democrat issue, it’s an American issue. So what are we going to do?
“I met with the owner of a nursery. A beautiful place. He and his family have been in the business for about 30 years. They talked about the obstacles of government regulation. Taxes. They talked about all the things the government is doing to get in the way. During peak they hire 100 people. Getting the government out of the way is what these small businesses need. He said when the health care law goes into effect in 2013 he’s going to keep his number of employees below 50, because I don’t want to be in the position of being responsible to pay their health care. Those kinds of things destroy the economy, and we have got to look at the facts, look at what has worked and what hasn’t, and figure out a way to get through this.”
Last time we talked I asked you what are we doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and you said it was a good question and you would try and find out. Have you found out?
“To be honest with you that’s a conversation for the military, because I don’t think this is a political issue. The military is who we should rely on. We shouldn’t be pandering to bases about timelines. The military knows best. We have to do what’s right. We have to preserve the interests of the United States of America, and there’s always a balance, but I have visited with families in the district who have lost sons. You sit in their living room and you feel and hear their pain. The price of war is unspeakable.”
What response do you get from the military?
“That Afghanistan and Iraq are two very different wars. Hard pressed to know what victory in Afghanistan would look like, and whether it’s achievable. One person said all you need to do is fly over Afghanistan and look at the geography and look at the mountains, and the tribes in the valleys. It’s a very different place than Iraq, with its middle class, with its infrastructure.”
Should we get out of both quick?
“Again, I would say we rely on the military to tell us.”
How should redistricting be done, and how will it affect your district?
“Many people have testified to keep Onondaga County intact, rather than breaking it up like Monroe County, where you’ve got four members of Congress. I don’t know. No matter who you talk to you get a different answer, a different timeline, a different rationalization of how to do it. Most importantly, whatever my district looks like I will work hard and fight hard to keep the seat in the next election.”
Sarah Palin was out early in your campaign with significant support. You have said she deserves a lot of credit for initiating a lot of discussion, but that she would not be your presidential candidate. Is that still your position?
With so many Republican candidates in the presidential primary race, is it getting to be kind of a clown show?
“That’s a good question. I’m really just going to stay back ‘til it plays out, but I’m guessing there’s going to be more coming into the race. We’ll see what happens.”
Mr. Romney sets up a health care system in Massachusetts, then says he would support something very different nationally, and he gets nailed for it. Can you not change you mind in this business?
“I think he really learned a lesson, a valuable lesson, that that didn’t work. But he does have to reckon with that. And the voters will hold him accountable for that. Initially he used it as a hallmark, but now that it’s played out in Massachusetts, we’ve seen the money that it’s cost and the issues it has raised.”
Michelle Bachman said that the hurricane devastation was God telling politicians in D.C. to get their thing in order, then later said she was just kidding. Can you not tell jokes in this business?
“I’ve actually started using more humor in the town hall meetings.”
The New York Times noted 87 declared primary challenges in Congressional Districts, and the election isn’t until next year. What’s up with that?
“When you look at the approval ratings for the President and for Congress, you see the American people are tired of the fighting, tired of the problem with jobs and the economy and nothing done with it. But on some levels that is not an understanding. The House passed 13 jobs bills since we’ve been down there, and they sit over in the Senate. But the media doesn’t separate frustration with the Congress, frustration with the Senate.
“People are frustrated and angry. A lot of families are hurting. When the President gets up and gives that speech to the joint session about jobs and the economy, he makes it more of a campaign speech than a real ‘I want to work with both the houses and get something done.’ The American people are frustrated and angry with that.”
The current Republican Party dynamic appears to be a conflict between the Tea Party movement and the Republican establishment. What does it mean for the future of the party, and where do you find yourself in that context?
“I think that the Republican Party has gotten the message loud and clear from the Tea Party folks, from the base, that says, ‘Look, you’ve got to really get this country back on a course consistent with our Constitution.’ And I think that Republican establishment under George W. Bush, God bless him, and others who preceded him have taken us off this course with the taxing, with the spending, spending money that we didn’t have. So it’s time to get back on course with fiscal responsibility. The Tea Party is a good conscience for the Republican Party: less government, lower taxes.”
Three-time New York Press Association Writer of the Year, Walt Shepperd is a weekly columnist with The Eagle.