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NY-21 Candidates Debate

Left to right: Tedra Cobb, Elise Stefanik, Lynn Kahn
Left to right: Tedra Cobb, Elise Stefanik, Lynn Kahn

The three women running to represent New York’s 21st House district in Congress taped their first debate at Mountain Lake PBS in Plattsburgh yesterday afternoon.  The trio exchanged  barbs throughout the testy session. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley was a panelist.

Republican Elise Stefanik is seeking her third term representing the district that extends across northern New York from Plattsburgh to Watertown. Democrat Tedra Cobb is a businessperson and former St. Lawrence County legislator who won a primary against nine other candidates.   Lynn Kahn of the Green Party is an author and organizational psychologist who worked with federal agencies including the White House Partnership to Reinvent Government for over three decades.

The temper of the debate was cast as Democrat Cobb finished her opening statement.  “We stand at a fork in the road. Will we stick with the incumbent who has voted in ways that harm us or will we choose a new path?”

The Republican and Democrat took as many opportunities as possible to fault the other’s legislative record.  As the first question on the deficit, tax cuts and entitlements was posed, Cobb began her criticism of Stefanik.  "Despite the hype the Social Security Trust Fund is solvent. Elise Stefanik in 2012 wrote the plan to privatize Social Security and voucher Medicare.  Here’s the thing I was a county legislator. And despite Elise Stefanik saying that I don’t understand taxes I do. And I worked with the legislators, Republicans and Democrats, to balance the budget."
Moderator Thom Hallock:  "Miss Stefanik."
Republican Elise Stefanik:  "Under her failed leadership they had to borrow and when it comes to Social Security I am proud to have delivered over $1.8 million to seniors who are watching today."
Moderator Thom Hallock: "Miss Cobb."
Democrat Tedra Cobb:  "Yeah. What Elise Stefanik doesn’t understand is local government nor does she understand that in 2008 the economy tanked."

The candidates were asked about concerns that the Supreme Court may be poised to roll back LGBTQ and reproductive rights in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.  Green candidate Kahn said it highlighted the dysfunction between the two major parties.  "What bothered me the most about the Kavanaugh hearings was the level of animosity among Republicans and Democrats. I don’t believe that Republicans and Democrats can get past hating each other to actually get anything done."
Moderator Thom Hallock: "Miss Cobb."
Democrat Tedra Cobb:  "What we’re talking about are our rights. First and foremost every woman must have access to health care."
Moderator Thom Hallock: "Thank You. Miss Stefanik."
Republican Elise Stefanik:  "Both Judge Kavanaugh now Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Roberts in their confirmations both testified that they believe Roe v. Wade is settled law. I think that’s the right decision. I do believe that women should have access to birth control and contraception covered by health insurance."
Moderator Thom Hallock:  "Thank you. Miss Cobb."
Democrat Tedra Cobb:   "Elise Stefanik voted 5 times to defund Planned Parenthood and to move that money into community health centers."
Moderator Thom Hallock:  "Ms. Stefanik rebuttal?"
Republican Elise Stefanik:  "I am proud of being one of the strongest supporters for community health centers across this district which there are more of than Planned Parenthood."

A question over military spending resulted in an acrimonious exchange.  The “John McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019” signing ceremony by President Trump was held in August at Fort Drum in the 21st District.  Cobb criticized Stefanik’s demeanor during the president’s visit.  "It is important that John McCain be honored in that. The President did not. Elise Stefanik did not."
Moderator Thom Hallock:   "Miss Stefanik."
Republican Elise Stefanik:  "I am the only one on this stage that has had the privilege and honor of working with John McCain. I consider John McCain a friend."
Moderator Thom Hallock:  "Miss Kahn."
Green Party Candidate Lynn Kahn:  "John McCain might have been your friend but you didn’t have the courage when you were standing on that stage to announce that authorization to say his name. You’ve said more today than I’ve seen you and heard you say in four years."
(Stefanik starts to speak.)
Kahn:  "Don’t interrupt me."
Republican Elise Stefanik:  "What does more…."
Lynn Kahn:  "Don’t interrupt me!"

The contentiousness continued after moderator Thom Hallock posed a viewer’s question to Stefanik on health care.  "I have been a strong advocate for replacing Obamacare."
Moderator Thom Hallock:  "Miss Cobb."
Democrat Tedra Cobb:   "I am in this race because Elise Stefanik repealed voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. What we need is a commitment that every person in this country has portable and affordable health care."
Moderator Thom Hallock:  "Miss Kahn."
Green Party Candidate Lynn Kahn:  "If you listen to these competitors all you’re going to hear is how the other party hasn’t been helpful. And in fact neither of them have been helpful. Same two parties same bad results."

The debate was live streamed online and is debuting on Mountain Lake PBS television tonight at 7.

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