American democracy is on the brink.
In today’s Congressional Corner, Democratic Representative Antonio Delgado of New York’s 19th district continues his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.
This interview was recorded October 1.
Alan Chartock: Congressman Delgado last time we were talking and we're talking to Antonio Delgado of New York's 19th district, who has been in office since January 2019. Last time, we were talking, you and I were discussing the debates. And there were many parts of that debate thing that really annoyed an awful lot of people and we started to talk about how to fix it. Give us a little summary of what you think we could do to make it a little bit more coherent?
Representative Antonio Delgado: Well, again, it goes back to how we enter into these conversations in the first place, right? How do we have these debates? How they get set in the first place? And it's, it's a culture, right? It's an atmosphere that is being generated by the divisiveness with which people are being asked to take on these issues, and the fragmented ways in which we receive this information, and how our congressional districts are so personally drawn to the effect that we are literally disincentivizing finding common ground. Everything is about style now, and not about substance. And the key has to be we have to get behind elected officials or those who are running for our office who are going to prioritize that type of solutions-oriented mindset. And that requires making sure that people are informed, that requires making sure people know their rights, and that requires making it possible for people who want to exercise their right to vote to be able to do so. And I think that, to me, is at the crux of the situation here in terms of how we can enable ourselves to put people in these positions, who can comport themselves in a way that reflects our shared values. And it's not gonna be perfect, never going to be perfect. But I think the key is to make sure that we're on the right path, and not going backwards.
Okay, so one thing that did come up in this, and has made all the news media, and I know has been very threatening to me, personally, and maybe to you, is the injection of the so called Proud Boys into all of this, and that the President seemed to be saying that, you know, they should stand down and stand by, which has upset many people. And they're a racist group. We know that. What do you make of it?
Well, I thought it was profoundly unfortunate that the commander in chief couldn't simply condemn white supremacists. I don't know how much gray area there, is in that. There should be none. So that was unfortunate. But I think at the same time, I can't sit here and, and, and say that that flashpoint in that debate is something that we have to be wrestling with, in a way that distracts us from every other thing we have ongoing in this country. That is a critical data point, no doubt about it. But there's other critical data points as well. And so we've got to make sure that we are continuing to focus collectively on all the different ways in which we are struggling in this country, whether it's racial injustice, which I think we've been wrestling with, to some degree, particularly after the loss of George Floyd, in a meaningful way, but more work needs to be done. Of course, from an economic standpoint, when you have two thirds of the country living paycheck to paycheck, from a health standpoint, when you have over 200,000 lives that have been lost to COVID-19, from a housing standpoint, we have an affordability housing crisis, to climate crisis. You know, and if you listen to that debate, to go back to the debate, Alan, what policy, what substantive conversations were talked about? Do we even hear the word infrastructure? Do we even hear the word, we may have heard climate, but how much do we get into the weeds of how to solve the problem with the climate? Did we talk about education? Education Alan. When did we talk about education? I didn't hear anything education. Right. So I think it's important about broadband and I didn’t hear broadband come up and how we actually grow our small businesses. And so my point is that there's got to be a way in which we, yes, we can. We look at the object, the shiny object, and we go, oh, my goodness, look at this. And it's important to focus on. I'm not devaluing that, I think it's very important to do so. But I think it's also important to not lose sight of the forest. Not just focus on the tree, but look at the forest. Because you could, if you look at the forest, you're going to see a whole lot of trees in bad shape. And you got to figure out how to deal with that, as well.
Congressman Antonio Delgado is the guy we're talking to right now. You may not know this Congressman, and maybe it's too self-serving to mention it, but my PhD dissertation many years ago was in the politics of mental health. I was an NIMH fellow. You've been pushing for COVID relief to include mental health and substance abuse funding. I love that. Has the pandemic made these issues worse, and are you getting anywhere?
I appreciate you talking about mental health. And that's another important issue that one would have loved to have heard the candidates talk about in the debate, because we are dealing with another crisis. Even before COVID-19, something like one in five Americans are dealing with mental health issues. And, you know, the vast majority of those folks aren't even receiving the appropriate treatment and care. And this was before COVID-19 brought about all the stress all the isolation that we've been asked to endure. And in the same vein, we've seen, and we've long known about the opioid epidemic, and substance abuse and how that's been exacerbated as well, by virtue of COVID-19. So these are issues that I talk to when I talk to folks on the ground, whether it's in Montgomery County, whether it's in Sullivan County, Columbia County, it doesn't matter. When I talk to folks who are in this space, they are pleading with more funding. And again, that funding comes from state and local resources. And so when I talk about state and local funding, we're talking about making sure that those outfits, those entities, those nonprofits, those localized efforts that are committed to helping people get through their mental stress, their strain, overcome their substance abuse issues, all of that requires funding and the state and local funding piece is of critical importance. In fact, I actually joined almost 60 of my colleagues on a bipartisan basis, writing a letter to the leadership saying we've got to prioritize funding for mental health. So yes, it's a big, big issue. And there is funding in the HEROES Act, that we want to continue to champion to make sure that people are getting the aid they need, $8.5 billion for programs within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and $3.5 million for prevention treatment program. So this is definitely an area of concern for me. You know, I've talked to many people, too many small business owners who have shed tears in front of me, because of the fate of losing their business they've had for years, you know, or farms, right? People are going through something here that is not normal. And we have to account for that reality.
Let me ask you something, we see that President Trump has wondered out loud, whether he'll even accept the results of the election. Is there anything we should be doing to prepare?
Well, I think the biggest thing people have to do, and this is something that I've been beating the drum on over the course to this very interview, which is you have to get out, and you have to engage in the system. The numbers add up. And I think being in a position where people have a plan, do it in a way that allows you to obviously feel be safe because of the realities of COVID. But certainly, you have to be able to vote. And you have to be able to get out there. There'll be poll watchers, there'll be people there on the ground, there'll be lawyers who are constantly monitoring the situation that's going to happen and that infrastructure is being built out. Both sides are doing that, right. So that's going to be there. But what matters more than that is that people who genuinely want to change the dynamic that we are currently in, have to get out and vote. And the mindset can't be, it doesn't matter. The mindset can't be, well, you know, what's really going to change? You don't know unless you get out there, and you do it. Otherwise, you're just letting the situation fester. And so it's important that people get out there and exercise their rights.
To which I say, Congressman Antonio Delgado of the New York's 19th district, amen. You're certainly right about that. When we come back the next time. Let's talk about the Supreme Court.