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The Capitol Connection #2223 - New York Governor Kathy Hochul

Governor Kathy Hochul in Plattsburgh
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Governor Kathy Hochul in Plattsburgh

(Airs 06/09/22 @ 3 p.m. & 06/11/22 @ 5:30 a.m.) WAMC’s Alan Chartock speaks with New York Governor Kathy Hochul.

Hi, I'm Alan Chartock. Joining us this week, and we are so proud that we have her, is New York Governor Kathy Hochul. Welcome back to the Capitol Connection. Great that we have a chance to talk to you. Thank you so much for doing it.

Thank you, Alan, looking forward to conversation and appreciate the access. It's great.

Well, there's so many things that I want to know about. But mainly, I used to have this kid named Vinnie in my class. And he used to say, I used to have a guest, and he'd say, so how is it? So how is it? So how is it?

Well, this morning, you know, we're doing just great. I mean, this week has been extraordinary in our ability to have the chance to talk to voters with a debate earlier, but also to talk about some of our really signature accomplishments like signing into law that package of 10 bills, which will be major progress toward eradicating the specter of gun violence in our state. So I feel good about where we've come in the last few weeks in terms of finishing the budget, working on end of session, getting through some of the political milestones, the first debate, so we're in a good place.

Do you ever get threats? I say that because, you know, I've been fairly outspoken in terms of my sense of guns and what they're doing here. And we've heard some not so veiled material over the telephones and other places. As a governor, do you worry about that?

Well, I have State Police protection, and they handle all those matters. So I feel very confident about my safety. But I know these are issues or you know, personal people, but what we're going to continue to do is, you know, respond to the needs of all people who feel that they're under a threat, whether it's a neighborhood, they're in with high crime rates, whether they're on the subways, whether it's wherever it is, I don't want anyone to feel threatened or worried about their safety. And that's why I focus on this so intensely.

Talk to me a little bit, if you would about guns, and the power that they seem to have in this country. What is it about the gun that makes people so impassioned about them?

Yeah, that's an excellent question, because it is part of the culture of this country. But I have to say we have had restrictions in place, you are allowed to have restrictions on speech when it's going to result in harm to individuals, there's a Supreme Court case that addresses that. So none of these amendments—they're not absolute. And that's what people have said for a long time when they described the Second Amendment, it is absolute to be able to possess any weapon of someone's choice. Well, that's not what our founding fathers were talking about. And if you really want to be a strict interpret-ist, and go back to what the Founding Fathers really intended, then everybody is allowed to have a musket, okay, that's what they had at the time. And a well-regulated militia means regulations are actually in the Second Amendment. The word regulation is accepted by our founding fathers. So how this has been hijacked into this sense of, you know, all ownership is allowed no matter whether it's intended for a battlefield, which is what the assault weapons are, they're not intended for deer hunting. They're not intended for sportsmanship. They're intended to kill people—mass casualties on a battlefield in an armed conflict. So we have strayed a long way from what I believe were the Founding Fathers intentions.

And what we have to do in government is to understand that there's strong feelings and emotions, but we are talking about common sense reforms, like why at the federal level, they're opposed to a background check. Now, people with severe mental health problems, most of them are not violent, but those who demonstrate they could have violent tendencies, you want to make sure that that's identified before they're allowed to purchase a gun. Or someone who's got a history of abuse, an order of protection to protect a wife or a loved one from their violent behavior. There are so many ways it makes sense to just allow a basic background check that we've done for years in the State of New York, but they can't seem to get that done in Washington. So you raise an excellent question. I don't understand why people are starting to become immune and desensitized to the sight of children lying on a street and a pool of blood or what happened to my neighbors in Buffalo. That is a sad indictment on our nation and our politics right now that people can just look away from those images and still be so hardened of heart that they can't make simple changes to protect lives. That's what's so maddening about this. And that's why I feel in New York, I'm so passionate about this issue, to show the rest of the other states, what leadership looks like how we can get it done at the state level. And if we can't get Congress, and basically the Republicans in the Senate, to change then let's do it at the state level. Not so we've demonstrated just by signing this package of bills a few days ago.

No, in order to do it at the state level, you got to get other governors and other legislators to cooperate. Are you finding that there's resistance there?

Well, there are other leaders. I mean Gavin Newsom in California has been a leader, you know, Phil Murphy in New Jersey, and you know, Ned Lamont in Connecticut. Yes, we have other leaders, and we talk among ourselves about what we can do. But there are 50 states. In order for it to really be effective, we need all 50 states to do this because, Alan, the guns are still flowing in from Pennsylvania. The high capacity magazine that was used to kill people grocery shopping at the Tops store in Buffalo came in from there. We also have guns still flowing in from Georgia and Tennessee. I track I started an interstate gun taskforce back in January before the Buffalo shooting. Nine states are now finally cooperating that I pulled together they meet regularly, they share data, they track the same traffickers. And now we're starting to see progress. So, many guns are coming in from places like Georgia and Tennessee because their laws are so lax. That's what we're up against, and I've pledged the resources of the state, particularly with our state police taking the lead, to literally fortify our borders in a sense to find out who's bringing the guns, in where they're coming from, and how to stop them when they arrive. That's what we're fighting at the state level.

And do you think that the borders north or south are more dangerous for us?

Certainly the southern border, I mean, you had a situation where some—these are legally purchased in those states—the individual, the 18-year-old who purchased the AR-15 down in Broome County, now are signing the bills would not be able to you have to wait till he was 21. But he literally went 10 minutes over the border into Pennsylvania and bought something that is absolutely banned in the state of New York, which is a high capacity magazine, capable of firing off I think it was 30 bullets, and that's what he used. So we can protect ourselves, but as long as people are going to gun shows in Pennsylvania, and loading up their trunks with banned assault weapons, and bringing them up, it's not a far drive you know that, they head over to the Bronx or Brooklyn with these guns. That's where the trafficking’s coming from. We're not making these in New York. We're not selling them in New York. But they're coming from illegal gun trafficking. And that's why I put together this taskforce very early in my term, to start really having a coordinated effort among neighboring states to go after the same people that are just bringing these weapons of destruction to our streets and as a result we have the mass killings, but also the daily killings where we're losing young people every single day in our in our streets. So we're just getting started, we really have so much more to do, but the gun culture you're talking about, they had the same in places like Australia and New Zealand, and they decided to make a national effort to eradicate guns to protect people. And they did it, they were successful. But it would take an awful lot of political courage in our country, and I hope our leaders have it.

Do you think, when you mentioned leadership, do you think there's a difference between the way in which Democrats and Republicans approach guns?

What's interesting, Alan, is this is a very diverse state, even New York, you know, upstate New York, regardless of party affiliation, a lot of people are sportsmen. Or they purchase you know, they get a handgun, and they get it legally permitted—meaning they had to go through extensive background checks, mental health checks, state police background checks, fingerprinting. All that is required to make sure guns aren't getting into the hands of the wrong people, but protecting the rights of legal gun owners. That's regardless of party from my experience working in upstate New York. I don't think there has to be polarization between us. I don't know a single Republican who wants their children gunned down in the school either. This is where we just have to pull back from the political narrative and say “why aren't we doing everything we all can together to protect our kids, and our mothers and fathers, eighty-six years old, gunned down shopping in a grocery store, like happened to our former Fire Chief in Buffalo.” So these are just the conversations take the politics out of it for once and say this is about people and their lives, not taking away a right for you to go hunting or be as a sportsman, but the right to not have a gun that is intended for the battlefield. That's all we're talking about.

You were in the first gubernatorial primary debate last night as we speak. And you faced Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Representative Tom Suozzi in the debate. How'd you do? If you came home what did your friends and relatives say? How'd you do?

Well, they're a little biased. But they all thought it was great that, you know, we knew that we were heading into. You know, when you are the incumbent, I am the current governor, and I have a record which we're very proud of what we accomplished in just nine months, when you think of, at that time, we didn't even have any people to be part of an executive team, I had to assemble that quickly had to deal with the crises of the moment, literally two hurricanes in a short time, the spike in COVID, put together a first budget, had 220 State of the State proposals to better the lives of New Yorkers. We got a lot done in a short time. But of course then, because you're the front runner, you're out there, you're the lightning rod for the attacks. We withstood them, we were able to demonstrate that I'm feeling very confident in my role and that I've demonstrated what leadership looks like. And it was just an opportunity for me to show you know, the calm, collected manner that I approach everything with. I'm much more collaborative, I don't have to get into a fistfight—not that I won't if I have to. I didn't engage, I grew up with four brothers, I can it take to anybody. But I think that's been a hallmark of our state government for so long, and people are just tired of that. The sense that you have to be so tough and knock people down and be a bully to be an effective leader. We've had nine months to demonstrate that that model is not necessary, and I wanted to show the voters that, yes, I could have scored more points if I wanted to against my opponents but it's not necessary. What is necessary is we show the voters that they have a real choice this time. And it's not just being the only woman who ever held this position with a very different perspective—but it does come into play on specific issues—but that I have what it takes to continue leading the state through some challenging times. I know people are out there are absolutely so anxious, and they're suffering with the high cost of gas and groceries and rent, and it's hard for them. And I've lived those lives, you know, going and meeting people every single day and diners and approaching them where they are. I have a true understanding of what people are going through and that empathy is what makes me a federal governor for the state of New York. And I wanted people to see that.

Do you think gender enters into this, honestly? You know, you're a woman, as you mentioned, the first, and can you take it to them? And them’s battlin’ words. Does gender have anything to do with our politics today?

I believe that because people have not seen a woman in a top executive role in our state, or in many states, there's only nine women governors in the country today, nine, maybe 45 or 50, throughout the history of our country. So people have not had an opportunity to see how women govern differently. Now we have the same capability to be tough, and demonstrate strength. And I'm unflappable in tough circumstances. That is one of my assets, maybe it's my upbringing of growing up as the oldest daughter in a large family, right, a lot of responsibility young age, I'm used to handling problems solving them, juggling an awful lot at the same time. We've been in many crises, I look at it, I analyze it, I get the advice and the experts, I decide, and I move on to the next one. I mean, that is a strength. And I would say, and I don't want to speak for all women or men, but women are very good at being able to handle many stress points at the same time, resolve them, and come through it to be ready for the next one. That's just a strength I have. I've developed that through all my life's experiences and my elected experiences. And that's something I've drawn on—I've pulled from that experience many times in resolving the challenges of the day as governor. So I want people to see that you can be a woman, be strong, be committed, but also have the heart and compassion and the empathy that many of us have. Now using that as an ability to connect directly with voters who are hurting, who are in pain, frustrated moms who can't get childcare, I lived that experience. I had to leave a job I loved with Senator Moynihan in Washington, because at the time there was just no available childcare. I didn't have a family support system. So when people talk about childcare, and paid family leave, or the right to have an abortion, so you can plan your family when you want to. Those are deeply held personal views that a woman, by nature, has and that's a strength.

So, let me let me go on to a much more esoteric subject, and that is that there's now a debate about whether people believe in ghosts or not.

You know it got really serious at some points, we had to we had to analyze that deep question.

You know, I remember after my dad passed, I would talk to him every once awhile, I admit it. Do you do you have a sense of, you know, people who are gone, but who are still alive?

All I know is my personal experience, Alan. And I feel that my mother looks over my shoulder. She was with me, from the very beginning of my desire to become a politician, elected official, public servant. And that was not how she grew up, she had a very, very tough life as a child, you know, really quite horrific. And she harnessed those bad experiences into positive ones and taught me her favorite saying, which is “go out into the world, and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.” And I think of my mom all the time when I'm having challenging circumstances. And I think “what would mom do?” So to the extent that I feel she still has a presence and is looking over my shoulder and guiding me, I believe that's true. Just as I believe that, you know I'm religious, I believe that God has plans for all of us. And he expects us to be out there looking out for the least of our brothers. And that's the way I was raised as a social justice Catholic, we were very progressive in our beliefs in a blue collar, pretty conservative town, I was raised very differently. That we all have a moral responsibility to look out for God's children. Because, you know, that could be any one of us any day. And so we didn't have a lot growing up, especially when I was younger, but we always knew that there are people who had less. And it is still those same philosophies of life, of our moral responsibility to others, that have helped me be a strong Governor committed to doing whatever I can to help lift our people up, no matter what zip code, they start in, there's life circumstances, everybody deserves the same shot at the American dream that my immigrant grandparents had, and that my parents benefited from and that I benefit from. So it just made me a very different person knowing I have the influences of someone like my mother. And that influence continues today.

Governor, do you feel prejudice because of where you hail from? I mean, you know, traditionally in New York, you had to come from the five boroughs to get anywhere. Here you come from Buffalo, Niagara. Is there a sense of prejudice that you feel?

I think it's just something different for people, you know. People have their own attitudes, again, perceptions that the governor of New York always has to be a man, always has to come from New York City. So we're breaking a number of molds here. And I think that's going to go a long way toward bridging this long standing, upstate downstate divide, because we do have a lot more that binds us as New Yorkers than differences. And I can straddle the both worlds and be able to bring the perspective of each to the other one, you know, something like gun ownership, something like, you know, various concerns about our agricultural lands of our farmers, but also the concerns about what's happening in NYCHA and public housing, and on our subways, and the challenges that people living in a densely populated urban area have to deal with day in and day out, and rising crime. So, to me it's a gift to have spent eight years, almost eight years as lieutenant governor, where I spent an enormous amount of time in New York City. I mean, every week, I was doing events in all corners of the Bronx and, and East New York, I'd be in Brooklyn all over. I was in Staten Island, and queens and Manhattan, of course, and all over Long Island and Westchester. So I know this state, but people just need to get to know me. And they need to know how I take this knowledge of all the places and people and I'm able to put together policies that help lift everyone up. So it is an advantage in my opinion. But I suppose people think it's unusual. But being a woman is unusual. So people are getting used to it's going well, people are open minded.

So how's it coming? I mean, are you sensing that you're making inroads?

I do. I really do. And when I can speak to issues as if I had lived here all my life and they know I'm passionate about you know, if I'm living in New York City from upstate, people know that I'm a New Yorker through and through. And they trust that my instincts are strong, I have seen more of the state than anybody probably in the history of the state over those eight years as lieutenant governor and now as governor. I'm not a governor sitting behind my desk in my beloved second home of Albany any more than necessary, except for during budgets and end of session and during session. I need to be out with people. That's what gives me energy and strength is to be out there literally driving down the street saying, “hey, let me jump into this little restaurant. Let me see what people are thinking at this counter.” What I'm going to continue doing as governor is be incredibly accessible, out there and visible and it's not always in front of cameras, I'm not doing press events every day. I'm doing I'm out there talking to New Yorkers, and that's an advantage I have. It's just also my passion. I love being around other people, listening to them, hearing what their ideas are, and how I can take their experiences and make their lives as New Yorkers even better.

Governor, the legislative session is over. What's the scorecard look like?

Well, it's pretty good. If you look at our perspective of what we did in the budget for starts, you know, the record setting, historic amounts of money for education, settling the foundation—which kept money from going to high need areas for a long time because of battles that predated me, but I resolved them—investments in infrastructure, where we're going to be going after potholes, I have a billion dollars for potholes, improving our roads and bridges, but also our clean energy infrastructures so we can create the jobs of tomorrow. I'm so excited about what we're doing with offshore wind. And that's not just happening off the shores of Long Island and generating clean energy power. It's also creating supply chains, where we're going to be able to have jobs throughout upstate New York, including the port of Albany, where they're now manufacturing component parts and shipping them down the Hudson. So I'm very excited about the economy, a lot of these decisions were made in the budget and recession, but also in terms of helping people, whether it's in public housing, whether it's with childcare assistance, whether it's ensuring that we have programs for people who are incarcerated, making sure people have another chance at coming back and being part of society with educational opportunities there as well. We've done so much it's almost it's almost too long to list, but I'm proud of it. And at the very end of session, we got through a crime package, which is significant by all standards. We've put together ideas that people have talked about literally for decades, and never were able to get finished. And that's why I'm proud of my work with the leadership in the Assembly and in the Senate. And we got the job done.

We're sort of coming down to the last eight minutes of the show. And I wanted to ask you very quickly: do you ever see — we've talked about ghosts — the ghost of Andrew Cuomo?

No, I have not seen him about at all. I can't say I have, I have not seen him.

Let me ask you this. Abortion in New York State, unlike many other states is protected, we have laws. Are you expecting women to travel to New York should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade?

That is already happening now. Because states like Ohio have more restrictions than we do in New Yorker. The western New York Planned Parenthood already sees people from out of state. What I needed to do on this issue that is deeply personal to me, it's something that was the fight of my mother's generation, and I shouldn't expect it to be the fight of my new granddaughter’s generation. But apparently with the Supreme Court, on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade just possibly in a matter of days, we have to do everything we can to fortify our services for New York women for number one. And that's why as soon as we found out about this, I said we need to make sure there's funding so their services can be there. $35 million for them to hire people expand their locations, whatever they need to do so we can take care of New York women. But also our doors are open, they've already been open to people coming from other states. Not that we're paying for it, but when they come here, I want to make sure that any doctor in the state of New York has immunity so they can't be sued or prosecuted by someone from another state that has stricter laws. So that's one of the accomplishments of the end of session was to make sure we protected them. So we are focused on ways to be sure that those protections are enshrined in our laws, they are in our laws, but also finding ways that we can just tighten them up any way we can to make sure that those rights are available for New York women and those who travel here.

You know, it's very interesting for those of us who aren't very good at geography, I remember the first time I traveled to see my friend in Oberlin, there's Ohio right next to New York.

Geographically, Alan, I'm from Buffalo, it takes me three hours to get to Cleveland. It takes about six and a half hours to drive to New York City. So it is it is geographically interesting that people are coming already from the Midwest, to take advantages of the freedoms that we have in New York. And it's a real shame to think that these freedoms can be stripped away by a Supreme Court that has been, I'm sorry, they've been so political. They've been hijacked. The last three appointees, despite what they said during their confirmation hearings, and this is deeply troubling, are now backpedaling. If they do what we expect, they're going to do backpedaling and just reversing positions that we believe they were holding, that they thought that Roe v Wade was established law of the land, that it was long standing, that it was part of our history, that they wouldn't touch it. And then this memo leaks a few months ago? And they're ready to overturn it based on this—it was appalling to read the rationale behind it. So that's what we're up against. But New Yorkers and New York women in particular need to know that we’ll take this on, we’ll be a voice for the nation to know that there are laws that can be put in place to protect them in their own states and to help mobilize them to get the state legislatures to change their position. Now, a lot of states are already going even further than Roe v Wade allowed. Beyond the protection of Roe v. Wade, and there’s just 15 or so states, they're all ready to change the second Roe v. Wade is overturned. That is deeply disturbing. But I have a responsibility as a leader of a state like New York to continue to put a spotlight on these issues. And I will.

Listen, we're running out of time, we only have four minutes and 35 seconds left. So I want to get as much in here as I possibly can on redistricting. Are you happy with the way it's all gone in New York?

Well there's definitely improvements to be made, you know, when I took office, my job as governor on redistricting was to just move the process along. So I just I signed the maps that were there. But you know, it's flawed it’s definitely flawed. And I think that we need to take the time, because it'll happen again, another decade from now, let's be smart about it. Let's make sure that the process works. So we don't end up in this situation where, you know, people are running to courts every minute, and we're not sure when your primaries are going to be, this year has been one of chaos. It does not have to be that way. And we have a responsibility to get it right for the next time around.

How about marijuana? When will we actually see marijuana stores for adult recreational use open?

I actually asked that question this morning, because I'm always asking my team “how is the progress being made?” When I took office at the end of August last year, nothing had been done to move the process forward. It could have been done five or six months earlier, to select the executive director and the team to advise the office of cannabis management, none of that happened. So I had to unlock this, we were already behind where we thought we'd be. So I did that, we put together an office, they're coming up with regulations, they're now issuing licenses to people and setting up the retail shelves, but also the growers needed time to be able to start getting the crops in place—the product in place. So we think early next year, is what we're hearing now. I just asked if we can speed that up. But there's some things that have to continue along the lines there. But I think early next year, we'll start seeing them in stores. And we want it to be a legal industry that's regulated. Make sure that the product is healthy, not contaminated so there’ll be standards there. But also it's an opportunity to just right the wrongs of the past where there had been mass incarceration and prosecution of mostly young black and brown males. Because the police were patrolling their neighborhoods more than they were elsewhere. But I guarantee this is you know, there are teenagers in suburban areas, too, that were partaking in marijuana and not getting caught and not having their lives turned upside down—they sure didn’t end up in Rikers over it. So this is an issue of, you know, it's an economic issue. But it's also one of social justice. But to write the wrong, the important part is to bring the economic benefits directly to those communities that were hardest hit. And that's part of the strategy on directing funds from the proceeds. We anticipate significant tax revenues, as well as supporting other programs in the state, but also just helping some of those communities have the advantages, so they can have small entrepreneurs, small businesses, you know, make a living, and then we start turning the corner on this, but right now, we have a little bit of ways to go.

We've been talking with the Governor Kathy Hochul. And I have to say, Governor, I want to thank you personally, for showing up and talking to us this way. I just want to ask you one last question. And that is, is enough money coming in to support your campaign?

Is enough money coming in? We are in a good place. You know, it's an important part of what you do to run. I wish it wasn't the case. In fact, I will tell you, when I was a young staffer attorney for Senator Moynihan, and also for a Congressman, I helped draft legislation to have campaign financing—public financing of campaigns to get the money out of it. And that was decades ago. So we're actually moving along the program for public financing in the state of New York. I stood up the Office of Campaign Finance, hired the people. So, I hope we can wean ourselves off of having to raise the money but there is a lot of support for me, financially, endorsements from hundreds of clergy, scores of labor unions, elected leaders and advocates and just you know, everyday New Yorkers, who are excited and energized by the work that I've done already, my reputation. And for many, they like the historic nature of being the first woman duly elected as governor of the state of New York.

We are out of time. Our guest has been New York Governor Kathy Hochul. Governor Hochul, what a pleasure. Always great to hear your voice here. Thanks so much for joining us.

Thanks for having me on again, Alan.