Interview with Dana Balter, Congressional Candidate NY-24 By Luke Perry
Dana Balter is running for Congress in NY-24, encompassing Onondaga, Cayuga, Wayne, and Oswego counties, including the city of Syracuse. I recently spoke with Ms. Balter by phone.
Balter joined the race to address an unwillingness by Representative John Katko to “stand up against the awful things going on in Washington.” Balter is critical of new policies supported by Katko and the rolling back of existing beneficial policy. Balter also opposes “rhetoric and behavior that is toxic for American society and democracy.” She is focused on engaging with constituents and bringing new voices to Washington.
Balter mentioned the influence of her brother, who has cognitive disabilities, in developing appreciation for how policy impacts people’s lives. “Everyone has similar experiences with someone in their family,” Balter said, "face barriers to access, and want someone to stand up and be a champion for taking down these barriers.” Balter doesn’t see Representative Katko doing enough of this.
When asked about Katko’s criticism of Donald Trump, including not voting for him in 2016, Balter believes this is “at best a head fake toward something meaningful” and “has no effect on people’s lives when Trump is undermining valuable norms and fostering hatred.”
Balter believes Representative Katko “doesn’t do what is right, but does what is politically expedient,” including “failing to vote against his party on substantive issues to benefit the district.” “On everything that matters,” Balter said, “Katko stands with party.” The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a “perfect example.”
When asked about why she is a Democrat and what that means, Balter said she was raised in a family of Democrats and has been one her whole life. A Democrat is someone who “supports policy that protects interests of people who need a fair shake.” “The U.S. prides itself on hard work and achievement,” Balter explained, “but not everyone starts from the same place,” being separated by “the accident of birth.” “Government needs to level the playing field,” Balter said.
Education and the economy are two areas of particular concern. “Public education is a priority” because the current system is “highly unequal” and “dependent on zip code.” More resources are needed for struggling districts. Balter believes this should be more than workforce preparation. Children need to be taught how to be citizens in a democracy, so they can express themselves as adults.
When asked about how Balter would approach this in Congress, given education is primarily a state and local issue, she called for full funding of special education, providing universal pre-K for all three and four year old children, and protecting the civil rights of students.
Balter believes universal pre-K is a “huge issue and step for equality in education,” while civil rights of students, particularly the most vulnerable, is among Balter’s greatest concern surrounding Education Secretary Betsey DuVos, with issues such as sexual assault. In addition to legislative remedies, Balter emphasized how members of Congress have an important platform with the bully pulpit that should not be underestimated.
Economically, Balter supports a $15 minimum wage indexed to inflation. “No one who works full time,” Balter explained, “should live in poverty” while “many in the district do.” Balter wants to repeal the recent tax cut and “adopt new tax law helping those who are struggling.”
When asked about House leadership following the 2018 election, Balter doesn’t know if she would vote for Nancy Pelosi without knowing who the other candidates may be. In regards to candidates who have public stated they will not support Pelosi, “whatever Democratic candidates are doing is their thing.”
Balter believes the country “needs new leadership in the party and Washington.” “People are sick of business as usual,” Balter explained, and “want new approaches and fresh ideas.” Balter is “looking for people who value grassroots and revitalizing the health of democracy and political parties.” Leaders should come from the “grassroots up, not top down” because “politics is supposed to be about community coming together to solve our problems.”
Representative Katko has a significant financial edge in the campaign, though Democrats outnumber Republicans in NY-24, and Hillary Clinton won the district in 2016. Balter won the Democratic primary convincingly, overcoming a late challenge from Juanita Perez-Williams, who was backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Politico contends the NY-24 is one of the “top ten House races to watch in 2018.”
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.