NY-22 Minute: Brindisi's Cazenovia Townhall Covers Many Topics- Agricultural, Healthcare, Climate Change, Mueller Report, & More By Luke Perry

NY-22 Minute: Brindisi's Cazenovia Townhall Covers Many Topics- Agricultural, Healthcare, Climate Change, Mueller Report, & More By Luke Perry

On March 23, Congressman Anthony Brindisi conducted a town hall in Cazenovia at the public high school. This was Brindisi’s second town hall of the day, having held one earlier at Colgate University. Girl Scouts led the audience in the pledge of allegiance, followed by opening remarks by Brindisi in front of an audience of approximately 100 people.

Brindisi traced his passion for public service back to his days on the Utica School Board and wanting to address inequities, enhance education, and make sure students had the tools to be successful for life. He articulated several concerns facing constituents from veterans to dairy farmers to college students, and highlighted his bipartisanship approach to problem solving and unwavering dedication to local issues.

Brindisi discussed his two committee assignments on the House Agriculture Committee and the Veterans Affairs Committee. “50 percent of our district is rural,” Brindisi said. Medium to small family farms, including dairy, apple, and maple farmers, are struggling “as a result of policies down in Washington.”

Brindisi said there are about 50,000 veterans in NY-22. Returning veterans face many issues, including healthcare needs, homelessness, and lack of employment. Brindisi is working to provide access for veterans to the services they need and deserve.

Brindisi took questions for 90 minutes, then mingled with audience members. Every inquiry and response is summarized below.

The true role of a representative is to be accountable to the people who you represent in office.
— Anthony Brindisi

A constituent expressed concern there is more milk being produced by dairy farmers than can be sold and the lack of access to whole milk in public schools.

Brindisi supported legislation expanding access to whole milk in schools (Brindisi is a co-sponsor of The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019) and is working with Chobani to give Greek yogurt more credit for protein in school lunch programs. (Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand, and former NY-22 Rep. Richard Hanna advocated for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to include Chobani yogurt in school lunches in 2015.)

Brindisi said dairy farmers have surplus milk supply because they have been hurt by tariff policies adopted by the Trump administration resulting in lower farm exports. Brindisi viewed oversight of the farm bill as a major focus of his work on the House agriculture committee to ensure the legislation benefits farmers.

A constituent expressed concern about chemicals being used in local farming.

Brindisi referenced advancements in drone technology, citing the work at Griffiths International Airport testing drones, to help identify pest problems in crops and better focus the use of pesticides where needed.

A constituent asked Brindisi to discuss his current relationship with Speaker Pelosi.

Brindisi said he now works “very well” with Nancy Pelosi, after not supporting Pelosi for Speaker. “I’m going to work with her as well as any other member in the House,” Brindisi stated. Pelosi meets weekly with the Blue Dog Democrats, which Brindisi co-chairs, who have an increased role this Congress.

I would like to get to point in this country where everyone has health insurance.
— Anthony Brindisi

A constituent expressed concern about lack of access to healthcare and inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in America’s healthcare system.

Brindisi said that attacks on the Affordable Care Act in recent years have created much uncertainty, including disrupting premiums. He is pursuing legislation to address this and wants to expand enrollment, given there are people eligible for the Medicaid expansion who are not enrolled.

A constituent expressed concerns about the media portraying Democrats as Socialists.  

Brindisi said media outlets follow around more ideological members of Congress, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who get a disproportionate amount of media attention, because they are looking for soundbites. One reporter told Brindisi he was “too boring” to cover because he was a moderate. Brindisi’s goal is to be as accessible as possible.

A constituent asked if Brindisi would support smaller cable providers.

Brindisi said he would, because he supports competition, and noted that smaller companies are taking advantage of state incentives to expand broadband, while larger companies are not. Brindisi advocated for expanding broadband to rural communities.

Photo by Luke Perry

Photo by Luke Perry

A constituent asked about gun control in light of New Zealand’s recent ban on assault weapons, asking “what will you do about gun violence?”

Brindisi called for supporting reforms where bipartisan agreement is possible. He described himself as a supporter of the Second Amendment and a supporter of gun reforms to enhance public safety.

Brindisi cited his support for a recent House bill that expanded background checks (The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019) and explained his opposition to a second bill (The Enhanced Background Check Bill of 2019) passed by House Democrats to expand the waiting period for gun purchases.

Brindisi opposed the latter because people “adjudicated” as having a mental illness would be prohibited from purchasing a firearm. Brindisi criticized Democrats, stating “sometimes they just want to pass bills without getting the language right.” He voted against this bill because it would negatively impact nearly 2 million veterans who have various mental illnesses from anxiety to sleep disorders.

A constituent expressed concern about the president’s proposed budget cut to agricultural research and the resulting “soft hiring freeze” in the Agriculture Department.

Brindisi agreed this is a problem and said he wanted to see more money invested in these programs.

A constituent referenced a recently held local climate summit and urged the Congressman to keep this issue at the forefront of his attention.

“I’m married to a scientist and we have a lot of discussions about climate change,” Brindisi said. He affirmed that climate change is real and his belief this has to be addressed now.

A constituent expressed concern about trust-busting when it comes to farming.

Brindisi pointed to the growing rise of monopolies in contributing to rising inequality from farms to pharmacies, putting small, independent operations out of business. Brindisi said he will speak out when mergers come before the Justice Department.

Another constituent asked if more regulation would be better.

Brindisi said more regulation is worth considering but not necessarily the answer. Brindisi referenced his work with small pharmacies as an Assemblyman, and the struggles they have faced, illustrating his opposition to large mergers.

Do you support public financing of campaigns?

Brindisi referenced his support for HR-1, a campaign finance reform bill, and his practice of not taking corporate PAC money. Since HR-1 will not be taken up by the Senate, Brindisi anticipated the bill being broken into smaller bills the Senate would move ahead this. Brindisi did not say whether or not he supported public financing.

A constituent asked about how he will address poverty.

Brindisi said the lack of access to childcare and public transportation have been two major concerns raised by constituents in discussing poverty eradication efforts. Parents have a hard time going to work without affordable childcare and cannot get there without public transportation. Brindisi lamented how “policies are almost meant to keep people in poverty.”

A constituent asked for Brindisi’s thoughts on whether private health insurance should be eliminated.

Brindisi opposed eliminating private healthcare and does not support current Medicare-For-All proposals that call for his. He said that more competition in the market will help to drive down costs.

A constituent asked about medically under-served rural communities.

Brindisi discussed ways to entice doctors to rural areas, such as loan forgiveness programs.

A constituent asked about student loan debt.  

Brinidisi said he wants to lower student loan debt, which now takes students 21 years to pay off on average. This can be done by resetting interest rates and expanding Pell Grants.

A constituent asked if Brindisi would support reparations for Palestinians in Israel.

Brindisi expressed support for this individual to articulate his/her views, but disagreed with the individual on this issue.  

Photo by Luke Perry

Photo by Luke Perry

A constituent asked about why the federal government doesn’t negotiate drug prices and provide lunch for all children in public schools.

Brindisi said that regular order is back in the House and that has helped to hold hearings on healthcare related issues, including drug prices.

Brindisi “is all for providing meals in school” because not having enough to eat certainly impacts a student’s ability to perform well.

A constituent asked if Brindisi was aware of projects postponed because of the national emergency declaration by President Trump.

Brindisi voted to terminate President Trump’s national emergency and was aware of the projects postponed. Brindisi expressed concern about federal money previously allocated for a perimeter fence at Rome labs, which is now at risk.

How much of a concern are House motions to recommit?

Brindisi explained that motions to recommit are a tool the minority party uses to influence legislation. Brindisi said he looks at every bill and amendment on a case-by-case basis, including these motions. The measure of his vote is whether the whole of the district would be supportive. In doing so, Brindisi at times sets aside his own personal views.

What is your plan for addressing the rising cost of higher education?

Brindisi said he supports increasing Pell Grants, lowering student loan interest rates, and increasing jobs training programs that require a two year degree or an apprenticeship program.

A constituent expressed concern about America increasingly becoming a global oil supplier.

Brindisi said Congress should vote to end subsidies to “big oil and gas.”

A constituent expressed concern about the State and Local Tax Deduction tax cap passed in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and wondered about efforts to address this.

Brindisi said he is for lifting the cap and is working with Rep. Katko (R, NY-24) to help address the problem for New York taxpayers.  Brindisi expressed concern that the tax cap will accelerate outward migration from the state. If New Yorkers leave, in or out of the district, it hurts everyone in the state because of decreased tax revenue. Brindisi also believed it was a problem that New York generates much more federal revenue than it receives in services.

A constituent cited concern about lack of appreciation of the federal government and the state of New York.

Brindisi agreed and pledged to do a better job of trying to address this. Greater appreciation of federal workers, and the important services they provide, “was one good thing that came out of the shutdown.”

A constituent lamented e-mails asking his opinion from various Democrats, then requesting a donation.

Brindisi discussed problems with current permissive laws regarding campaign fundraising. He does not like asking people for donations, but “until we move to another system to fund campaigns, it’s something that is necessary.” “I already have an opponent after just 10 weeks,” Brindisi said, “I don’t think I screwed things up that badly.”

A constituent asked about the prospects of an infrastructure bill with green technology.

Brindisi said this is something he supports and frequently hears about from constituents. He hopes the president is willing move forward with infrastructure because “it’s long overdue,” raising issues in terms of roads, water, the energy grid, broadband, and other vital needs.

A constituent expressed dissatisfaction with defense spending.

Brindisi referenced meeting with different groups who hold various perspectives on this issue. He said he looks at what threats exist and what amount of funding is appropriate to address these threats. America’s position in the world produces more threats than other countries. Brindisi said people also have to look at the waste involved in the military budget, such as requirements of paying contractors for defective work and products.

A constituent supported greater funding for libraries in response to the president’s proposed budget. (The president’s budget eliminates federal funding for libraries.)

Brindisi shared this view and discussed his efforts to donate surplus books from the Library of Congress to local libraries.

A constituent asked for his views on net neutrality.

Brindisi thought it was a mistake to end net neutrality because he is concerned that providers will speed up or slow down internet speed in selectively benefiting certain customers and not others.

A constituent inquired about cybersecurity and elections.

Brindisi explained that HR-1 included enhancements with cybersecurity.  

Photo by The Hill

Photo by The Hill

“Let’s address the elephant in the room.” What’s the scuttlebutt with the Mueller Report?

Brindisi said there will be a phone call later today with House Judiciary and Intelligence committees about the principal conclusions of the report. Brindisi referenced the House voting 420 to 0 to make the Mueller Report public and believed it was important to publicly share whether or not there was foreign interference in our electoral process.

What can be done to prevent the House or Senate from not allowing legislation to come to the floor?

Brindisi referenced a new rules adopted by House Democrats requiring bills to go to the floor with a sufficient amount of the sponsors. Brindisi credited the Speaker for enabling these reforms to move forward.

A constituent expressed concern about climate change.

Brindisi said his priority is promoting renewable sources of energy. “We can’t just pull the plug” on existing industries because of the harm it would cause to workers. In New York, Brindisi expressed concern that nuclear and hydroelectric power are heavily used, low carbon energy sources that are not considered clean energy in the Green New Deal.  

A constituent referenced a huge crisis in recycling as China is no longer interested in importing U.S. recycling.  

Brindisi said he was willing to look into this. (more info here) He asked how many people would support banning single use plastic bags. Hands uniformly went up around the room.

A constituent expressed concern about the downsides of bipartisanship, particularly supporting people who do have your best interest in mind.

Brindisi shared that his conversations with House colleagues have illustrated how there are good people on both sides who truly want to address problems, such as gun violence and climate change.

“Talk to me about social security.”

“I love social security,” Brindisi said. Brindisi expressed support for preserving this “earned benefit” and opposed any form of privatization.

How would like you see the U.S. interact with other countries?

Brindisi discussed U.S. foreign policy with several countries. He does not support lifting sanctions on North Korea until there is verifiable evidence that North Korea is denuclearizing, though “it’s good we’re talking.” Russia should be treated “as a very dangerous threat.” NATO is essential to addressing security challenges from Russia and elsewhere. Brindisi said “Iran is the largest state sponsor of terror.”

A constituent advocated for a carbon tax.

Brindisi asked where it would go. The constituent explained that he has a Tesla (an electric vehicle) and does not pay any gas tax, while his son can only afford an older vehicle, and as a result, has to pay gasoline tax. Brindisi thought he raised a good point and was willing to look into it more.

What was the most difficult and most surprising things you have encountered in Congress?

Brindisi said he felt more prepared to transition to Congress than some of his colleagues, having served in the New York State legislature, where he learned that you have build alliances and relationships to get things done.

“Leaving your family every week is a difficult thing,” Brindisi said. He tries to incorporate his family into his job as much as possible. Brindisi was pleasantly surprised that there are many freshman members of Congress with young families too.

Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College 

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