By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Congressman Bill Owens says politicians need to change their way of thinking if more positive results are to occur in government.
“If I am re-elected we have to begin the process of talking about the facts — and not ideology,” Owens (D-Plattsburgh) told a crowd at the North Country Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Plattsburgh on Friday.
“When you talk about the facts, sometimes you find out you are wrong ... but you have to have the intellectual capacity to (accept) that... That’s not something we do well, and that is not something the public accepts very well.”
Owens, a Democrat from Plattsburgh, is seeking re-election in the 21st District, which covers 12 counties from Lake Ontario in the west to Lake Champlain in the east.
He is challenged by Republican Matt Doheny, an investor from Watertown who is also on the Conservative and Independence party lines. Owens is also on the Working Families Party ticket.
Donald Hassig of St. Lawrence County is also running as the Green Party candidate, but he lags far behind in any polls.
Owens spent a portion of his breakfast talk Friday speaking about the need to work in a bipartisan fashion in order to make improvements in government. He noted that he votes about 35 percent of the time with Republicans, and that he and Republican Chris Gibson of New York’s 19th District and Vermont’s Democratic Congressman Peter Welch, voted together most of the time on the House Agriculture Committee this year.
“The message was clear that we voted for our constituents and not the party, and that is something I hope to do more of,” Owens said.
In a separate interview, Doheny said Owens talks a good game but always sides with his party when it matters.
“I can tell you from my time in the private sector that I never closed a deal where one side got everything they wanted,” he told the Press-Republican.
“I plan to work with anyone, regardless of party, who advocates for solutions that will help improve our economy and get people back to work in the North Country. If Sen. (Charles) Schumer or Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo (both Democrats) comes up with a good idea, I’ll help them make it a reality.”
Owens also told the crowd that he is working to better agreements with Canada to improve border crossings so goods can move across faster without compromising security. He noted that the Canadian impact on the region is about $1.6 billion per year, which is as much as Fort Drum brings in near Watertown in the western part of the district.
He also said he found it interesting that Republican leadership in the House has called for a vote on the Farm Bill after the election instead of before. Owens has been pushing for a vote on the bill for much of this year, saying that without it, farming in the district could seriously be hampered.
“Agriculture is the largest gross domestic product in the 21st District, and we need to make sure farming businesses move forward with stability,” he said.
Doheny has also supported improved border practices and better conditions for farmers.
When asked what he would do about Medicare, Owens said he would focus on more preventive care and creating fewer hospital re-admissions.
“We also need to allow Medicare to negotiate its own prescription drug prices — that could mean a savings of about $50 billion per year,” he said.
Doheny said President Barack Obama campaigned four years ago to let Medicare negotiate its own prescription drug deals but has dropped the idea.
“My opponent is recycling a broken promise, when he knows even the Democratic-led Senate won’t allow the idea to the floor. That is not happening — just more empty rhetoric,” he said.
While Owens said he is not in favor of raising the minimum wage at this time, he does support a “trickle up” theory where the middle class can spur economic growth.
“We need to strengthen the middle class and push everybody up. That’s a concept that has been lost,” he said.
Doheny was not buying Owens’s theory, saying wages have fallen 5 percent or more in the district since Owens joined Congress in 2009.
He also said that average wages in the district are $696, more than 13 percent below the national average, and costs for gasoline and other staples have gone up.
“He wants to raise taxes on the job creators, who employ the very middle-class people he claims to want to help,” Doheny said.
“It just doesn’t make sense. We need lower taxes, less regulation, a stronger dollar and more opportunity here in the district. I will be an advocate for all individuals, regardless of income, in Congress.”
Hassig made news this week when he got arrested in Massena for refusing to leave Massena Memorial Hospital, where he was handing out information about breast-cancer carcinogen exposure minimization.
He has been arrested four times during the campaign so far, and the Green Party of New York state has distanced itself from him.
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