By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Although the 2014 election is still more than 14 months away, a challenger has appeared with hopes of unseating incumbent Congressman Bill Owens.
Republican Elise Stefanik of Willsboro in Essex County has joined the race.
Stefanik, 29, is a former White House staffer and Harvard graduate who believes she has the goods to get the job done.
“I’ve seen how Washington works firsthand, and I want to change that,” Stefanik told the Press-Republican while attending the recent Second Amendment rally in Plattsburgh.
A 2006 graduate of Harvard, she now lists her address as Willsboro. She said her family has owned a home there her whole life, and she spent much of her upbringing there.
She graduated high school from Albany Academy before attending Harvard.
Her family runs a wholesale plywood business, Premium Plywood Products in Guilderland Center near Albany, where she handles sales, marketing and management for the North Country region.
She said her business experience in dealing with hundreds of small business customers also helps her relate to small business owners.
“I know how it is,” she said.
“We need more people to step in and offer new ideas.”
‘OVERREACH OF GOVERNMENT’
Owens, a Plattsburgh attorney, was elected in 2009 in a special election to replace John McHugh, who stepped down to become the secretary of the Army.
Owens was the first Democrat to win the seat since the Civil War era.
He won re-election in 2010 and 2012 over Republican Matt Doheny of Watertown.
Republicans nationwide have focused on getting more women involved as candidates, but Stefanik said she was not recruited by the party to run.
“I stepped up myself,” she said.
Stefanik, who is not married, said she wants to spend time traveling the district listening to concerns of the voters.
She said one of the main issues she hears about is the need for more and better jobs and better treatment for small businesses.
She also said she is in favor of repealing “Obamacare,” the controversial health-care reform law that was passed in 2010.
“It’s an overreach of government, and it is costing businesses too much,” she said.
Stefanik said she will need the coming months to traverse the 12-county district that stretches from Lake Ontario in the west to Lake Champlain in the east.
“I want to give enough time to share my platform with voters, and this district is so huge you need to spend a year discussing issues.”
Also joining the race on the Republican side is Joe Gilbert of St. Lawrence County.
Gilbert is a 24-year Army veteran who served three tours of duty in Iraq. A native of Ogdensburg, he now is the director of emergency services for St. Lawrence County.
There is a website for his candidacy (www.joegilbertforcongress.org), where he says, “The government doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.”
He also says he would fight for the repeal of the health-care act.
“I will never vote to raise taxes on working families, or the small businesses and farms that employ them,” he says, in part, on the page outlining his platform.
“What the American farmer needs is less government interference not more; how do they expect our farmers to feed the world if you can’t feed your family? We are not the government’s piggy bank.”
Attempts to reach Gilbert by the Press-Republican for comment were unsuccessful.
‘FOCUSED ON JOB’
Owens downplayed the entrance of Stefanik and Gilbert into the race.
“As we get closer to the election next November, I look forward to having a spirited discussion of the issues that matter to our region,” he said in a statement.
“Until then, I will remain focused on serving Northern New Yorkers in Congress.”
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