PLATTSBURGH — Matt Funiciello wants to be a drastically different kind of representative in Congress than a Republican or Democrat.
"I am not going to live in that kind of world. I am going to, instead, be an optimistic person who has faith in humanity that we are going to collectively recognize, very soon if not today, that it is time to stop doing this," Funiciello told the Press-Republican Editorial Board, "that there are other ways, and it is not just these two answers (parties) that work.
"In fact, they don't work at all, and they are not intelligent answers."
Funiciello, 48, is running for the 21st Congressional District seat as a Green Party candidate. He owns a bakery in Glens Falls.
He is trying to unseat incumbent Republican Elise Stefanik of Willsboro in the 12-county district. Mike Derrick of Peru is running as a Democrat.
Funiciello believes in single-payer health care in the form of Medicare for all and in decriminalizing drugs and treating addiction like a disease rather than a crime.
He supports drastically reducing the military presence of the United States across the globe and putting the savings into offering more help to veterans suffering from wounds, physical or mental.
Funiciello thinks large-scale agribusiness is harming the environment and that more effort needs to be made immediately to reverse climate change or, he told the P-R at the recent session, we are all doomed.
WHY HE'S RUNNING
He ran for the 21st District seat in 2014, when Stefanik, at age 30, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Democrat Aaron Woolfe finished second, with Funiciello getting 11 percent of the vote in third place.
This time around he is hoping to do better.
"I would be happiest if I actually get elected to Congress," he said. "That's what I want.
"And I don't want it because I want a career as a congressman. I'd rather ride my bike, paint with my girlfriend, play guitar and farm.
"But somebody has got to do this, and I really believe that. If I can finish above a major party candidate, then that's majorly historical."
Funiciello is passionate about reducing spending on the military and scaling back the U.S. presence globally, even with Fort Drum in Watertown a big part of the district.
"Our military should be for defense, not for globalization," he said. "We are the modern-day Roman Empire, and we are failing."
For every dollar the government spends, about 52 cents goes toward the military, Funiciello said, and he would like to see that reduced to about 20 cents.
IMPACT ON SOLDIERS
Preventing the suicides of about 6,000 soldiers a year is at the top of his priority list.
The killing of so many innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan in actions post-Sept. 11, 2001, is taking its toll, he said.
"Let's take great care of the soldiers we sent to war illegally and immorally," he said.
"The huge percentage of people that we have killed are civilians, and that is not OK. That is immoral, and the collective cost to our soul and our psyche is incalculable.
"And soldiers are not immune to that just because they've strapped on a flag and uniform and carry a gun."
Funiciello said terrorism against the United States is a concern but needs to be addressed at its roots.
"I'm not as scared of anti-terrorism or terrorism as I am of the 6,000 vets killing themselves," he said.
War, famine and inequality are main causes of terrorism, and the United States would do better by feeding people and protecting them, instead of killing them, he said.
"It would be much cheaper and more humanitarian, but we don't take seriously answers like that that don't make money for the war profiteers that run our government," he said.
Funiciello said Watertown needs to learn the lessons of Plattsburgh Air Force Base — that putting too much economic stock in a military installation is not wise.
PAFB closed in 1995, forcing the community to restructure its economy.
The Green Party candidate said he would love to see most of those soldiers at Fort Drum and elsewhere working on infrastructure that would help reduce the effects of climate change and scale back the reliance on fossil fuels.
That can't happen unless the government is changed, he said.
"We need to inspire other human beings to understand that it is time to do this.
"The grownups, the serious people who are all meeting in Washington, D.C., who are rubbing their hands together about how to become a corporate lobbyist, are not ever magically going to do anything about the real problems that we suffer as a society."
Climate change is very real, Funiciello said, and we may be past the tipping point.
Meat and dairy farming is a major contributor to climate change, he said, contributing 51 percent of the methane in the atmosphere.
And Funiciello, who has become a vegan in recent years, says a major shift is needed to save the planet.
"If we're not going to give up and throw in the towel and we actually do want to live and thrive in the future, this is one of the answers that we are not even discussing," he said.
'NEED A MOVEMENT'
If elected, Funiciello said, he would work to change the political landscape, even though he would be pretty much on his own as a Green Party member.
During his presidential bid, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders inspired many in the country to want change, Funiciello said, but more needs to be done.
"We need a movement of human beings who would like there to be peace and economic prosperity for everybody, not just in the United States but everywhere, so we all don't hate each other so much," he said.
Americans need to recognize Middle Easterners as human beings, just like us, Funiciello said.
"They are working-class brown Muslim human beings overseas, and it's not OK kill them and to pretend that they are not human beings," he said.
"We can all believe that. We all do believe that when we go to church on Sunday, when we bring our kids to school.
"We are not hateful violent human beings in our everyday lives, so why do we allow our government to represent us in our everyday lives as if we are?"
On trade, Funiciello said trade deals in the past two decades have cost Americans about 9 million jobs, and by 2040, about half of all jobs in the United States will be low-paying services positions.
"There is a big difference between free trade and fair trade," he said.
"We no longer have the highest standard of living in the world. Trade benefits corporations, not the middle class."
The nation should also look to create a path to citizenship for the 13 million illegal immigrants here, Funiciello said.
"Not all Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers, as Donald Trump would lead you to believe," he said.
"Many of them work and pay taxes on services they will never receive."
To replace an outdated and complex tax structure, Funiciello supports a flat tax of 10 percent on all goods and services sold in the United States, plus a 1.3 percent wealth tax on those who own more than $10 million in assets.
No other taxes, including property or income taxes, would be necessary, he asserted.
"That gives us the same amount of tax income we currently have," he said.
Single-payer health care, or "Medicare for all," would save about $700 billion a year, Funiciello said, adding that as a business owner, he does not carry health insurance on himself.
"If you did it (Medicare for all), it would save money on what we are already spending on public funds. That is what nobody understands."
Funiciello said the war on drugs is not working.
Heroin and other addictions need to be treated as medical conditions, not criminal, he said.
"People who are addicted go to jail; we don't put cancer patients in jail."
He noted that Portugal has seen a decrease in addiction rates since it decriminalized drugs.
"The drug war is not about justice. We need to treat addiction as a disease."
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The Press-Republican Editorial Board sat down individually for hour-long interviews with each of the three candidates for Congressional District 21.
This is Part 2 of our look at their take on the issues in this race.
Tomorrow: Elise Stefanik