Monday, February 4, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with U.S. Rep. John "Randy" Kuhl (R-NY)

OntarioGOP: Congressman Kuhl, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me today. Before we begin, I wanted to ask you about the presidential election since much of the news of late has been focused on the primaries, with all of the changes in the polls and the candidate field winnowing down. As you know from reading my blog, I was a huge supporter of Rudy Giuliani in his presidential bid, but with his exit from the race last week, I've decided to vote for John McCain tomorrow. You also announced last week that you were endorsing John McCain. How did you arrive at that decision?

Kuhl: With the announcement last week of New York's favorite son withdrawing his name from the race, my decision got a lot easier. I have a trust in Senator John McCain and I am confident in his experience, judgment, and ability to unite this country. Although, we have some ideological differences, John McCain stands by his beliefs and I know that he will work with Congress to find solutions to America's problems.

OntarioGOP: Now on to issues involving our district and the upcoming congressional campaign. In 2006, you ran a successful campaign in a year that many Republican incumbents did not win their reelection bids. What do you think made the difference for you in 2006?

Kuhl: I have held public office in the 29th District for over 27 years. When my constituents voted for me in 2006 they chose to vote for a lifelong resident of Upstate New York, who has the experience and convictions to represent their best interest. They know that I care about securing their jobs, protecting their families, and ensuring that they have a government that doesn't control their lives. They know that I represent them, not a political party or any interest group. In 2006, my constituents voted for me because they trust that I will find solutions to their problems and I am privileged and honored to have their trust.

OntarioGOP: As you know, about 45% of the registered voters in our district are either Republicans or Conservatives, while about 30% are members of left-of-center parties, i.e., Democrats, Working Families, and Green. The remaining 25% are either non-affiliated or members of another party, such as the Independence Party. Knowing these data, do you think that your views reflect the views and values of most of your constituents?

Kuhl: Regardless of your political affiliation, we all want similar things. We want to know that when we work hard and follow the rules, that we get rewarded in the end. We want solutions to our nation's problems, and these issues are not Republican concerns or Democratic concerns, but American concerns.

Over the past three years, I have held a town hall meeting in all 145 towns in our district. The issues and questions people have are concerns that are shared across party lines: "How much is gas going to go up?; How am I going to pay for my children's education?; Is this country safer than we were seven years ago?" My job as a Congressman is to provide answers and solutions to our nation's problems.

OntarioGOP: Over the past several months, Eric Massa has criticized you for your votes on the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), going as far as saying that he was making SCHIP his number one priority. What are the major issues involved with SCHIP, and why do you oppose the Democrats' proposed expansion of the program?

Kuhl: For over a decade, SCHIP has successfully provided health insurance to New York State's low-income children. SCHIP was designed by Republicans to cover children who did not have private health insurance and were not covered by Medicaid. However, the Democratic extension focused on enrolling higher-income kids who already are covered by private health insurance, instead of low-income, uninsured kids. Their plan also enables illegal aliens to fraudulently enroll in Medicaid and SCHIP by weakening the proof of citizenship. Also, their bill is the most regressive tax increase in American history and taxes the poor to benefit the rich. SCHIP was also designed for children, but the Democratic extension increases the number of adults on SCHIP, which allows even more resources to be taken away from low-income kids. And finally and most importantly, SCHIP was designed for low-income, poor children. The majority forgot that when they designed their extension, because there are still poor children not covered. We must ensure that we cover the low-income children first before considering expanding the program.

SCHIP is a vital program and I am pleased that Congress extended the program for 18-months which ensures that over 6 million children will continue to receive the medical care they need.

OntarioGOP: A few weeks ago, Massa attacked you for a trip you took to Brazil, in which you joined a bipartisan congressional delegation to examine Brazil's efforts in energy independence. What did you and the delegation learn from the trip, and why do you think the trip was important to take?

Kuhl: When I was approached by my colleague Eliot Engel to go on this bipartisan trip, I wanted to learn how Brazil reached energy independence and I wanted to increase my understanding of how alternative energy can succeed. Brazil saw the same signs the U.S. did in the 1970's and instead of sitting by and waiting for the energy crisis to occur, they began investing in a self-sustaining energy solution and now over 90% of Brazilian cars run off their home-grown ethanol supply. Upstate New York can learn from the Brazilian model without using sugarcane, the most prevalent natural resource available in Brazil. New York can learn to develop its natural resources, such as switch grass and other cellulosic feed stocks, in a similar fashion.

But the United States works closely with Brazil on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues. During my trip I met with border enforcement and discussed keeping narcotics, money laundering, and terrorism out of both of our countries. We had a meeting about the Amazon Rainforest and protecting the "Lung of our Planet."

This trip was enlightening and desperately needed. And for those people that want to belittle it for political gain, do not understand that as a country you can not hide your head in the sand and think that everything will be fine. This is a global economy and we must learn from one another to benefit from the successes and failures that we have experienced.

OntarioGOP: I understand that you have decided to wait until March or April to officially announce if you are running for reelection. If you do decide to run again, what issues do you think are the most important to the voters of our district this year?

Kuhl: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs and our economy. Upstate New York has not fully recovered from the early 1990's when a significant amount of jobs left our area. To combat this we must invest in business, both small and large, to ensure that there are incentives to employees in New York. Everything from providing a better infrastructure to support moving and building in the district to easing the tax burden for entrepreneurs.

Our economy is faltering and Americans are beginning 2008 with a deep concern over a potential recession. The bipartisan stimulus plan passed by the House will provide relief to cash strapped Americans and encourage business to invest in their future and their employees. By targeting both consumers and employers, this plan will provide both an immediate boost to the economy and a launching pad for growing small businesses.

It is important to note that this plan is only a short-term solution. We can not rely on this temporary relief to be the cure for our economy. We need to develop a long-term strategic plan to encourage sustainable growth in our economy.

OntarioGOP: I now want to ask you a question about constituent services. A few weeks ago, the Congressional Management Foundation gave your congressional website a "Silver Mouse Award" in its "Best Web Sites on Capitol Hill" category, an indication that your website is both user-friendly and holds a wealth of information for constituents. In addition, as you stated earlier, since being elected to Congress, you have held a public town hall meeting each year in all 145 cities and townships in the district. What other constituent services do you offer, and what services set you apart from other congressmen?

Kuhl: One of my jobs as a Congressman is to keep my constituents current on what is going on in the federal government and avoiding the bureaucracy and red tape of government agencies. Since we are living in an internet age, my website is a key source for conveying information. The links can be found on my website (under constituent services) connect you to important federal government links, federal grant notifications, internship opportunities, and important information that influence you and your family.

But offline, I can help you navigate the federal agencies or obtain a federal document, i.e. a passport. By calling my DC office, we can schedule tours of the White House or the Capitol and request to have a flag flown over the Capitol in honor or celebration of a loved one.

OntarioGOP: Finally, you have been in public service for many years, beginning your political career in the State Assembly, where you served for six years, then serving in the State Senate for 18 years, and now starting your fourth year in the U.S. House of Representatives. And before you became an elected official, you had been an attorney for 10 years. You definitely have a long and impressive resume, and have been involved in many decisions of historical significance, but I must ask, what do you think is your single most important accomplishment?

Kuhl: Besides raising three terrific sons, my biggest career achievement has been being accessible to the people I represent and help them fight the red tape and bureaucracies that our federal government can present. From holding telephone town halls to helping seniors understand Medicare to hosting a blog to communicate with the youth of my district, I always try to represent the people by listening to what they want and communicating my beliefs. Over the last four years, and the many years I was a State Senator and Assemblyman, I have held meetings with people that agreed and disagreed with my positions. It is important to me that I remain
accessible to my constituents and make them feel like they have a true representation in Washington.

OntarioGOP: Congressman Kuhl, thank you very much.

No comments: