NY-19 primary: Jamie Cheney emphasizes agriculture roots, women’s health care

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Jamie Cheney is seeking running in the Democratic primary to represent the 19th Congressional District. (Photo provided, Jamie Cheney for NY)

Jamie Cheney is one of two Democrats seeking the nomination to run in New York’s new 19th Congressional District, comprising of Broome, Tompkins, Chenango, Cortland, Tioga, Delaware, Columbia and Sullivan counties and parts of Ulster County. Her opponent in the primary is Josh Riley. The winner of the primary will run against Republican Marc Molinaro in the general election.

Both candidates discussed their candidacy and some policy views with WSKG ahead of the Aug. 23 primary election.

 

Vaughn Golden: This is WSKG news on Vaughn Golden and I’m here with Jamie Cheney, Democratic candidate for the 19th Congressional District. Jamie is an entrepreneur from Dutchess County. Thanks so much for coming on.

Jamie Cheney: Thank you so much for having me, Vaughn. Really, really great to be here today.

VG: Thanks. We’ve offered the these interviews to both the candidates running for the Democratic nomination for the 19th Congressional District. That includes Jamie Chaney, and Josh Riley. This is the new 19th Congressional District, which includes Tompkins and Broome Counties and stretches east to Greene and Columbia counties along the Hudson River, the date of the primary is August 23. We’re also going to note, the date of the primary coincides with a special election to fill out the term in the current 19th district, but neither of these candidates are running in that race, in particular. So for the structure of this interview, we’re going to take some time to discuss you and your candidacy and then spend any remaining time discussing some specific policy areas. So first of all, can you just tell me a little bit about yourself and your history in public service?

JC: Absolutely. So I very much grew up in a family defined by public service. My father was the deputy mayor of Philadelphia. And he came in immediately following the MOVE bombing for those listeners who remember that incident, and this gives me no credibility whatsoever in the 19th congressional district or New York state politics. But what it means is that the discussion at our kitchen table, given the very, very painful time the city of Philadelphia was going through a lack of clarity about how the city would move forward would be that doing whatever you can for your community, particularly at those moments when things seem the most divided. And when the paths where we can work together, where we have shared in common values sometimes don’t seem to be the clearest is truly, truly the most important work. It’s very much made me who I am, personally and professionally. And that’s someone who believes that if we can, and do and come together to do this work, there is no law or no institution, no establishment, no tradition, and certainly no Supreme Court decision that cannot be challenged or changed.

VG: So what is a little bit about your motivation for running? And why specifically Congress?

JC: Yeah, so, Vaughn I was, you know, I was a super volunteer coming into this. I like many got very, very involved in 2017. And I had young children at the time, I have three boys who are now 12, 10, and eight. So doing the math, they were a lot younger. And, you know, there’d be some grumbling at our dinner table at night about our then president. And the great thing about having young kids is they say, “well, okay, what are we doing about that?”. So, I tried to do work with my children that they could see us physically doing, we would do things like, go out and see how many lawn signs we could hammer in an hour and have my four year old, tally it up on a piece of paper and in a car, count how many doors we could knock on. And I was very much involved as a super volunteer through the 2020 races. One day in October 2020, as I was volunteering, if you will, and volunteering was an odd word in October 2020, because all things were very, very virtual. My phone rang, and the woman on the other end said to me, I’m calling to make sure you know, there’s an election coming up, can I help you find your polling location? And I said, Don’t worry about me, you know, thanks so much for making calls today, but I’m good and I will definitely vote early. And we started to chat. And it turned out ironically, she was calling to discuss, she was working on one of the state races that I was also working on and in that very virtual time, that would happen, you might not know someone who was working on a race. So we had a nice conversation and then at the end of it, she stopped me and she said, “can I say one more thing? You sound like you’re younger than me. I’m older and I am making phone calls today because it is the only thing that I feel safe doing, but I marched in the streets for the rights that you grew up with. And you need to promise me that no matter what happens in November, you will go out and you will keep on fighting.” And you know, Vaughn, there are very few things in life where you can say, I am here because of that moment, but I am sitting here with you today because of that moment. I made a decision in that moment, to challenge representation that represented my family, my community, our community, families in our communities that I felt wasn’t adequate, or representative of our values. That was first a state senator who has a district along the eastern side of this district who does not represent any of the values that I think that we as Democrats share and I believe that we as a community share. And then ultimately, when this open seat was drawn, and we are now looking at influencing one of the 435 votes in Congress, that is going to make so many decisions in the coming years for our communities and our families. I stepped into that race because the way that we will influence this one of those 435 votes to make sure that it’s a pro-family, pro-choice, pro-community, pro-future of our world and our Earth for our children vote is by running a Democratic candidate who has a true true path to cross over. This is a purple district, you do not win it without getting votes across the aisle and I have a pretty unique background that gives me a pretty clear path to the crossover vote that we’re going to need to hold this as a Democratic seat in 2022.

VG: You’re a resident of Dutchess County, which is in the current 19th District, but not the new one that you are running for. What should people trust that you’re you’ll represent them even though you’re not residing in the district currently.

JC: So, our family farm is right on the Dutchess-Columbia border mailing address on the Dutchess side. Location’s an issue for every candidate in this race. You know, one of my opponents has moved back here specifically to run for Congress and then physically moved once to stay within district lines another opponent lives significantly further from the district than I do in Dutchess County. When I look at someone’s commitment to representation, I’d ask you a few questions. I would say, first of all, how many doors have you ever knocked for another candidate? Are you here for this race? Or are you here for democratic representation across our region as a whole? Have you actively voted in our state? Have you built businesses here? Have you created jobs here? Have you worked on statewide community initiatives? I can answer a solid Yes. To all of those things. I’ve been doing this for nearly a decade in the Hudson Valley. You know, so I would challenge people to ask each candidate these questions and to use that to judge commitment to democratic representation of the 19th.

VG: Last quarter, you loaned $100,000 of your own personal cash to your campaign. You also have several sources of income and a few million dollars of assets according to your financial disclosure to the House. How do you still connect with people who may be living paycheck to paycheck to paycheck and might not have that kind of money sitting around for for a political campaign?

JC: Absolutely. So you know, I, it’s interesting that this is taken as a criticism, I have built a successful business that is literally made that money, challenging Wall Street, and forcing them to change how they treated working families, and then made a decision to invest that in a short term campaign where we had to put in working capital in June, I see that as commitment to the district commitment to democratic politics. And frankly, if someone can bring Wall Street to the table, hold them accountable, and do it in a profitable way. I think that person is going to be a pretty darn good advocate for working families in the 19th congressional district in terms of how I can relate to someone who’s working paycheck to paycheck. My husband and I started with absolutely zero in our early 20s. We do have several businesses, as you know, we’re very involved in both financial services, agriculture, you know, very much in the Hudson Valley and frankly, we have done that by building those from absolute scratch. We’ve been lucky with some of the opportunities, but some of the opportunities have very much been around things like access to financial capital and it’s really interesting, because when I talk to small business owners, particularly in the central part of this district, that comes up right away. I see another opportunity for my business, I would need to get a small business loan, I need to go into a branch of a bank to do that. The nearest branch of the bank where I can fill out that paperwork that has to be done in person is one hour away. So do I close my business for the day? I think I’m really well positioned to talk about how we incentivize and grow small business, which is inherently the heart of the 19th Congressional District because that is what I have done throughout my career, starting with absolutely zero.

VG: What in your opinion sets you apart and makes you more qualified for this role than your primary opponent, Josh Riley?

JC: There’s two answers to that. So the first is simply my ability to win in this purple district. We need to acknowledge that this district has a slight Republican registration margin. You don’t win this on Democratic turnout. If we are serious about holding this as a democratic vote, we need to run someone who has a clear path to crossover not a theoretical path. I have that in two ways that we have already seen in a quantifiable, measurable way. The first is where I stand on Dobbs. So as you may be or be aware of on our first camp Pain ad speaks to my own personal experience with abortion as healthcare is obviously a very personal decision to share that story. I feel that it’s incredibly important. Any woman who has a platform to and is comfortable sharing is only going to add the dialogue that reinforces that these are not exceptional cases and only things that happen on the fringes, they are part of women’s health care. Since we’ve launched that ad, in the last two weeks, we have received literally thousands of inbounds to our campaign through email, DM’s, however you can get in touch people people have reached out, from women across party lines across this district. And there’s two streams to that dialogue. One is people saying I didn’t know what I was gonna vote for in the Democratic primary gonna vote for you. The second one which both concerns and excites me is “I’m a Republican woman, and after jobs, I felt my party had abandoned me. Frankly, I didn’t know if there was a role for me in politics anymore. I didn’t know politics represented me. I saw your ad and I want you to know, I’m going to be coming out and voting for you this fall.” Again, we can literally quantify the number of votes that we have seen there. And then the second place is I’m very, very involved in our statewide agricultural community. You know, we run a commercial beef farm right on the Dutchess Columbia border. Agriculture in New York State is it’s a statewide community, particularly on some of our larger producer operations, which includes cattle, particularly around our 4H and youth livestock communities, which is really where my involvement has been. So I have relationships across the state. And frankly, I am in the same small business, that there are people in every single county in the 19th. And at the end of the day, you know, we we have a basis for a conversation around our shared interests as members of the agricultural community. I’m not going to tell you are all going to convert as voters because of that, but I’m going to tell you, I can begin the conversation because of that, again, theoretical path across over. Until about now, I guess, about three weeks ago, I was out in Ithaca. It was a Monday night and I walked out of a, we were meeting with voters and I, the team member who was with me, said Jamie, you’re never going to believe what’s happening in the Dutchess County Legislature. And I sort of said, well, as we all know, Dutchess County is not in the district. And by however our Republican opponent is the county exec in Dutchess County, and presides over the Dutchess County Legislature, a member of our local farming community had heard I was running for congress. And he had taken it upon himself on this Monday night, to physically go to the Dutchess County Legislature, and to use the public comment period on a bill on agricultural taxes to say the following to Marc who happened to not be there that that particular evening. And what he said was this, he said, “I just heard Jamie Cheney’s running for Congress. I am a lifelong Republican, but I’m here to tell you, I’ll be voting for her, because if you want the small farms, if you want the regional food supply that you all say you want, you’re gonna need someone who actually knows what our agriculture sector and our farmers need. And I have physically seen Jamie, roll up her sleeves and do the work. She will deliver for farmers.” We haven’t spent any time obviously in the primary, particularly talking to this segment of voters. So this is work that happened just by someone hearing anecdotally about our campaign. But as we know, our GOP opponent intends to run for these small business owners and farmers of the 19th congressional of which he is neither. He doesn’t have a record of delivering for farmers. I do, and we have people who are very, very willing to speak to that. So to clear paths to cross over. That’s the first place, it was a long answer to your question, the qualified candidate is the candidate who can win this district for the Democrats. The second piece I would allude to is just the ability to be ready and deliver for this district, on day one. As you may or not, may not be aware, the farm bill comes up for renewal next year. I’ve already spoken to leadership about, that a role on the ag committee would be very suitable, given my experience, my background, and I think as many of your listeners probably have a sense the ag committee is very dominated right now by large corporate agricultural interests, yet agriculture in this district, the northeast, New York State is dominated by smaller farms. And what’s interesting about the farm bill, which will be renegotiated in the ag committee next year is two things. One, these bills that must be renewed are the best opportunity for getting things done for bipartisan partnership. Two, and I think I think the name of the Farm Bill is misleading. So much, you’re nodding, you clearly are familiar with the farm bill, so much of the farm bill really should be called rural infrastructure as well. We can address rural broadband in the farm bill. We can address rural health care in the farm bill. We can address and I would love to see us do this some kind of federally funded program that mimics nurture New York, that was such a change both for our small urban areas and their access to healthy food supply, and our farmers in spring 2020. All of that, all of those resources can be brought to New York 19 in a farm bill negotiation. The other thing that we can bring in a farm bill negotiation is resources for our significant educational sector in this district, which by the way means jobs, as well as training around green jobs, sustainable farming jobs. So someone who isn’t learning about what life is in a rural area like this, but who inherently knows that things that could change life in the 19th congressional district within a year or two, is the voice that you want at the table by next January, when farm bill negotiations start?

VG: All right, well, I want to start moving into some of those policy areas. And you know, as you referenced, one of the ones that’s on the top of a lot of people’s minds right now, is abortion access post, the Dobbs decision. So with the Senate in its current makeup, and with it unlikely, with Democrats unlikely to have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate next term, it’s fairly unlikely that a federal codification of Roe v. Wade could make it through the Senate. What legislative  initiatives do you think could make it through both houses of congress and and what would you propose specifically, specifically, when it relates to abortion rights?

JC: Yeah, yeah. So, I’m not going to take your fully negative view on that. I think I think we saw something in Kansas that surprised a lot of people, 80% of Americans are pro choice, and Kansas is a deeply Republican and very rural state, and they sent a clear message. So I am going to choose to believe that there is a chance we could get a codification through the Senate and I will work to do that, I am going to acknowledge that there’s a chance that won’t happen, but I do think that the American people have started to speak on this. The reality is, this is such an all hands on deck moment, we are in real time and going forward, deeply damaging a generation of women. I see this, obviously, there’s challenges in the judicial branch, continue executive action. We need to, if we can’t get a full codification through, we need to codify pieces. So, whether that’s work around the Hyde Amendment, whether that’s work around medication abortions, and we need to break out all of those out and see where we can get all the way through. But the other thing, and I think that this is incredibly important, and frankly, this would be a place where we could address abortion access in the farm bill, 90% of this district is an OBGYN desert. So what does that mean? That means that someone who wants to get contraception, or that maybe suspects there in the first trimester of pregnancy, might need to travel over an hour for those services. Imagine what this means to a teenager without a car, to a mother who already has two young children, a single mother and can’t skip a shift of work there. I mean, there’s so many scenarios we can imagine. To me, the piece we can do immediately is simply better resource women’s health care. Make sure that contraception is available, make sure that first trimester care is available in each of our small communities, which does not need to be done by doctors. Nurses and nurse practitioners can be involved in this, investments in mobile clinics. So equipping women to fully have the information to manage this now very tenuous legislative situation is what I see as the fourth leg of this in addition to the executive, legislative and judicial, it’s how we resource women’s health care and finally making it a true priority, particularly outside of our major urban centers.

VG: Congress passed a package of reforms related to firearms earlier this year. Do you think that particular package went far enough and would you have supported it if you were in the House at the time?

JC: I would have supported it because I will support any work we do on this front. I have as I mentioned, three boys, my youngest is eight. I’ve done school drop off one day since I launched the congressional race, and it happened to be two days after Texas. And, as we got almost to school, a voice popped up in the back seat, my eight-year-old, and he, in the quiet way when you know a child has been thinking about something, he said, “mommy, if the shooter comes to my classroom, should I try to hide in the bathroom or should I try to climb out the window like the girl in Texas did.” My child wasn’t thinking about what game they were going to play at recess on the way to school, he was thinking about how to run away from a shooter. We are traumatizing a generation in real time, in addition to endangering their lives, so I would have absolutely voted in favor of that package. I will vote in favor of any well thought out gun reforms. Do we need to do more? Absolutely. We need an assault weapons ban tomorrow. We need a comprehensive assault weapons ban. There’s no place for these weapons of war in civilian hands. We also need, not only a comprehensive background check system at all points of purchase, but this needs to be a well funded system. You know, one of the fundamental issues is that even if we were to mandate it, the existing infrastructure and system can’t support it, and same in terms of red flag laws. We can mandate it. The existing system and investment in technology and infrastructure can’t support it. So I will continue to do that work. I am a Moms Demand Action candidate. I’m incredibly, incredibly proud of that partnership. And I will be at the frontlines of this. We need an assault weapons ban tomorrow.

VG: The shooter who killed 10 People in Buffalo was from Conklin here in Broome County, he penned a long document on his flatly racist beliefs. How do we combat that kind of hate and racism in our communities? And what role would the federal government play in that?

JC: Yeah, and I, you know, it’s interesting when we’re out in the district, we hear this so often. Frankly, it’s sort of traveled across the 19th district, this feeling of this is someone from within our communities, this feels very, very close to home as does Buffalo. You know, I think that there’s two pieces here. One is an acknowledgement of the environment that our children and young people have been in for the past two years, and an acknowledgement that simply a return to normal does not correct for that. I had a long talk and was actually with a teacher of 11th and 12th graders in Hudson. And she said, there’s a disconnection in her students eyes that she’s never seen before in her long teaching career. And it’s not just a resourcing issue, Hudson happens to be a very well-resourced system, there’s always a social worker to send them to talk to, but it was said the word she kept saying the disconnection doesn’t disappear. And there’s a real piece of work that we need to do there. So I think as we think about education, as we think about engaging our young people, not just a return to normal, a holistic investment in mental health. And then I think this goes back to working families, you know, so many of the stories we’re hearing around the experience of parents over a longer period of time, and then really highlighted over the past two years, where I’m working two to three shifts. The reality is my child is home alone, and I don’t know what they’re doing. They’re on a device somewhere, but I don’t have a choice. And this has to do with how we support our working families, how we’re creating jobs where people can make ends meet on less than two or three shifts, and be home in the evening with their child and have a conversation, not relying on devices and the bottomless hole of the internet as childcare. More and different after school program. I was, in my previous district, which did include Dutchess went up through Columbia and Rensselaer, very very involved in Poughkeepsie where they’re doing some really hard work on this and a lot of it is programming, after school and on weekends for these older teenagers, whether it’s basketball leagues, or karate classes in a gym, just hang out spaces that children want to come to acknowledging that parents are torn. I’m proud of the work that Poughkeepsie did and we would look actively for those learnings and how we can start to roll out and fund similar programming and how that programming isn’t going to need to look different in a place like Binghamton or Hudson, from how it’s going to need to look in Walton or Saugerties, where you may not have the same walkability that we’ve had where we’ve delivered these programs before. We need adults engaging with our children. We need funded options and we need more support for our working parents who I truly believe really would love to be home in the evenings with their children.

VG: We have about five minutes left. Included in the reconciliation package that Congress is currently considering. We’re talking on Aug. 6 right now, including in that package is a phased in approach to Medicare negotiating the price of some prescription drugs over a few years. Do you agree with that proposal? Do you think it goes far enough? And what else can be done and should be done to address the cost of prescription drugs?

JC: Yeah, well, I think it’s important to say we’re talking on Aug. 6 at 12:36 p.m.. because we were looking at real time updates on this bill, even as we were driving over here from door knocking this morning, so that’s the caveat. Listen, I’m excited that we’re getting anywhere on Medicare negotiating these drug prices. I don’t like the limited number of drugs that is on the current list, I do think it needs to go further and I truly think it must include insulin. I think that the next piece of important work that needs to be done is what we do with those savings. I think that if we are truly truly focused on affecting cost of living for our seniors on fixed incomes, we need to roll those savings immediately into covering dental, vision and hearing under Medicare. So those are the first two pieces that I feel extremely strongly about. I also think that we need to look at rolling those savings, and possible, making sure that everyone is paying their fair share, i.e. paying into Medicare and Social Security for the full year even if they’re making over a million dollars a years. As I’m sure you know, many millionaires stopped paying in around February. If everyone just paid the full year, we would easily be able to drop the Medicare qualification age to 60, which would have a meaningful meaningful impact. And then the other piece that you’re always going to hear me be a voice on is as we think about Medicare. And as we think about health care access as a whole, we need to expand that concept of access away only from cost. Cost is the critical piece of access, but in this district, it is also where those services are and how you’re getting to them. There’s so much support for telehealth right now, I am a huge proponent of telehealth, I definitely would have voted in favor of the recent bill, but telehealth doesn’t matter if you don’t have reliable broadband and that’s why we need a northeast rural voice on the ag committee beginning next year to negotiate a broadband investment through the central part of the 19th congressional district into the farm bill negotiations so that we can have meaningful telehealth at every household in this district.

VG: What do you believe your role as a potential federal lawmaker would be in fighting inflation? Inflation is really largely an issue of monetary policy, but of course, fiscal decisions do have an impact too. What do you think your role is as a member of the House in fighting inflation?

JC: So I think that we need to look at what happened in terms of pandemic stimulus and I truly hope we won’t find ourselves in a similar situation, but there will be a lesson learned here. That said, I think that if anyone tells you, comes and tells you, they’re going to single-handedly turn around inflation as a freshman member of Congress, I would ask for their general understanding of macroeconomics. I think when we think about inflation, which is I mean, when we talk to families in this district right now, this is crippling families 9% is crippling, we need to look at other levers on families wallets, that we can impact in a shorter timeframe, because the reality is that it’s going to take three to five years minimum to turn around this inflationary environment fully. However, things like negotiating prescription drug costs and rolling those over to vision, dental, and hearing things like the way that direct community funds were deployed to cost saving measures directly in our communities. We hear a lot of stories around point to point van transport pilots, water infrastructure investments that there are families in this district, many who buy bottled water for their children and then you’ll hear in the same town a story of so we decided to use our direct to community funding to invest $100,000 in water infrastructure. Now, a stretched family isn’t allocating a portion of their budget, they don’t have to bottled water. You know, that’s a real savings. We’ve heard from communities that rebuilt an old childcare center that had closed down to bring it up to code with direct community funding and all of a sudden families are not driving 45 minutes to the nearest childcare center. That’s a real savings. We’ve heard of people doing this same thing with senior centers and cooling centers. So I think that one of the best things we can do is to make sure that direct to community funding is an ongoing part of budgets. I will advocate strongly for this, because those dollars coming right back to our communities can address the one or two things that each community knows have the most real time impact on the cost of living in their community.

VG: Well, we are just about 30 minutes here, so I think we will have to cut it there, but I’ve been joined by Jamie Cheney candidate for the Democratic primary in the 19th Congressional District. Thanks so much for coming on.

JC: Thanks for having me today, Vaughn. Really great to be here.