NY-19 special election: Pat Ryan touts leadership, business experience

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Pat Ryan is the Democratic candidate seeking to fill out the term in the current 19th Congressional District special election. (Pat Ryan for Congress)

Pat Ryan is running as the Democrat in the special election to fill out the term for New York’s current 19th Congressional District. The district encompasses eastern Broome, Otsego, Delaware and Sullivan counties as well as parts of the mid-Hudson Valley. His Republican opponent is Marc Molinaro.

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

Ryan will run in the new 18th Congressional District for the full term beginning in 2022. Jamie Cheney and Josh Riley are running in a Democratic primary for the new 19th Congressional District, which coincides with the Aug. 23 primary.

Vaughn Golden: This is WSKG News. I’m Vaughn Golden. I’m here with Pat Ryan Democratic candidate for the special election being held in the existing 19th Congressional District. Pat is Ulster County Executive. Thanks so much for coming on.

Pat Ryan: Thanks for having me.

VG: We’ve offered these interviews to both the candidates running in the special election in the 19th district. That includes Pat Ryan and Mark Molinaro. This is the existing 19th district which includes Eastern Broome, Otsego and Delaware Counties. The date of the election is Aug. 23, which we’ll also note is the special, the special election coincides with a Democratic primary election for the new 19th District on that date, Pat is running in a different congressional district for the general election so he will not appear on that primary ballot, just the special election. For the structure of this interview, we’re going to take some time to discuss you and your candidacy and then take the remaining time to just discuss some specific policy areas. So can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your history in public service?

PR: Sure, and thank thanks again for having me and explaining the all the all the moving pieces of elections this year. So I, I grew up in this incredible district, I’m born and raised in Kingston, and my family’s been in the area for five generations. My mom is a public school teacher, my dad, a small business owner and they really, I’d say drilled is a fair word, into me the importance of community and public service and taking care of others, especially the most vulnerable in our community. And so for me, that service meant going to West Point as a 18-year-old, graduating there in 2004. I served two combat deployments in Iraq as a Army intelligence officer and then when I got out of the Army, actually co-founded a technology company with with a fellow vet and another friend focused on getting better equipment, software, hardware to our troops around the world. I had experienced firsthand that we, we sent a whole lot of us to war, not only without a strategy, but also without the right equipment and so we work to fix that problem and grew a business to over 150 folks, most of whom were vets coming home from serving who most of whom didn’t have any, any college degree and we were able to get them trained and tech skills and get really good paying jobs here. So really proud of that company. And then ultimately, I felt I want to continue to try to serve the community and elected office. So I’ve been serving as Ulster County Executive, the last a little more than three years, which is a great job, even in the midst of a pandemic and happy to talk more about what we’ve done there, but it’s really been a really humbling opportunity to serve the community that that’s always had my back. And just on a real personal note, I have two little ones, two young boys, one just turned three, and one is seven months. So there’s never a dull moment in the Ryan household these days.

VG: So what’s your motivation for running to and why specifically Congress in this case?

PR: Yeah, I think right now, I really feel our whole democracy is under threat. I think so many of the foundational freedoms that I risked my life for, that I lost friends fighting for that many among our community, rallied and push and fought hard for are being taken away from folks starting number one, as we’ve seen in just the last few months, with a right for women and people that have access to safe abortions, to have access to reproductive health care to rip away a right that folks have had for 50 years to make a personal healthcare decision and instead say that “no, the government is going to tell you how to do that.” That’s not the country that I fought to defend and I think we have to recognize that increasingly, on that issue on voting rights issues on, you know, even a literal storming of our capitol and an erection, insurrection, fomented by far right extremists in the Republican Party. Our democracy is literally at stake and so stepping up again to fight for a country that I believe deeply in is really why I’m running.

VG: And as I mentioned at the top, you’re running in this special for the 19th Congressional District, but not the new redistricted 19th seat. You’re running for the 18th Congressional District. So you live in the current district and not the new one you live in the run you’re running for. Do you think you’re run in the special will add confusion for voters in this seat that could potentially be damaging for Democrats come November, when whoever wins the primary appears on a ballot and not you, potentially if you would win.

PR: I think the redistricting process in New York combined with the fact that there’s a unexpected open seat for Congress, now that Lieutenant Governor Delgado has stepped up to do that and left his seat in Congress is certainly unusual. I know there’s a lot of people sort of figuring it out still, and a lot of confusion. So we’ve been working really hard to make sure people understand the process and understand the urgency and what’s at stake. I mean, right now, the 19th district does not have a representative in Congress. And that is a disservice to the almost 800,000 People that live in this district. So we have to make sure every single day, we have a member who not only will work hard, but is aligned with our values and believes in service and believes in our community and our country. And so ultimately, I have faith that people will figure out the process. The fact that the lines are changing, and that happens every 10 years, I know as always, nobody likes change, but for me, the way I always think about representation and running for office, we run to represent our home, our community where we’re from and so, right now I live in the 19th district and have for the last many years. When the lines change, we’re certainly not moving our house or our family, our home. But we happen to live in the new 18th district because we’re in Ulster County here, so as many days as I have to represent this district, I will work as hard as I have leading my soldiers in combat, growing a small business and working working hard as county executive and that’s the work ethic that I will bring to to the people of this district.

VG: There are two Democrats running in a primary for the full term in New York-19, Jamie Cheney and Josh Riley. To my knowledge, you haven’t endorsed either of them. Why is that?

PR: Call me old fashioned, I think voters should decide elections, not not politicians. So I know them both and respect them and certainly think they’re great candidates to represent this district and then we let voters decide how that goes.

VG: And lastly, what in your opinion sets you most apart and makes you more qualified for this role than your special election opponent, Marc Molinaro.

PR: I think at the end of the day, you zoom out and you talk to people, and it’s clear, we have enough career politicians in Washington right now, what we need are leaders, leaders that have led and combat leaders that have built businesses, leaders that have united people in tough times and that’s what I’ve done throughout my life and my career. I have great respect for Marc, but he’s he’s been in elected office since he was a teenager, literally. And at the end of the day, it’s about delivering, and I think we’ve not seen Washington under career politicians from both parties deliver what people need, especially in upstate New York, where we always get second or third or fourth, at best in line behind everybody else. So really, it’s about how do we shake that up, how do we change that up? And for me, as county executive, I’ve been able to really deliver at the end of the day, that’s what I think leadership is about and that that’s what folks want.

VG: So now we’re gonna move into some policy questions. We’re at about eight and a half minutes right now. So you’ve made abortion and abortion rights a huge tenant of your campaign, especially after the Dobbs decision was handed down earlier this year. If you were to be elected to the House, the Senate is still fairly unlikely to pass a federal codification of Roe v. Wade. Are there any legislative initiatives short of a codification that you think could make it through the Senate and that you would want to push for if you were elected?

PR: Yes, is the short answer. But to be clear, there is a direct and concerted and multi-decade long effort to take away this fundamental right and freedom and we just saw a big part of that happen in the Dobbs decision, but the leaders of the extreme, increasingly extreme, far right Republican Party are calling for a national ban on abortion, including in cases of horrific instances of rape and incest and that is just, as we saw in a resounding outcome in Kansas last week, completely out of step with where America is right now. The idea that, I mean, I literally said this in our first campaign ad, how can we be a free country if the government is telling us what to do with our bodies and our personal health care decisions? And I believe that deeply and clearly the majority of Americans do too, and in terms of specific things that we can do short of that, which I, to be clear, I think we have to continue to fight for that and we will succeed in that endeavor. One of the areas I’m most focused on is our veteran and military population. A lot of people don’t know right now that millions of service members who have literally risked their lives for our country do not have access to safe abortions, if needed, and many other reproductive health services because neither the VA, or the TRICARE system which covers active duty military provide that coverage, I think it’s outrageous and that’s something that could be immediately addressed by Congress and on the VA side could be addressed even without Congress under an order of the VA Secretary. So those are, that’s millions of people who have already shown a willingness to literally risked their lives for our country that we owe that kind of care and access to. I think it’s actually a even a recruitment and retention issue, where folks that might live in states, like Indiana that just completely banned access to all these services, we’re going to lose military service members over taking away these kinds of rights and benefits.

VG: Moving along, Congress passed a package of legislation related to firearms  earlier this year. It was somewhat of a bipartisan package. Do you think that package went far enough, and would you have supported it if you were in the House at the time?

PR: I think any step that can save one life of a kid in second or third grade in Texas, or a family at a Fourth of July party in Chicago or someone at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, and the list goes on, any any step that saves those lives I certainly would support. However that legislation fell far short of not only what’s needed, but what the data shows would dramatically reduce loss of life. I have called for, among other things, reinstating the federal assault weapon weapons ban, which lowered gun violence deaths by over 60% for the 10 year period, it was in place from 1994 to 2004. The data is crystal crystal clear that unsurprisingly, when you give people the same weapons of war, I carried in combat for 27 months, and they use those weapons to kill folks, they can kill a whole lot more folks in less time and those weapons are designed purely to kill human beings en mass in combat. They have no place on our streets and our schools, at concerts, grocery stores, or Fourth of July parades. So in addition to an assault weapons ban, I support universal background checks, red flag laws and other common sense gun safety measures. And look, responsible gun owners that I talk to all the time agree because they understand the seriousness of these weapons and recognize that those are the purposes of those weapons are not civilian purposes.

VG: As member of the House, what do you believe the role for federal lawmakers is to fight inflation, it’s largely an issue of monetary policy, but of course, fiscal decisions do have an impact too.

PR: Yeah, the overall rising cost of everything, and inflation is a big part of this, but this has been building for for decades, particularly the rising cost of health care, the rising cost of housing, and then most recently, of course, fuel and food. I mean, we’re certainly feeling it in our household. I think there’s a significant role for the federal government and the Congress and there is for local government too. As county executive, I’ve addressed this head-on and in a bunch of ways. One, we cut our gas tax in Ulster County by 50%, providing significant relief at the pump for folks who have no choice but to drive. We have to provide relief for small businesses that are getting just absolutely crushed and as county executive, I’ve provided millions in relief to our small businesses, who are getting pushed and pushed and pressured by big mega corporations, that somehow did really well through the pandemic when everyone else was struggling and still paid zero, zero in federal tax, which is outrageous. And then third on the on the on the tax property tax front as county executive, I’ve held the line and never raise taxes. Unfortunately, my opponent in the race has raised taxes and every single office he’s held, and so our records are very clear on that. So I want to bring that same approach to Congress and I’ve called for example, for federal relief on the federal gas tax, which is significant. We’ve seen gas prices come down quite a lot over eight straight weeks, which is encouraging but it’s still far too high for families that are struggling to choose between gas, food, utility payments. And a lot of this comes back to me to holding big corporations accountable that I’ve just gotten far too much power, including our utilities right here. We’ve been absolutely, I’ve been hammering Central Hudson our utility down in the southern part of the district who has been ripping customers off and making record-breaking profits for their foreign shareholders while all of us are paying more.

VG: Included in the reconciliation package that passed through the Senate over the weekend. We’re speaking on Aug. 8 right now. Included in that was a phased-in approach to Medicare to negotiating the cost of some prescription drugs. This would be phased in over a few years. Do you think that that provision goes far enough and what else should be done to address the cost of prescription drugs?

PR: It does not go nearly far enough. It is absurd that, over the weekend, we saw the vast preponderance, if not all Republicans vote against two big, two big ways to save health care costs. Number one, all Senate Republicans voted against capping insulin fees at $35. There are millions of Americans right now paying 10 to 20 times that each month. There was legislation to cap that and hold these big pharmaceutical companies accountable for ripping off folks who have no choice but to buy this insulin and to see people vote against that was was really disappointing. And same thing on allowing our Medicare programs to negotiate prescription drug prices. What this basically is, is a sell out to big pharma who lobby and buy off members of Congress and say we need to make these record breaking profits on the backs of hardworking Americans who again, have no choice but to buy these prescriptions. And in every other country, the government is allowed to use their negotiating power to bring down prices on behalf of their residents. The fact that we don’t instantly do this, and then we didn’t do it 10 or 20 or 30 years ago is outrageous.

VG: And still moving along, what is the federal government’s role in addressing climate change. New York State has been making a lot of efforts but the federal government is different, differently situated stance here. Where do you think federal investments are best spent and best allocated when it comes to addressing climate change?

PR: I think there are a few different areas. And we’ve seen some of these big movement in these areas just at the federal level in the last few weeks and months. For example, investing in research and development dollars for the National Science Foundation, and DARPA and other research entities that brought us things like the internet and satellites and GPS. Investing in the same way in new clean energy that would actually allow us to finally become truly energy independent, to not be beholden to Saudi Arabia, and other dictators, including Putin, who right now wield so much control over us and our foreign policy, and ultimately what people pay at the pump, because we haven’t made that investment. So investing in clean energy technologies, from solar to electric vehicles and everything in between is is actually I believe, a national security imperative at this point, so that we don’t become, remain beholden to autocrats across the world. We also need to as we do that, make sure we’re creating good paying American jobs around these new sectors and technologies. For example, right here in Ulster County, we’re revitalizing a former IBM site, which I know there are many of across our district, and one of the companies we’re bringing in and have recently announced is a new battery technology company that will be paying extremely good, well well well above living wage wages here, and is investing in new battery technology that could be a breakthrough in this area. So it’s really about recognizing we are at a moment where, not only for climate reasons and sort of moral reasons do we need to look at making this transition, but it’s a real economic imperative that we do it in a way that preserves good paying jobs that preserves the good jobs guaranted to our local union members that have been critical to our current energy system. So that’s what we’ve been able to do here in Ulster, and that’s what I’d want to do at the federal level.

VG: The shooter who killed 10 People in Buffalo was from Conklin in Broome County. That’s obviously not in the district, but it is up here and in the state. He, he penned a long racist document of his beliefs. How do we combat the kind of hate and racism that we saw in in this event and what role should the federal government and federal lawmakers play in that?

PR: Yeah, and look, I mean, I’ve said this and had this conversation with a lot of our residents and constituents. If that young man had driven two hours east, he would have been in Kingston or Newberg, or many places in the 19th district. And my wife and I actually shop at a Tops and bring our three-year-old and seven-month-old into that store and had never before this had to think about whether that could literally be a deadly life or death decision. So a lot of people wrestling with this, right now. We’ve created this toxic cocktail of weapons of war, underinvestment in mental health, and that’s, that’s a big piece of what we need to do. And to your question, allowing the propagation and the rapid spread of extremist, far right, hateful ideology to spread across the internet and and across, you know, person-to-person contact, we have to one call it out clearly and explicitly as what it is, racist white supremacist violent behavior and language, ther have to be strict measures to hold people accountable. We need to significantly increase federal resources towards domestic terrorists and domestic extremists. It’s an area we’ve under invested in for far too long compared to our other work in this area, in counterterrorism and extremism. And then we have to hold these technology companies, these big tech companies that again, are making billions, tens of billions of dollars of profit every year as what they allow to propagate kills kids and seniors and you know, in that Buffalo incident, a law enforcement officer who had just retired and was a security guard, as we all know. So, one of the things I’m excited to bring to Congress I worked in the technology sector after the army and I understand how that works and I understand how and how important it is to hold these big technology companies finally accountable for what they do with our data and our lives, especially kids right now. So that’s an area I’m excited to work on.

VG: Would you support the federal legalization of adult use recreational cannabis and are there any specifics in a federally regulated cannabis program that you would like to see?

PR: I would, I would support it. And you know, we’re seeing the beginnings of that, obviously, in New York. We’ve been watching what’s been happening in other states and I think so far, it’s been, overall a very net positive from an economic perspective, certainly from a a justice perspective, kind of righting the wrongs of arresting so many on minor drug charges that have led to record incarceration, particularly of people of color in this country, and certainly in this district. I think the one thing we obviously have to look at is continuing to ensure public safety as we, as we legalize something like this, especially when it comes to driving and impairment. I work very closely with our sheriff here in Ulster County on this, as as we’re implementing it in in the county and in the region. One of the projects we’re most excited about in Ulster is we’re revitalizing another former industrial site, a former knife manufacturing site in Ellenville, bringing in a major recreational and medical marijuana company that will invest over $200 million, and lifting up our community, paying good wages, and building housing and other critical investments in our school system. So I think there’s huge opportunity, certainly in the district and across the country, as long as we do it smartly and thoughtfully.

VG: The Congressional Research Service indicates the U.S. has spent about $8.1 billion supporting Ukraine this year as of Aug. 1, and around $11 billion since 2014 when Russia initially invaded Ukraine. How far should the US continue going in supporting Ukraine and its war against Russia and is there a specific point, a line in the sand, that you believe we should stop or seriously consider stopping?

PR: Well, I’m really proud of our strong and overwhelming and unified response, not just as, as the U.S. but as as a united front of European partners and other partners around the world saying, we’re not just going to allow dictators to come in and, like Putin, and do what he did. We’re going to stand up we’re going gonna send a message with sanctions, we’re going to send a message with major military relief and assistance, intelligence sharing. I think that the response was, was taking a very taking a extremely difficult situation and handling it quite well, certainly not only by the Biden administration, but by all of our partners. That being said, we do have to continue to maintain support to our allies that’s important for them and important for public trust, trust of other allies around the world. But what I would like to see and part of the reason I’m running for Congress is to make sure we have a thoughtful foreign policy agenda that looks beyond just the next weeks and months, but looks out 20-30 years, let’s understand what success looks like in Russia and Ukraine. I think there’s a little bit of dissonance over whether it’s about stopping and blunting the Russian attack or whether we’re actually trying to engage in a longer conflict there to weaken Russia over the long term. And until we have clarity and agreement on that, there’s huge risk of, you know, quote, unquote, mission creep, the same mission creep I experienced on the frontlines in Iraq, and that my friends did in Afghanistan that resulted in the longest war in our country’s history. So, we have to support our allies. I’m proud that we are, but it can’t be without a clear understanding of what success looks like and how we’re doing getting towards that success.

VG: Is there any aspect of immigration reform that you believe you can strike a compromise with across the aisle? This is an issue that has become extremely polarized over the last few years.

PR: Sorry, pardon me, my 2 o’clock call here. I think there’s a lot of room for agreement among the American people on immigration. I think it’s another example where politicians, often in both parties are incentivized to focus on where we disagree, rather than the wide swath of agreement. So for example, addressing and creating a path for the dreamers, the young people born in this country who had no choice, and no other option, that is a no brainer and I think there’s wide support for that and I would certainly support that. Expanding worker visas right now, at a time when businesses across this district, small and medium in particular are struggling to find workers, whether that’s in farming and agriculture, retail tourism across across all sectors, a much more thoughtful and robust worker visa program that allows folks that just like all of our our, certainly my family and parents did people willing to come here and work and be part of the community and help build our economy. We have to make it easier for them to come and contribute and pay pay their, do their part as well. So I think there’s both of those share wide agreement, especially in a heavily agricultural economy like ours in the 19th. When I talked to farmers, they widely agree with that.

VG: Congress passed and the President signed infrastructure legislation, a bipartisan infrastructure piece of legislation in the last year, what to you is the most critical infrastructure need in the 19th Congressional District and what does Congress need to do to help with remedy that situation?

PR: The bipartisan infrastructure bill is one of the most impactful pieces of legislation passed in my lifetime and we should all recognize how huge of a deal this is for particularly more rural parts of our country, and certainly the 19th. This is the biggest infrastructure investment since Eisenhower, post World War II that created our interstate system and everything else that’s powered our economy for decades. So especially as a local government official who understands how important infrastructure is to our economy, to our housing to our health, I am so excited to see these dollars get put to work. I think the biggest area of commonality across the district is water and sewer, not sexy, but critically important. What’s happening beneath the ground, and we don’t often see, most of these systems, if there even our municipal water and sewer systems, are over a century old. So when we talk about, for example, the desperate need to build more housing for seniors and veterans and working people often the biggest holdup is we don’t have the water and sewer capacity to handle them. When we talk about bringing in more business and boosting the economy, bringing in manufacturers and others that need water sewer and power, it’s that again becomes the common point of holdup. So when you fail to invest for that long, and now we’re behind, that’s where I would start is particularly water and sewer. One of the projects, for example we’re most excited about is using our federal American Rescue Plan funds to up to run water and sewer to a whole new part of one of our towns, enabling a whole bunch of projects, but most specifically, a supportive housing project for families, and those that are without a home right now so that they can not only have a home for their family, but they can have mental health care, food, communal kitchens, transportation, and making sure that as we come out of this pandemic, we’re really thinking about those who are most, hit the most hard and who are very vulnerable right now.

VG: Alright, I think that’s all the time we have. Thanks again for speaking with me. This is Pat Ryan, Democratic candidate for the special election in New York’s 19th Congressional District. Thanks again. 

PR: Thanks for having me.