Long campaign for a big district

In April, Martha Robertson kicked off her Congressional campaign for the 23rd district. While many of her Democratic supporters cheered, some were left wondering, why now?

Current U.S. Rep. Tom Reed won election – narrowly – over challenger Nate Shinagawa last November. That close margin is exactly why Robertson wants to be a household name for voters in the 11 Southern Tier counties the district encompasses over the next 15 months.

The better the recognition, the better her chances.

Before this year, our Congressional region was tied to Buffalo and Brian Higgins. Higgins never had to worry about name recognition here. Area residents received a dose of it from the Buffalo media.

But hardly any voter in the county knew Reed or Shinagawa, both from the eastern portion of the district, before the election. There’s probably even a good number of residents here who still think Higgins, not Reed, is our Congressional representative today.

Robertson currently serves as Tompkins County Legislature chair. She reached out to me a week ago after an editorial earlier this month regarding her stance on NRG. In the editorial, we noted she spoke at a state Public Service Commission hearing in Lansing about repowering the facility there and the Dunkirk power plant with a biomass option.

Our newspaper editorial, however, favors what NRG has proposed – the natural gas option – since there are no other options by the company that are currently on the table. In that same editorial, we noted Reed was slow to back NRG in the beginning. Robertson, in a recent phone interview, concurred.

“I will tell you that there is only one candidate in this race who has wanted power from Canada, and that’s Tom Reed,” Robertson said. “I have been consistent. I have always been opposed to the transmission from Canada.”

Robertson cited a letter Reed signed as a member of Congress that was sent to state Gov. Andrew Cuomo on June 29, 2011, in favor of the Canadian project. “I was opposed to that from the get-go … Dunkirk’s plant needs to stay open. By the way, I disagree with the Sierra Club (on this issue).”

Besides NRG, she also talked about some other major issues and priorities on the federal level:

Student loans – Robertson is disappointed with the recent agreement that fails to provide an affordable option. “It’s a bad deal for students and families. … That bill ties the interest of the student loan rates to the market. … The long-term projection is it is going to cost students thousands of dollars more. We already have a situation where the federal government is making money on these loans. Why are we making money on the people who are just trying to invest in themselves so they can be more productive in their lifetime?”

Affordable Care Act – Despite efforts by her opponent and his colleagues to repeal Obamacare, Robertson said, she believes it deserves a chance. “When they vote to repeal it and don’t have anything to replace it with, I guess they want us to go back to where you can be kicked off your insurance,” she said. “If the Republicans have a better idea, they certainly haven’t told us what it is.”

On an under-achieving Congress – “Congress gets away with doing nothing. This Congress has passed less legislation than any Congress in history,” she said. “They have a to-don’t list, they don’t have a to-do list. … We have to start creating jobs in this country.”

Robertson, besides running for Congress, may also have some lessons to share with local representatives. In Tompkins County, there is a regional water and sewer district. In Tompkins County, leaders and public employee unions agreed to wage freezes. The county even has a health consortium, which reduces the cost of plans for city and town governments.

So successful is the consortium, the city of Cortland from neighboring Cortland County, has joined in the program. “You can find win-win situations,” Robertson said.

Imagine that. Governments working together to benefit residents and stakeholders while reducing costs.

Democratic-laden Fredonia Village Board, which has been unwilling and stubborn on any regional initiative, could learn a thing or two from the Congressional candidate who has their party’s endorsement.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.