21st CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT -- The five Democratic candidates in the 21st Congressional District focused on universal health care and the disconnect between the federal government and upstate New York during a forum Monday night at the Saratoga Springs Middle School.
All five called in some form for "Medicare for all" or universal health care, contrasting themselves with Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, who has voted to repeal or modify the Affordable Care Act.
"If they proposed Medicare for all, we would win," said Patrick F. Nelson of Stillwater, a former Bernie Sanders campaigner who has also worked on other campaigns. He has made health care his signature issue.
The five attended a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County and Citizens Acting Together for the 21st District, which was held just two weeks ahead of the June 26 primary that will determine which candidate will face Stefanik in November.
About 300 people attended the forum.
The candidates running in the North Country district hope to see Democrats take control of the House of Representatives after the November elections, allowing Democrats to bring issues like increasing health care access to the fore.
“One of the first votes I hope I get to cast is a vote for Medicare for all. That will help our people, that will help our businesses, that will help our local governments that are nearly drowning under the cost of employee health care," said Emily Martz of Saranac Lake.
Katie Wilson of Keene said she favors universal health care, but would initially seek legislation that would let people purchase Medicare coverage from the government. “We have to do something right away, and we have to be realistic," she said.
Lack of government health care is costing buisnesses money and slowing economic growth, said Tedra Cobb of Canton, a former St. Lawrence County legislator. “What is holding us back? First and foremost, it is health care," she said.
"I think everyone understands that Medicaid for all is the answer, it's just how hot the temperature in the room has to get," said Dylan Ratigan of Lake Placid, an author and former CNBC and MSNBC commentator.
Candidates also said, sometimes passionately, that the federal government has become disconnected from the the people in places like upstate New York, and that corporate donors making large financial contributions have too much influence.
"Our entire financial system is designed to remove resources from places like upstate New York," Ratigan said, speaking of what he called deep corruption and lack of responsiveness in government.
"There's a disconnect from the government in Washington and the people in what we see every day," Cobb said.
Wilson said a Democrat holding the 21st District seat would help bring issues like health care to a vote. “What you can do is drive the conversion, when things are being done the way they’ve ways been done, you can refuse to roll over," she said.
Martz said she supports national Democratic calls for a "better deal" for the average American. "A better deal for all of us will be to narrow the level of income inequality," Martz said.
"They (Republicans) take something [a service that government provides] and break it, and then point at it and say 'Look, it's broken, we can't fix it,'" Nelson said.
The candidates were also unanimous in calling for new gun regulations, contrasting themselves with Stefanik, who has a top rating from the National Rifle Association.
All criticized President Donald Trump's launching of a trade war with Canada, which has a 150-mile border with the 21st District and is the district's largest international trading partner.
"We don't need a wall with Mexico, we need a bridge with Canada," Cobb said.
The 21st Congressional District represents New York's North Country, from central Saratoga County and Fulton County to the Canadian border.
The June 26 primary ballot will also include the name of Donald Boyajian of Cambridge, but he has since withdrawn from the race to pursue a state Assembly seat.
All five candidates said they will support the winner of the primary.