Freshman congressman Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, held a town hall meeting in the Arkell Performing Arts Center at Canajoharie High School Wednesday night, engaging with one of the most rural and Republican dominated areas of the 19th congressional district.
Speaking before an audience of approximately 40 people Delgado talked about national and local issues. He said too many congressional districts in Washington are gerrymandered to be "safe seats" with clear majorities of either Republicans or Democrats. He said more districts should be drawn like his, with registered voters nearly evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and independents, because in his district people of different opinions and parties are required to engage with each other.
Delgado said he opened a branch office in Oneonta Wednesday and plans to hold more town hall meetings throughout his district to engage the rural areas, particularly Republican and conservative majority areas.
He got his chance in Canajoharie.
One speaker, visibly angry, asked what Delgado thinks should be done to reduce the number of people leaving New York state, citing statistics saying 165,000 had left last year, while New York state acts as a "sanctuary state" for illegal immigrants, spending money on public assistance for immigrants legal or otherwise and spending money on failed economic development projects like the "Buffalo millions", referencing the scandal plagued Cuomo administration project in western New York.
"How do we offset all of that with tax revenues, when our government says we're in a deficit ... where is the oversight?" said the man.
Delgado said unfortunately the oversight of tax revenues in the United States has been delegated to big political campaign donors, particularly powerful corporations and the wealthiest Americans. He said the cap on local and state tax deductions passed as part of the tax reform signed by President Trump should be repealed because it hurts New York state and residents of his district.
"We should have a system of taxation that does not vastly benefit the top 1 percent. We are throwing revenue away, throwing it away when we could be investing it in our future. Yes, we should think about where to spend and make cuts where appropriate, but we aren't even doing that — we're adding a $1.5 trillion dollars to our national deficit over the next ten years, and most of that is the recent tax bill that was passed," he said.
Delgado received applause throughout the auditorium when he said that the tax reform bill, although it had some good parts for small businesses, also cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and asked the poor and middle class Americans to pay for them.
"When folks point to people relying on the social safety net as their rationale for why we're not growing, to me that isn't seeing the whole picture. We're being forced to fight for scraps, and when you're forced to fight for scraps, you turn tribal, rightfully so, you close your ranks, your own family, your own community; it's human instinct. We don't have to be like this, but when you're told to eat just the crumbs — that's what happens," Delgado said.
During the question and answer portion of the meeting Delgado said few people realize the 19th congressional district is the third most agricultural district in New York state and the eighth most agricultural in the United States.
Fittingly, agricultural questions dominated the first part of the question and answer session.
Chris Novak, a member of the Palatine Town Board, asked Delgado where he stands on the issue of whether produce should have a Country of Origin Label, an issue known by the acronym C.O.O.L.
Delgado said he hasn't been presented with legislation specifically referencing the C.O.O.L concept, but said in principle he supports consumers knowing where their agricultural products come from, and he supports legislation that opens up foreign markets to U.S. agricultural products. He praised the recent reform of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which opened up some markets in Canada. He said the Trump administration rejected Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement also contained some elements that would have opened up agricultural markets in Japan, and helped the 19th congressional district.
Addressing President Trump's recent declaration of a national emergency regarding the southern border, Delgado said he's violating the constitution.
"The last I checked, the power of the purse, under Article 1 of the constitution puts spending power specifically with Congress," he said.
Ryan Hayes, a senior at Canajoharie High School, said he was by far the youngest person in the audience and asked how Delgado planned to engage young people in the district.
Delgado thanked Hayes for coming to town hall, but then challenged him to do more. He asked him to invite his friends to go to public events, and to use his social media platform to engage them on issues involving public policy.
"Tell them it's not perfect, but they can make things better by being engaged. The reason this system is the way it is right now, in many respects, is because the operating assumption in Washington is that young people will not engage," he said.