Rep. Elise Stefanik talks truth and taxes at Enterprise office

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik speaks with the Enterprise editorial board Friday at the newspaper’s Saranac Lake office.
(Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik says her campaign ads about Democratic opponent Tedra Cobb are accurate, and that people are spreading false information about her own record in Congress.

Speaking with the Enterprise editorial board Friday, the Republican incumbent spoke on her controversial advertisements, congressional career and catchy slogans.

Hours after Cobb won the Democratic primary in June in New York’s 21st Congressional District, the Stefanik campaign coined the moniker “Taxin’ Tedra.” This was followed by two television ads, “Clear Choice” and “Clone,” and a radio ad, “Meanwhile,” which carry the claim that Cobb voted to raise taxes 20 times in her eight years as a St. Lawrence County legislator, “Taxing everything from candy to water to gas.”

Articles and opinion essays in many North Country news sources have set out to debunk this claim, saying most of those 20 counts were misinterpreted, exaggerated or inaccurate.

The Post-Star newspaper wrote that seven of these votes could be chalked up as actual tax increases but pointed out that four were the legislature adopting its bipartisan annual county budget, two were increasing county fees for garbage tipping and recording documents with the county clerk, and one was an expansion of the county’s occupancy tax.

Several of the other 14 claims were procedural votes that were precursors to sales and mortgage tax increases which occurred after Cobb left office, if at all. Cobb voted for the permission to possibly raise the taxes but never voted to implement the actual increases.

“The ads are accurate,” Stefanik said. “I am held to account for my record on procedural votes moving legislation forward.”

She noted that a letter from elected Republican legislators from all 12 of NY-21’s counties urged Cobb to “own her votes.”

When asked how Cobb was not owning her votes, Stefanik said, “She’s been all over the map. Initially she denied it, then she said some of them were [tax increases], then she said she supports raising taxes at the federal level as well.”

The “Cuomo Clone” ad states that “Taxin’ Tedra wants a trillion dollars in new taxes,” citing the claim with a September 2017 CNN article on how trillion-dollar deficits are “the new normal.” The article, however, never mentions Cobb.

“I’ve never voted to raise taxes,” Stefanik said.

Yet she has regularly voted for spending increases, especially for the military, when the federal government didn’t have the money to pay for them. In 2015 she voted against sequestration budget controls on the military, which would have reduced up to 16,000 soldiers and civilian workers at Fort Drum and more at 30 other bases around the U.S.

“I don’t think that’s the right approach, especially given Fort Drum and the negative effect that it had on military readiness,” Stefanik said.

When the federal budget increases without revenue to pay for it, the difference is made up by increasing the national debt; counties do not have that option.

Stefanik said Cobb has not supported a single budget option yet, remaining vague on the specifics. Stefanik voted for the 2018 balanced budget amendment, which would have required Congress not spend more than the nation collects in revenue. The bill failed a House vote in April.

Under attack

Stefanik described her ads not as negative but as “contrast” ads, saying she has been on the receiving end of negative ads from outside liberal groups as well as in public statements by opponents in the Democratic primary.

“I’ve been attacked verbally, incessantly, from every Democratic candidate in this race going back to January of last year, right after my election [in 2016],” Stefanik said. “There’s a lot of misinformation being pushed out directly from candidates in the primary and my opponent in the general election.”

Stefanik said lies have been spread about her not living in the district, voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no replacement package, voting for the December 2017 GOP tax bill and getting an “OK” from party leadership to vote against her party.

“It’s just false. I am not a whipped vote,” Stefanik said. “I vote this district, and I have one of the most independent records of challenging leadership and putting this district first.”

Stefanik said she has stood up to Republican leadership before and will continue to do so if policies do not line up with the needs of NY-21.

Stefanik sits on the House Republican whip team, where she hears concerns among membership about potential policies. She gave the example of her pushing for the passing of the appropriations package for the Lake Champlain Basin Program. Republican leadership was not going to support the funding increase she and Rep. Peter Welsh, D-Vt., had been working on. An hour before the vote on the floor, “I went to them and said, ‘You need to get in the right place on this.’”

The leadership changed its recommendation.

While she opposed the ACA, Stefanik said she never voted to repeal without offering a replacement package, and she broke with party lines to vote against the GOP tax bill in December.

Stefanik said she lives in Willsboro in the district, in a house her mother owns, files taxes in the district and has her credit card and driver’s license registered in the district. While she does not currently own property in the district, she said she splits property taxes with her mother on the Willsboro house and has held 825 constituent events in the district since her election in 2015.

Stefanik said she has released her tax returns, which Cobb has not done.

“That’s something she has in common with President Trump,” Stefanik said.

More from Stefanik’s editorial board interview with the Enterprise will be published later this week.


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