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ON THE SCENE: Locals reflect on Stefanik’s PBS forum

May 21, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

On Monday, May 8, Mountain Lake PBS held a community forum with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik at its Plattsburgh studio.

One hundred North Country residents were selected by random draw, 77 of whom attended, while approximately 200 people demonstrated outside on a chilly evening punctuated by snow showers.

Fifteen members of the studio audience, again selected by random draw, were provided the opportunity to ask questions along with three who live-streamed in theirs online. Eleven of their queries were about Stefanik's support for the recently approved health care bill, two about climate change, and one each about infrastructure, paying for the wall, the Russian/Trump campaign investigation, Trump's taxes, and addressing intolerance.

Article Photos

Manon Prevost-Mullane and Kathy Recchia of Jay
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Ron Jackson of Essex was not selected to sit inside but came out in support of Congresswoman Stefanik.

"I was glad that Congresswoman Stefanik participated in the forum," said Jackson. "The sad thing is across the nation people have used this type of a forum to get good tape for an upcoming campaign. Instead of asking questions that people want answers to, they ask those that make the Congressional representative look bad. People are not willing to work together. We are the exception. The rally was well-organized, they had a good turnout, and everyone was polite to me. I give them all the credit in the world."

Jackson went on to say his only disappointment was that Mountain Lake PBS didn't invite some standing outside to fill the empty seats so that more people would have had the opportunity to participate and attend in person.

"I was disappointed that there were so many filters and it was such a controlled event," said Jerilea Zempel, of Keene, who was inside but not called on to ask a question. "It's unfortunate more people didn't get to ask questions and that it wasn't in a larger venue. I wanted to ask Stefanik about employment in Essex County. According to Data USA, 30 percent of the workforce here earn $20,000 per year or less which is about the minimum wage of $9.70 for 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year. It's also the cutoff for a Medicaid-assisted health insurance program, which, if the Republican health care bill becomes law I believe will be cut back. I wanted to know if she thought $20,000 a year was a living wage, and also how those wage-earners will get health insurance under the Trump Care plan?"

"I was very proud of the people of the 21st District who came to out to express their feelings," said Lorraine Duvall, of Keene, another inside who didn't get a chance to speak. "The questions were not just personal, but the people had knowledge about what was going on. The bad part was I left depressed. I felt the person representing us was just a puppet for the Republican leadership. She is very intelligent, had great lines, and knows what she's doing. I was going to ask about the environment, but another did covering most of the questions I was going to ask. My task now is to follow her votes and see if she is going to do what she said she would do."

Duvall went on to say that she felt the question that should have been asked and discussed, was, "Are we as a nation, as a community, responsible for other people's healthcare or is it solely up to the individual? Should we as a nation make sure everyone has at least a basic level of healthcare or not?"

Those who raised concerns about health care shared their fears about losing access to health care under the House plan with several giving dramatic testimony to how critical the Affordable Care Act has been to them, and how the loss of affordable insurance could devastate their lives.

Kathy Recchia, of Jay, appreciated Stefanik's willingness to participate in the forum taking questions from people selected randomly but felt the Congresswoman had scripted answers and wasn't willing to make changes based on what she heard. She was offended by the Congresswoman's Facebook site describing the protesters as being "reprehensible" as that was not her experience.

"I don't think she knows the people of her district," said Recchia, whose son's wellness will require ongoing medical care.

"I felt there was a lack of empathy and a lack of listening," said Fred Balzac, of Jay. "You have to really listen to people first before you're going to change. How can you not be affected by the people's stories? She just stuck to the party line about how wonderful the House health care bill is they passed."

"I felt she skirted the questions," said Manon Prevost-Mullane, who asked about tolerance. "I asked about intercultural relations and what she's doing for our community because there is an increase of hate crimes. People are feeling not just less safe but less wanted. The visibility of our multiculturalism isn't there. I would like to have heard her offer to organize a more open meeting that would bring leaders of different communities together making sure each community is represented. It's nice that she addresses bullying in schools, but that wasn't what I was asking at all. I was asking her to foster intercultural dialogue."

"I didn't feel she answered my questions about pre-existing conditions," said Nina Matteau, of Westport. "I felt the discontent with her answers was more obvious in the studio than was conveyed in the on-air piece. The audience called on her when she didn't answer someone questions. It drives me crazy that they (the House Republicans) don't know how much this bill is going to cost. They just rushed it through so they could say they passed a bill. What kind of an irresponsible legislator does that?"

Franklin County Republican Chairman Ray Scollin, of Saranac Lake, who was outside and later watched the broadcast, feels Stefanik was right in voting for the bill as a means of getting it out of the House and the Senate engaged in the process.

"I didn't see anything unexpected," said Scollin. "I felt many of the questions were fair. The questioners showed concern, and I certainly understand that concern. I felt the congresswoman was somewhat structured in her answers, but for a reason. The Republicans had to get something out of the House and into the Senate to get any kind of a change."

Scollin agrees with Stefanik that Obamacare isn't working, but feels that the House plan isn't the solution either. He hopes that now that it's in the Senate, the Congress will come up with something more reasonable.

"We need a bill that's better than Obamacare and better than the House bill," he said.

Had Scollin been in the room, he would have asked Stefanik what were her concerns with ACA, what worked and needed to change and to answer the same about the House bill.

"Then people would have had an opportunity to understand if the congresswoman was in touch with the reality of the ACA or leaning on facts that had been disproved," he said. "I know how smart this congresswoman is. I know she knows what's wrong and what needs to be repealed and replaced."

A joint statement by the chairs of the Clinton, Essex and Franklin County Republican Party Chairs was released following the debate and is available on their respective websites. The full broadcast of the forum is available for review on the Mountain Lake PBS website.



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