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NY20 Congressional Debate with Paul Tonko and Liz Joy

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In this special edition of New York NOW, candidates for the NY20 Congressional seat Rep. Paul Tonko (D) and Liz Joy (R) face-off on a variety of issues.

DAN CLARK: Welcome to the special edition of New York NOW on WMHT where we'll hear from both candidates for the 20th Congressional district. I'm Dan Clark, the host of New York NOW on PBS, and the host of the debate. It's been produced in partnership of the Albany Times Union, WAMC, and the League of Women Voters chapters in the Capitol Region. 

The rules are simple, each candidate will get 90 seconds for an opening statements. We'll jump straight into questions. Both candidates will get the same questions and each will have 90 seconds to answer. As moderator I will have discretion to give candidates extra time if a panelist has a follow-up. At the end each candidate will be allowed a closing statement of 30 seconds. 

Before we go to the candidates, let us introduce you to tonight's panel. Josh Solomon in the middle from the Times Union. Lucas Willard on the right, Alexis Young. And tonight's candidates: Paul Tonko, a Democrat in congress since 2013. He lives in Amsterdam. To his left, your right, we have Liz Joy, Republican nominee for the seat, this would be her first term in elected office. 

We'll start now with opening statements, based on a coin toss, Mr. Tonko goes first. Mr. Tonko, you have 90 seconds. 

REP. PAUL TONTKO: Thank you and good evening. Thank you to WMHT and the partners, to the voters and my opponent for this opportunity. I'm an engineer by training that instructs my role as a legislator. Fighting for working families, protecting our rights, saving our democracy, and building an even stronger economy in our greater Capital Region is what my campaign is all about. It's what my work in Washington is about. Working with Republicans and Democrats, and independents alike, we've been able to bring great opportunities to the region, adding over 1,000 high tech manufacturing jobs, enacting historic legislative amounts for infrastructure improvements to fix our roads and bridges. And certainly addressing, finally, the urgent threats of climate change. With all that in mind, these opportunities came about by working together, understanding the needs of our communities, and then finding common ground to move forward. 

In contrast, my opponent is an extreme MAGA Republican. She will continue to advance policies that will put our Social Security and Medicare at risk, inflame our inflation by cutting the taxes for the rich and corporations, and instead of strengthening our democracy, she undermined it by leading a bus trip to the deadly January 6th insurrection at our capitol. My friends, the risks here in this election couldn't be higher. The choices could not be clearer, and I thank you again for the opportunity this evening.



"In contrast, my opponent is an extreme MAGA Republican. Instead of strengthening our democracy, she undermined it by leading a bus trip to the deadly January 6th insurrection at our capitol. My friends, the risks here in this election couldn't be higher."


DC:  Thank you. Ms. Joy, you have 90 seconds.

LIZ JOY: Well thank you so much and I am so glad to be here tonight and so glad to be running in the 20th Congressional district here in the Capitol Region. I'm a mom of four, and a grandmother, and I know that like you out there, you're very concerned about inflation, you're concerned about the high cost of living, you're concerned about your grocery prices, your heat, your energy, your oil, and I am too. And also like you, I'm concerned about the violent crime that is sweeping across America, and especially here in New York State, where criminals are coddled over law-abiding citizens. I'm also very concerned as a mom and a grandmother about our border crisis, where Fentanyl and illegal drugs are pouring in, and drug cartels are targeting our children and our loved ones, where Fentanyl is now the number one killer for 18 to 30-year-olds. Shouldn't be that way. 107,000 died last year alone.

And most of all, like you, I am very concerned about runaway government spending, and like my opponent here who's been in office, a political career politician for 46 years, and in Congress he himself has only sponsored three bills that passed, one was renaming a post office, one was renaming after a friend of his, and one was on radio piracy. We need common sense back in Washington and I'm a going to deliver it.

DC: Thank you, Ms. Joy. By another coin toss, lucky winner, Mr. Tonko goes first with the first question, which will come from WAMC’s Lucas Willard. 

LUCAS WILLARD: What will you do or what have you done to address the rising cost of living and persistently high poverty rates and neighborhoods in your district?

DC: 90 seconds. 

PT: Thank you, Lucas. Well, to begin with, I was a champion for the children's attacks credit. Child tax credit provided for one-half of America's children to be lifted out of poverty. That was a great advancement. It went to December of last year, the Republican stopped the effort to continue the program. It would have put dollars on the table to buy food and essentials, a great amount of that money was spent on behalf of essential needs. Also, we've reduced Medicaid costs or health care costs for our Medicare population, reducing the cost of insulin, capping it at $35, reducing out of pocket expenses and also negotiating on the most utilized pharmaceuticals out there, driving down costs. 

We have also passed inflation to hit gouging at the pump, making certain those that want to takes advantage of the consumer would be hit with that gouging effort. So it's making certain we reduce that price of gasoline at the pump, making certain we provide for an economic relief that will enable people to go through these efforts of the inflation. I would say on the other hand, the Republican plan is to reduce Social Security, to reduce Medicare, and to do tax cuts for the wealthy. That will only drive inflation higher, so we need to make certain that we continue programs that will address the needs of the American public. We need necessarily to make certain that gas prices come down, we're doing everything within our power, even working within that OPEC national context, which we can talk about later. 

DC: Thank you, Mr. Tonko, same question to you, Ms. Joy. 

LJ: Can you repeat the question for me, please?

DC: Of course, what will you do or have you done to address the cost of living and persistently high poverty rates in the neighborhoods and districts? 

LJ: Well first I find it so interesting that my opponent here the career politician said he wants to drive prices down at the pump because he was one of the chairs on energy and the commerce committee and he just voted to tax gas and oil, and he voted for a utility increase on our energy bills, which is why you see a 39% increase in your National Grid bill. And he took money from National Grid. So while he voted for your tax increase, he padded his own campaign coffers. Not me. As a mother, and a grandmother, and somebody that actually has to buy groceries and put them on the table, that needs to meet a budget, that has children, and grandchildren, I can tell you that when I get to Washington, the first thing that I'm going to do is make us energy independent again. That will immediately drive down the cost of the groceries, your milk, your eggs, your meat at the grocery store, why? Because as soon as we can drive down the costs that the truckers are paying to get our products here, the gas, and the oil, it's immediately going to have an impact on your prices. 

The other thing that I'm going to do to help our communities is I'm going to catch our children up. After being two years delayed in education, where my opponent took $110,000 from special interest groups to keep the schools closed for a full two years. I'm going to fight to make sure our children are caught up, that they have economic opportunities, and that they're safe and secure in their schools.

DC: Mr. Tonko, you were directly addressed, would you like a thirty second rebuttal?

PT: Yes, I would. I think my opponent doesn't understand the Inflation Reduction Act. You're wrong on that fact, opponent. What we did was allow for all forms of energy to have a benefit from the Inflation Reduction act. It drives down the cost for all forms of energy, including fossil fuels. So you need to get your facts correct, Ms. Joy.

DC: The next question actually—

LJ:  I'd like a rebuttal on that. 

DC: I'll give you 15 seconds. 

LJ: I find it interesting, the Inflation Reduction Act is the same act that he pushed through that gave you 87,000 new IRS agents that are actually armed to come after you, your wallets and your checkbooks, it's not an Inflation Reduction Act. It actually increased our taxes and put the IRS on you, making the IRS bigger than the state department, the FBI, and the border patrol combined. 

DC: We're going to move on. The next question goes to Ms. Joy from Josh Solomon from The Times Union. 

JOSH SOLOMON: Should the nation be seeking to lower its carbon emissions , what type of threat is the environmental crisis, and how should it be legislated? And lastly, do you support the  Green New Deal? 

LJ: So first and foremost, the very first thing that we should be doing here in this nation is working to help the families right here in our Capital Region, that are being crushed by the grocery prices, crushed by the utility prices that my opponent is part of increasing, crushed by the gas prices. Those are the things that we really need to do first, that's what I'm going to focus on. 

As far as the green new deal, it's $93 trillion. We cannot afford it. Yes, I'm a conservationist, yes, I support clean energy, I support all natural ways of being able to get our energy, and competitive ways to get our energy. But I don't support the $93 trillion green new deal r ight now, that is not a priority to the Capitol Region residents, whose incomes, gross incomes total in this district are $70,000. That's before taxes. People are having trouble making ends meet. They are not concerned, right now, about $93 trillion that they're going to have to pay for, on top of 87,000 new IRS agents that are going to look in their checkbooks. 

DC: Mr. Tonko, same question to you: should the nation be seeking to lower its carbon emissions, what type of threat is the environmental crisis and how should it be legislated, and do you support the Green New Deal?

PT: Let me correct the record on IRS, my opponent again got it wrong. The new agents that are going to—

LJ: It's in the bill. 

PT: —They're going to make certain that the tax forms that, the general public are done in a more expedited manner. The agency had been reduced severely, and no one under $400,000 of income will be checked for fairness of paying their full share of tax liability. To the carbon issue, of course we need to reduce carbon. We're seeing the acts of mother nature destroy Florida, Puerto Rico, the inner coastal networks in the New York State, in the upstate region that I represent, we're still coming back from the '06, '11 storms that destroyed our economy, destroyed our infrastructure and all. So yes, we have to respond. I didn't hear an answer from my opponent about whether we should reduce carbon in our atmosphere. It is about clean air to breathe, it's about safe water to drink, and it's about putting together a good sound plan. A lot of the policies that relate to climate in the Green New Deal are good policies, but they're just a laundry list of concerns. We developed it, as chair of the Environment and cCimate Change Subcommittee, we developed sound legislation to have an awesome, full disclosed report on addressing decarbonization, and dealing with pollution in our atmosphere. 

DC: All right, we're going to move on. Next question is for Mr. Tonko, comes from Alexis Young from New York NOW. 

ALEXIS YOUNG: One of the ongoing challenges for working mothers, and their families in this district, is the lack of high quality affordable child care. The U.S. Has lagged other developed nations in addressing the need. What would you do as a member of Congress to address the need?

PT: Absolutely. We've done it in a lot of our rescue plan activity, and the rescue plan provided for quality, accessible, affordable child care, it's been a heavy duty lift to do this through the Congress. I know in the house, in the leadership, in the Democratic majority, there's been great support, just like the child tax credit. It lifted one-half of children, living in poverty, out of that poverty. The same is true, working families, individual, single parent moms, single parent dads, married couples need assistance with child care on all the legislation that would advance a sound passage of child care, making it affordable, accessible, quality care. And it's a need. It's a need that I hear from parents all the time. And it's unfortunate that we have roadblocks, politically, to getting this done. 


Rep. Paul Tonko (D) prepares on the debate stage.


DC: Ms. Joy, same question to you: what would you do as a member of congress to address the need that is high quality affordable child care? 

LJ: Thank you so much for that question and I would just like to say, on the Inflation Reduction Act, actually in that bill, if you read the bill, maybe you didn't read it, even though you put it through and voted for it. There is 87,000 new IRS agents, that are armed, that combined, that is larger than the border patrol, it's larger than the state department, and it's larger than the FBI combined. I'm telling you, and when you say to me that I don't understand anything about the Inflation Reduction Act, you know, that's just insulting. I'm a Capitol Region mother that is here, I'm a veteran's wife, I'm a blue star mother, I'm 54 years old, I have paid our bills and put our kids through college and I know exactly how much it costs to fill up my tank, and I know exactly how much it costs to pay for our groceries and I know that I don't need 87,000 IRS agents looking in our checkbooks, but that will do nothing to help the families here. 

In regard to child care, look, as a mom of four, and a grandmother, I absolutely support child care. I think that we do need to fund our child care, and one of of the things that I saw in speaking to people who had children while you supported closing our economy for two years, was people said that their children were constantly being sent home, and they were having to miss work. So when I'm in Washington, I will never again deem people in the Capitol Region essential, or non-essential. Everybody's essential, and I'm going to work very hard to make sure all children are taken care of, so that people can go to work. 

DC: Mr. Tonko, would you like a 30 second rebuttal?

PT: Sure, I think what is misunderstood here is that if you worked in a congressional office you would once one of the big concerns is a timely return on your tax returns. 

LJ: Very insulting, Mr. Tonko. 

PT: And I think that—

LJ: I file tax returns. 

PT: —I won't interrupt my opponent if she would allow me to speak. 

DC: Please try to limit the cross talk. 

PT: It's important to know that we're going to expedite those returns. But again, to repeat myself, and maybe you'll listen, over 400,000 is the demographic that will be reviewed for paying your fair share of taxes. You know, maybe that's a crowd that you want to support and let off easily but not me.



"I am a law-abiding concealed carry New Yorker, I have the right to defend myself when I'm being attacked and you have the right to defend yourself when you're being attacked as well."


DC: Thank you, Mr. Tonko, let's move on. The next question, I believe, goes to Ms. Joy if I have our order right here. It comes from Lucas Willard at WAMC.

LUCAS WILLARD: Do you support any restrictions on the concealed carrying of weapons, and as a member of congress would you support an assault weapons ban? 

LJ: So I just want to go back and I'll answer your question, I'm happy to answer that question, I just want to go back and say once again, another insult to a woman, here, of course I absolutely understand filing taxes. How dare you even insult me like that? We are tax paying citizens that live here in the Capitol Region. And I understand that this tax increase that you pushed through, the congressional budget office even said it, is absolutely going to increase taxes on anybody that makes $75,000 or less. This is the problem with career politicians that have been there for 46 years. People don't know what to believe. It's in the bill, read the bill. 

And as far as concealed carry, look, I have been the victim of a very violent crime. I was assaulted badly in August of 2018 while I intervened to save a woman in an attempted murder. I can tell you that seconds matter. I am a law-abiding concealed carry New Yorker, I have the right to defend myself when I'm being attacked and you have the right to defend yourself when you're being attacked as well. As far as background checks, New York is the toughest in the state—in the country, and I Went through every single background check that I had to do, and I took every single class so I could be proficient with my firearm. As far as federal background checks, look, I support—I do support background checks, we already go through them right now but I am not going to attack law-abiding citizens and restrict them from their second amendment rights.

DC: Thank you, Ms. Joy, Mr. Tonko, same question to you. 

PT: Let me just go back to the earlier statement. 

DC: You only get 90 seconds, to be clear. 

PT:  The understanding I was talking about is the understanding how the personnel would be applied, nothing other than that. So I'll correct the record there, if it was misunderstood. I don't think I heard a response on assault weapons. I think that, you know, when we look at violence in our society, and crime, the elements that we need to address from a federal perspective are to make certain that everything is done in a standardized way, to make certain we make our community safe. Weapons of war should not be out on the streets. Many of our children have access to those guns. Assault weapons do not belong in our streets. So I oppose them being utilized. 

I also think that making certain that we make great progress with the Safe Communities Act supported by Republicans, and the police, my opponent opposes that bill, but it would—it addressed gun trafficking that makes it safer for the police community, that's why they endorsed it, because criminals would not have opportunity to obtain those guns. So a lot of work needs to be done there, additional background checks to make certain that law-abiding citizens aren't put into some sort of jeopardy of gun ownership simply because this gun issue runs out of control. 


New York NOW's Alexis Young on the debate panel of local reporters.


DC: We're going to actually move on, the next question is related in this topic, from Josh Solomon from The Times Union and it goes to Mr. Tonko to start. 

JOSH SOLOMON: Crime is up across the country, not just in New York. How do you think the United States should be combating crime, including gun violence, as we just talked about, and what would you do as a member of Congress to make that happen?

PT: Certainly, we started with the Safe Communities Act, which goes a long way to begin that process. I've met with the families who've lost their children, at Parkland, or at Newton. I know what pain and tragedy is for them. They have shared that openly with me. So we need to make certain that our children are protected, that our families, our neighborhoods are protected. I believe that we need common sense gun safety measures, starting with the trafficking issue that was addressed in safe communities act. 

But we also need to ban assault weapons, making certain that our streets are safe. I've had gun owners, neighbors who are gun owners, family members who have said we don't need those assault weapons, certainly on the street. So we need to make certain that ban is there, that we do everything possible to make every purchase of a gun going through background checks, people that don't warrant owning a gun should not be allowed to have those guns, for safety's sake. So I think we've got a lot we can do here. It just takes a willingness, we've got as far as we could with the Republicans, but the Republican ranks that my opponent wants to join are going to be a stronger element to push against the soundest gun safety reforms that we need. 

DC: Thank you. Same question to Ms. Joy: How do you think the U.S. Should be combating crime, including gun violence, and what would you do as a member of Congress, to make that happen?

LJ: Well, thank you so much. You know, first, I would like to say, I find it offensive that you keep labeling people, and their political parties, you know, one of the things that I do in running for congress, is I think it's time for people to unify, and stop vilifying, like you've done through the whole debate towards me tonight. And I think that we need to be able to see people in our district as human beings, and not political parties. In regard to crime, I'm glad to be talking about crime. I find it interesting that you would bring up the police officers as well, because I'm very proud to stand here tonight in the Capitol Region and say that I have been endorsed by seven police department unions, seven police unions, and two county sheriffs that are here in our district, and I was endorsed by the New York State Police Conference, which employs over 50,000 law enforcement officers. I am very much the law and order candidate in the safety and Security candidate and I don't think you've gotten any. I think you've gotten zero, if I'm not correct. And I've gotten all of them. As a victim of a violent crime I am very much on the side of law and order. I think we need to empower our law enforcement officers. I would fund them with making sure they have enough equipment, I would make sure that they have enough training, and I would make sure they have enough staffing to go out into all of our communities–

DC: 15 seconds.  

LJ: To keep them safe. The other thing that I would do is I would take the money from the 87,000 IRS agents, which by the way cost $80 billion of your money, and I would fund school resource officers for all of our schools– 

DC: Thank you, time.  

LJ: Two officers, each school, front and back door.  

DC: Thank you, Ms. Joy. The next question goes to you from Alexis Young, New York NOW. 

ALEXIS YOUNG: The future of access to abortion in the United States—

DC: Did I not give you an answer on that? Sorry. Go ahead. 90 seconds. 

PT: Can I have the question. 

LJ: He answered that question. 

DC: You were first on that. I'll give you 15 seconds because she did mention you. 

PT: I just want to make mention that investing in our police community, many communities have done this with the American Rescue Plan monies went to not only expanding the numbers in the police force, but perhaps even salary increases because of the difficulty of their job. If we could have had one Republican vote for the rescue plan it would have been something. 

DC: We have to move on. 

PT: I believe my opponent would have been the lone Republican to step out of the field and that would have been interesting. 

DC: Thank you, Mr. Tonko. 

LJ: I like that he mentioned me. 

DC: 15 seconds then we really have to move on. 

LJ: I would like to say if you were interested in combatting gun violence, when the Schenectady Police Department reached out to you to fund shot stoppers that they look at at the top to see gunfire going off, you denied them that, you denied it and instead you funded retrofitting for apartments. You denied the police officers their ability to combat gun violence in the Schenectady department. 



"I think that certainly governments should not intrude between a woman and her choice, it's with her doctor, her family, her loved ones, her faith, and some of these extreme efforts where abortion enters in as a decision should not be interrupted by government restriction or government impacting the decision by having it its way."


DC: We do have to move on. We are behind, so I'm going to limit rebuttals from now on. The next question comes from Alexis Young from New York NOW on the end. Ms. Joy first to start.

ALEXIS YOUNG: The future of access to abortion in the United States is up in the air, after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade this year. As a member of Congress how would you vote on a national ban on abortion, if it came to the floor?

LJ: Well, the reality is, is that if a national ban on abortion came to me, on the floor, in Congress, I would vote no. But here—and let me tell you why I would vote no. This was already addressed by the Supreme Court. This was handed back to the states. This is no longer a federal issue. It is a state issue that the legislators are going to have to decide. They are the ones that are going to have to decide what is going to happen in the states. And I am not going to, as a congressional member, override what the Supreme Court just turned back to all of the states, especially New York.  

DC: All right, thank you, Mr. Tonko, you have 90 seconds.  

PT: I remember my opponent tweeting bravo to various groups that supported it.

LJ: Yes, I'm pro life. 

PT: I think that her statement had been abortion, without any exceptions, would be denied, that's regarding the rights of the life of the mother, and, you know, any kind of incest, or rape. I think that certainly governments should not intrude between a woman and her choice, it's with her doctor, her family, her loved ones, her faith, and some of these extreme efforts where abortion enters in as a decision should not be interrupted by government restriction or government impacting the decision by having it its way. 

DC: Ms. Joy, you were mentioned by name, so I'll give you 15 seconds. 

LJ: I would think the congressman after being there for 13 years in Congress and only being able to pass three bills would understand that when the supreme court turns something over and hands it back to the states, you don't pick it back up again and then try to ban it. It's a state issue. You should know that. You've been there have very long time.  

DC: Thank you, Ms. Joy. Your next question coming from Lucas Willard, right here on the end, from WAMC to Mr. Tonko first. 

LUCAS WILLARD: Do you believe in term limits for Congress and what do you see as the pros or cons?

PT: Let me begin by saying my opponent doesn't understand the process in Washington, a lot of bills are lumped together and voted on. I've had many success stories just in this session of Congress. 70% of my bills were bipartisan and we had several signed into law. She again is misunderstanding the process and misrepresenting my record. I think that, certainly, term limits are an issue that's been brought up time and time again. Sam Stratton who represented this area served for 30 years. Mike McNulty served for 20. Every two years people have a report card that they issue to their given representative. I think that allows them to make the choice.

Great people who have represented them would have been cut short in their service. I think it's not the only dynamic for them in terms of time served in office. It's your fit. Are you the perfect fit for that district? I'm an engineer, by background. I have worked on energy and environment policy for a long time. I know the innovation that's coming into our area. The precision economy. I think that's a great strength to be at the table, to be able to know the partners, know the issues, know the history, and bring the technical savviness to the front. So voters will know that. Voters will get to decide and I don't think they just want an artificial term limit. They want to be able to determine if your performance is acceptable and worthy. 

DC: Ms. Joy, same question to you: Do you believe in term limits for congress, pros and cons, you have 90 seconds. 

LJ: I absolutely—first let me just say that, I've got to tell you, Paul, that was the fifth time you insulted me for being a woman here at this congressional debate, and you told me that I did not understand. The fifth time. And I am keeping score, and I'm sure the people out there are keeping score too, especially, you know, the women out there. As far as term limits, I absolutely support term limits. I do not want career politicians. I think when you are there, spending your entire career, it opens—it opens you up to being beholden to your party, not being able to vote outside of your party, not be able to actually stick up for the people that you are supposed to represent. It makes a perfect case for where you're at right now, where you insult people by only political party. You don't see them as human beings anymore. So yes, I support term limits, 12 years, you should be in Congress, and out of Congress. And that is what I believe. 

DC: I'll give you 15 seconds as a rebuttal, Mr. Tonko, the last one I'm going to give. The cross talk isn't helpful for our viewers. We have to get through a lot of topics tonight. 

PT: I hear and appreciate that. I've watched the visceral attacks politically on my party by my opponent. And to suggest that she's so pure about her politics and that she does work across the board, I can have a history of working in a bipartisan fashion. All I've seen from my opponent in terms of bipartisan is to just slam the other side in a very visceral manner. 

DC: Thank you, Mr. Tonko. Next question, starting with Ms. Joy, comes from Josh Solomon from The Times Union.

JOSH SOLOMON: Where do you stand on social service programs like Medicaid, Section 8 vouchers or food stamps, and if elected how would you try to ensure people can afford their medical bills, their housing?

LJ: Well, I actually support people that need a help up. I absolutely do that. I realize that we are in very, very tough times right now, and many times beforehand. So one of the things that people probably don't know right now is that we have 19 million New Yorkers. And one—you know, one out of three New Yorkers is on Medicaid right now. We do need to be able to find fixes to help people to come off of those programs so we can free up funds in our state, but also at the federal level. But people that are suffering, people that are having a hard time, I have no problem with helping people, and I fully have a lot of compassion. People go through difficult times. And I support Medicaid for people that need it, no question about it, and I support people that need housing, when they don't have any, and my hope is that we would be able to work together to be able to make sure that once they have reached where they need to reach, they can come up and come out of that, and make room so that we are not having bloated budgets where we can't actually pay for all of it. But no, I support helping people. 

DC: Mr. Tonko, same question to you: Where do you stand on social service programs like Medicaid, section 8 vouchers or food stamps, if elected. 

PT: Sure, I've been touring a number of food pantries in the region. Some of them have received help from the community via rescue plan monies. As you know those dollars are distributed by local government decision and it's good to see that they're bulking up those efforts because they see the numbers rising. These are difficult times across the world, inflation is global, in its impact right now, and so I think those programs are tremendous. The front end of life investment for many children who need sound nutrition is important. And at the other end of the demographics are the senior populations who oftentimes are in need of sound nutritious meals to combat illnesses that they may be facing. 

I also think it's important to understand that with Medicaid it's the greatest single involvement of resources for mental illness and mental health disorders. I do a lot of work in that capacity with all sorts of efforts for—I led the fight for mental health parity in our state, one of the first in the nation that allowed for dignity to be involved in the equation. So that people were addressed with sound on par investments as they would for general health care. So it's a big issue for me, and Medicare, and Medicaid specifically is a very big amount of resources to enable people to get through some very difficult challenges in life. 

DC: Next question is kind of related, and about Medicare and Social Security from Alexis Young from New York NOW.

ALEXIS YOUNG: How would you ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security, in Medicare, what specific reforms would you be willing to support?

DC: And is this starts with Mr. Tonko.  

PT: Sure. I think that some of the investment into Social Security comes—it's due—it's done by early February. For some. So I think we need to raise the contribution into the Social Security effort. It's time to raise that cap at which it's leveled now, and I think that providing for some of the opportunities to further invest through savings programs that enable us to strengthen that program. But I think basically it's raising that cap that is artificial, and not requiring enough contribution from some.  

DC: Thank you very much. Ms. Joy, same question to you, you have 90 seconds: How would you ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security and Medicare. What specific reforms would you be willing to support?

LJ: I'm not sure if people really understood what you just said, Paul, but what you just said was requiring people to put in more than others means he's going to raise taxes on people when they go to put away for their Social Security. That's what that means. That's a tax increase. I don't support raising taxes on people further. Since the current administration that Paul is serving in just spent $5.1 trillion over the last two years, and then just an additional $750 billion last month in order to get the 87,000 IRS agents that are armed coming for your wallets. So we don't need anymore taxes. 

Look, though, with Social Security we made a promise, and we promised people that paid into it they were going to get their money in Congress, I will make sure that that happens. But the way that I'm going to do it is by cutting regulations and cutting other programs, decreasing taxes, we're going to—we're going to unleash American energy independence, we're going to unleash an economy, and spur manufacturing, so that we have a thriving economy, so that we actually have money in our economy, we're not actually printing money, $5.1 trillion that we don't have. So I'm going to spur that economy to make sure that the people do get their promised Social Security. We need to take care of our seniors, they are human beings that worked for us, and raised us, and took care of us, and we're going to make sure that they have it. 

DC: Thank you, Ms. Joy. The next question is from Lucas Willard from WAMC, starting with Ms. Joy. 

LUCAS WILLARD: The peaceful transfer of power is an important principle of democracy that was threatened by the January 6th protests. If you lose this race, will you concede, and accept the results?

DC: You have 90 seconds. 

LJ: So you're asking me if I lose this race will I concede and accept the results?

DC: Correct. 

LJ: Yes, well I don't anticipate losing, but yes, of course. 

DC: You have a full 90 seconds if you want to take more but you don't have to. 

LJ: If you lose the race, you lose the race, but I don't anticipate that's going to happen. I don't need more time to say that. 

DC: Mr. Tonko, same question to you.

PT: It's an interesting answer because I still haven't heard the concession from the last campaign, which was the two of us running for the 20th Congressional district. On energy independence, I want to make clear that the Inflation Reduction Act allowed for the ramping up of all forms of energy, generating all forms of energy, we are producing a million more gallons per day of oil. A million more barrels per day of oil. That is beyond what the Trump administration was doing. So really, the energy independence comes by bridging us into an independence that comes with no fuel costs, making certain the sun, the wind, the soil, the efforts for renewable will get us away from the reliance and dependence on petrol dictators, that's true energy independence and we're doing it in a way that allows all forms of energy production to be ramped up with the reduction act, Inflation Reduction Act. True independence is part of that package, and it should be stated here clearly so that the general public understands that part of the bill. 

DC: Not sure I heard at the start, looking at my papers, if you lose, will you concede. 

PT: If I lose, of course, that's part of the process. 

DC: Okay, next question. 

LJ: I'll wait for the phone call. 

PT: I'm still waiting for yours. 



"I will say that in regard to any Covid mandates, I don't support those. I don't support those. Every parent has the right to decide for their own child what is best for their child."


DC: No cross talk, please. Next question comes from Josh Solomon from The Times Union, going first to Mr. Tonko. 

JOSH SOLOMON: What can Congress do and what would you support to ensure that elections are fair, safe, accurate and accessible?

PT: Well, certainly, I think there are a lot of efforts done in HR-1 to make certain for fair elections to be conducted, and to reform a lot of the campaign activities, making certain that dark monies are truly advertised, and that we have every access, every bit of access made available to constituents, including early voting, voting by mail, making certain that I would think that we could even have an election weekend rather than an election day so that every opportunity, every ample opportunity is made available to our working families. They have a lot of pressures on them, raising a family, raising children, we should make it as easy as accessible as possible, not like in some states where they're closing down voting sites in what are heavily neighborhoods of color, and of poverty. I think that is grossly stating where they're at. They're reducing the right to the fundamentals of democracy. And that is voting. 

DC: Ms. Joy, same question to you: What can Congress do, and what would you support to ensure that elections are fair, safe, accurate and accessible?

LJ: Well, thank you for the question. I'm so glad that you talked about HR-1, because it gives me the perfect opportunity to explain it because I'm not sure if you actually read it, that bill either, and the people don't really know what is in it. Let me tell you what is in HR-1 that congressman Tonko is actually pushing, and touting. It means that there is no voter ID whatsoever. In that bill it also is a federal takeover of all of our elections, so the federal government is overseeing the actual elections that are happening in Saratoga, Schenectady, Albany and Rensselaer. Anytime you want to move a voting polling place, you have to call the Department of Justice at the federal level to get that done. That's one of the things that HR-1 does. 

Another thing that HR-1 does is it allows illegal migrants to be voting in our elections, that's something that you championed and I don't agree with it, only United States citizens should be voting in our elections. So some of the things that I'll be doing when I get to congress to make sure that we have full election integrity for all voters, every person, regardless of the political party, I'm going to make sure that we have voter ID. I'm going to make sure that we only have citizens voting in our elections. I'm going to make sure we have chain of custody so that we know exactly where that ballot is coming from. And I'm going to make sure that people can only vote one time in each election. Those are just some of the things that I'm going to be doing. The other thing I'm going to be doing is making sure that we purge our voter rolls, to make sure we don't have people that have passed away still on those voter rolls. Those are the things I'm going to be doing. 

DC: Thank you so much, and next question goes to you from Alexis Young from New York NOW. 

ALEXIS YOUNG: There's legislation that would ban members of Congress and their immediate families from trading stock. The purpose of the bill would be to avoid conflicts of interest where a member of Congress might profit off of their decisions in office. Should there be restrictions on investments by members of Congress?

DC: You have 90 seconds, starting with Ms. Joy. 

LJ: Yes, I do support that bill. I believe very much, because there are a lot of things that passed in Congress, there is a lot of knowledge of things that are about to happen, I support that. I do not believe that we should be having the opportunity to trade stocks and insider trading. We're privy to a lot of information that passes through, and I absolutely support that. I think that it gives transparency to the American people, as it should. It's financial. And I think that we should also  make sure that people have financial disclosure statements for Congress. By the way, you haven't filed yours yet this year or last year that I saw. I filed mine. It's something that you're supposed to do, but yours is not on record. So I do support that bill. We should have full transparency, full accountability of everybody that's in Congress, and I will adhere to that. 

DC: Mr. Tonko, 90 seconds. 

PT: Let me correct the record, we have filed that form. And in terms of the stock issue, I had worked closely with the late congress member Louise Slaughter from Rochester, she developed the Stock Act, she was concerned about that very principle you included in your questioning. I think it's very important for us to have that strong bit of boundary between Congress and stock activity, with information that comes our way, it's very important to have that protective and preventative device. She drove that issue and she was successful in the early stages and now we're advancing that even further. It's good legislation, it's good practice, and I support it totally. I've worked with her on the very beginnings of the first step of The Stock Act. 

DC: Staying with Mr. Tonko, the next question is from Lucas Willard from WAMC. 

LUCAS WILLARD: Do you think that people who don't have health contradictions should get vaccinated against Covid, measles, polio, flu and other dangerous diseases? 

PT: I do. I think that I trust science. I believe science should guide us in these decisions. I'm of the generation that had the polio shot, the measles shot, the flu shot, the Covid shot. It's all about sound public health policy. And I don't think I ever remember in my lifetime a vaccination turning political. And it's tragic. Because we were not dealing with this virus. We were not crushing this virus as well as we could have. We didn't have sound leadership. There were people getting vaccinated, there were people getting sound treatment but they wouldn't share it with the public, or when they did, they didn't get a great reception so they got off that message. 

Sound leadership is about leading us through a public health crisis, the types of which we have not seen in over a century, and making certain that science has its role to play. We invest in all of this research, we invest in the national institutes of health, the CDC, all these efforts that go toward addressing the public health policy, and outcomes of this nation. So yes, I think that those decisions are very important to be made. 

DC: Ms. Joy, same question to you: Do you think that people who do not have health contradictions should get vaccinated against covid, measles, polio, flu, and other dangerous diseases--- 

LJ: So to clarify the question are you saying should, or are you saying mandate. 

DC: Should. 

LJ: Should. Well, I think should is a choice. So people should have the right to decide what they put medically into their body or don't put medically into their body. And so in regard to the Covid vaccine, there were very real side effects that we saw in young athletes, especially boys, pericarditis, myocarditis, there was a proven record where women had higher miscarriage rates. Those things are very real. I believe that people should have a choice to be able to look and decide what is best for themselves, what is best for their family, and what is best for their children, and might I add that I will also say now, because I think it's important as a mother, and a grandmother, someone that's actually raised a family, I will say that in regard to any Covid mandates, I don't support those. I don't support those. Every parent has the right to decide for their own child what is best for their child. Medically speaking, I will tell you scientifically, not every person reacts the same way to medicine that is put inside of their body. People have different reactions, it's like that with antibiotics. People have different reactions. There's allergies. So I support an individual and family being able to make their own decisions. I mean, that's science. 


Rep. Paul Tonko (D) and Liz Joy (R) on the debate stage.


DC: Thank you. Next question, we're sticking with Ms. Joy, from Josh Solomon from The Times Union. 

JOSH SOLOMON: Upstate cities and agricultural areas have benefitted from refugees bringing new labor and culture to their communities, especially here in New York. What type of federal support, if any, should be made available to Upstate cities and agricultural areas that want to welcome them?

LJ: Well, I'm a big supporter, first of all, in regard to our farming communities, agricultural communities, I support our farmers, I stood very strongly against the reduced hours that just passed. My opponent was silent on that. I stood up for farmers and having to reduce their hours, because it's going to harm their farms, we're going to lose our farms, and now as a result I will tell you, in New York State, and nationwide, it jeopardizes our food security. My opponent was silent in many of the farmers in his district were asking for help and he didn't do anything. I wasn't, I was very vocal for our farmers on that. One of the things that I support are the J-1 and the HB-2 visas, those are very important when we're bringing over people to work that are here seasonally. I support those, those are legal workers here to help with our agricultural industry, and help with our farms, they're also here for other hospitality industries, and I support that very much, and I think it's an important role in our government to be able to have them come legally here, to be able to work and help out our farmers.

DC Mr. Tonko, same question to you.

PT: Let me make the record clear. I have voiced a very strong opinion that we address our refugees, our immigrant population, because for the sake of our AG industry, our hospitality industry, our high tech industry, our health care industry, we need these workers. And it's important for us to have sound pathways so that they can be available to our workers, to our work locations, and to the industries that I just mentioned. So I've been a strong advocate for that. Maybe not from what my opponent had heard. But I know in working with my colleagues we've advanced that effort. We need to do more there. We need to make certain that we do all we can with the sound pathway to citizenship, for immigration reform, and we need to be there for refugees and migrant workers. 

LJ: Thank you, and sticking with you, Mr. Tonko, for the next question from Alexis Young from New York NOW. 

ALEXIS YOUNG: We are experiencing a critical labor shortage in New York and across the country. And the unemployment rate has almost reached pre-pandemic lows. How can Congress help address this labor need?

PT: I think that a lot of awareness is important with certain industries. I talked a great deal this evening about the innovation economy, the semiconductors, the nano science, the microelectronics, we need to introduce people at a very young age to that pathway, that career pathway. They need to be connected somehow to the industry. There needs to be, you know, mentoring that allows them to know of these choices. And then pursue those careers if that speaks to their passions and their strengths. I think introducing them early on, we're in an eclipsing from a past economy into what will be a very precision economy. I think we have our every bit of challenge there to reach to the young people, to reach to apprenticeship programs for training and retraining, and to community colleges, we're making certain that we develop that human infrastructure as we develop these jobs and it's important for us to have that sound partnership. 

DC: Thank you. Ms. Joy, same question to you: How can Congress help address this critical labor shortage we have here in New York?

LJ: Part of the problem with the critical labor shortage in New York is that we're the highest state in the nation of people leaving our state, because of the high taxes that are put on us by Kathy Hochul, and previously Governor Cuomo who my opponent identified as his very good friends and Kathy is one of his campaign partners. So when you tax people at a high rate and you are putting very heavy regulations on business owners, you have a recipe for disaster, in addition to that, when you have the Covid pandemic where you shut down an economy for almost two straight years and paid people to be home, you have people that have left their jobs that have not come back to work. And now we have stimulus money that's not actually stimulating the economy, at $5.1 trillion of printing money, where now it's hard to get anybody to actually go to work, you're just printing money. And it's a disaster. 

So what do we need to do? Again, going back to the basics, a very common sense approach, we need to open up the economy with unleashing energy independence again, driving down the cost of gas, driving down the cost of oil, we need to increase American made, manufacturing here, we need to bring back jobs from China, our pharmaceuticals and our robotics, we need to bring them back from China. We need to get our children back up to speed over these last two years, and that is the only way that we're going to be able to help our workers to be able to fund—you know, to go into businesses and help our small businesses. 

DC: Thank you. Next question starts with you, Ms. Joy, 90 seconds from Lucas Willard at WAMC.

LUCAS WILLARD: Families of the victims of the Schoharie limo crash in 2018 are still unsatisfied with the available information about ties between the limo operator and the FBI, and whether those ties shielded the company from adequate scrutiny before the crash. How will you pursue that issue? And has Congress addressed limo safety appropriately?

LJ: Well, I will tell you that my opponent was silent for three straight years, and did nothing for these families, and I just want to say to the families out there, I'm very sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to you. I remember that day very, very well. And I'm so sorry for everything that happened. For your loss, and your tragedy, and I can't imagine the pain that you have been in over the number of years without your loved ones. I will say that, no, I do not believe that Congress has handled it appropriately, especially Mr. Tonko, who was silent, and did not question at all or pursue any investigation whatsoever, which was in his full jurisdiction to do so in getting answers from the FBI. These families deserve—they deserve answers, they deserve accountability, and I will tell you after the redistricting process it took the new congresswoman in Amsterdam and Montgomery County only two weeks to address this problem, and go after the FBI to get—to get answers, and The Times Union even called you out for that. They even called you out for that because you were silent on it for three years, Congress didn't handle it the first three years. Once the new congresswoman got there it was actually Elise Stefanik, it took her two weeks and she's beginning and held the FBI accountable, and has launched an investigation. Which I know after you got called out you signed onto it. But you didn't answer any questions before that, and you told people you weren't going to talk about it. 

DC: Mr. Tonko, 90 seconds. 

PT: Many of the victims in that tragic accident are family friends, neighbors. I will not dignify responding to that, because of not wanting to politicize their pain, their hurt, their loss. I find it undignified to do that kind of approach in this forum. I will say we have worked with the families steadfastly, tenderly to get justice for them with reforms and federal law and state law. We've worked at both levels with them. And also, we have engaged the FBI, pushing them to release information. We're still in the midst of those discussions. But I know the hurt there. I see these families routinely, and I will not respond to the politics of the statement. 


Behind the scenes of the New York NOW debate stage.


DC: Thank you, and this is going to be our last question before closing statements from Josh Solomon at The Times Union. 

JOSH SOLOMON: What type of priority for you is ensuring that when new infrastructure projects are agreed to in New York State, they are completed with union labor? And to entice companies to build here, how much should ensuring that both the temporary and long-term jobs be union labor?

DC: And this is for Mr. Tonko, 90 seconds.  

PT: Sure, I have been proud to advance a lot of these efforts of late that will provide for essential projects to be done. They have been back burnered for far too long. The shot in the arm that came with the bipartisan infrastructure law, signed into place in November of last year, is going to create a great bit of activity, economically, and it will be done with union jobs. I think that that should be our standard, we want to grow the middle class, growth of the middle class comes with union labor. They have defined that time and time again, and so I think that's important to do, and all the efforts that we're doing with investment here are with union jobs. And I support that effort. 

DC: Thank you. Same question to Ms. Joy, you have 90 seconds. I'll kind of paraphrase it: how important it is to you that new infrastructure projects be completed with union labor, should that be part of ensuring incentives for projects for companies to come here? 

LJ: Well, again I'd like to say that I see people as human beings who have the individual right to decide for themselves whether or not they, you know, join a union. Of course I support you unions, but I also support an individual’s right to work. So I think that here in New York State we should not favor people over another another group. We should have both. That makes a healthy society. So I would say for me that in Congress, yes, absolutely, we will support unions, and I do support unions, but I support an individual's right to work as well. 

DC: Thank you so much. And we're at closing statements now, Mr. Tonko, because you had the opening statement, Ms. Joy You go first with your closing statement. We're doing thirty seconds for these.

LJ: Well thank you so much I am very glad to be running here in the 20th district, we're only a few days away from November 8th. Look I would say to you, if you want lower gas prices, if you want lower energy prices, and lower utility bills, if you want to have violent crime under control with somebody that will partner with law enforcement, with somebody that will ensure your safety and your security and your children's safety in school, which I think is just so important as a mom and a grandmother, and if you want a secure border where Fentanyl is not ravaging our communities and if you want an accountable government, then I am your choice, and I hope you will vote for me on November 8th. 

DC: Thank you, Ms. Joy, Mr. Tonko you have 30 seconds for your closing statement. 

PT: Thank you so much. I think this campaign has been about great investment in the American people and certainly for this region we gained a great shot in the arm with the CHIPS and Science Act, investing in our local semiconductor industries, and to the west to Syracuse with Micron to the south with IBM, all of that builds this Upstate corridor in a very sound way. It has a technical cluster coming with intellect in all. We have the Safe Community Act that is a step in the right direction to address crime, and we certainly have the Inflation Reduction Act, which is truly about energy independence. I can't state that clearly enough. All forms of energy will be bolstered as we go forward, and bridge into a new era of production that will draw down our tendency on petro-dictators. 

DC: Thank you. 

LJ: Do I get any extra time? 

DC: We have to get out of this or I just have to go to the end of the debate now, or I could just cut it off. But thank you both so much for---

LJ: He went over. 

DC: ---participating in tonight's debate. Thank you to the viewers for tuning in---

LJ: Rules don't apply to you, I guess, Paul. 

DC: I gave you so many rebuttals, Ms. Joy. And I gave you extra time on your closing statement as well. I don't think you noticed. 

We will have this debate on NYNOW.ORG, thank you all for tuning in tonight, have a great week, and be well.


Watch the Debate

New York NOW

New York 20th Congressional District Seat Debate

Rating: NR

Rep. Paul Tonko, a Democrat, and challenger Liz Joy, a Republican debate.

Election Day 2022