Debate probably helped Stefanik, hurt Funiciello

All three candidates were sharp and well-prepared in Monday night’s debate the race to represent New York’s 21st Congressional District. We already knew Mike Derrick, Matt Funiciello and Rep. Elise Stefanik were knowledgeable, intelligent, disciplined and principled, and they showed that again. Ideology aside, the people of northern New York are lucky to have three good candidates this time around – that’s the first thing we took away from the televised debate.

Funiciello

Another takeaway had to do with the candidate we endorsed two years ago, the Green Party’s Matt Funiciello. He was successful at making the Democrat and Republican on stage look similar, but mostly because he staked out positions much more radical than those he brought to bear two years ago. He supported decriminalizing all drugs, meth and heroin included. Asked about how to support farms, he said beef and dairy farming advance climate change and should be phased out entirely. When asked about expanding broadband internet in the Adirondacks, he said it’s good not to have cellphone and wireless internet service here, and suggested marketing the Park that way instead of adding towers. He called for completely open borders, which is interesting but isn’t going to happen. He said the U.S. should back out of all its existing trade deals. He said he’d prefer Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton as president because she would lead the U.S. into a land war with Russia and Mr. Trump wouldn’t be competent enough to do that. And his answer on how to limit homegrown terrorist attacks was surprising.

“We’re the empire,” he said. “We are imposing our will, violently and economically, on other people throughout the globe. They are angry with us and with good reason. You want to fix homegrown terrorism? Say to everyone, ‘We’re going to start over again. We’re sorry.'”

It sounded like he was sympathizing with the killers in New York, New Jersey and Orlando. We agree that U.S. intervention overseas has built up resentment against our country, and that it’s a major problem, but still, our society has to police against killers targeting ordinary Americans who did nothing to deserve death.

We like that Mr. Funiciello is bold and gets voters to question their assumptions. We love how he cuts through political rhetoric like a hot knife through butter. Nevertheless, we suspect he lost votes in this debate. His final words were, “Be brave. Vote Green.” Brave people will, but many others who considered it will decide they can’t go there with him.

Derrick

Those votes would likely go to Mr. Derrick, the Democratic former Army colonel from Peru who spoke well despite looking a little stiff on stage. He showed he could be firm and diplomatic, as need be, and was quick to bring issues down to the level of his neighbors. He emphasized his life of public service over what he called Rep. Stefanik’s “careerism.”

But probably the most significant takeaway from the debate is that neither he nor Mr. Funiciello took any significant swipes at Rep. Stefanik’s two-year record. Neither even raised any question about how her large contributions from conservative political action committees and Wall Street interests might influence her votes in the Capitol.

While Mr. Derrick did fine, that’s not enough to win, considering the district’s Republican registration advantage and Mr. Funiciello taking away votes on his left flank.

Stefanik

Rep. Stefanik has to remain the favorite in this race and only helped her cause Monday. She came across as competent, involved and optimistic. While her language was the most Washingtonian of the three, she was less robotic than two years ago. She explained her support for Mr. Trump in more detail than we expected, specifying where they found common cause but disagreeing with him on banning Muslims from entering the country.

On the issues

There were some surprising moments of agreement in the debate. In a lightning round, all three candidates said no, vehicles should not be allowed to access Boreas Ponds, the newest tract of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. That seems more in line with the wilderness vision environmental groups have for Boreas than the access goals of local town leaders.

Also in the lightning round, all three said Lake Placid could feasibly host the Winter Olympics again, although Rep. Stefanik said the state should lead the effort.

And all three supported major tax reform, although differently. Many were probably surprised to hear Mr. Funiciello favors a 10 percent flat tax, and also to hear Rep. Stefanik call for throwing out the tax code entirely and starting from scratch without all the “special-interest loopholes.”

We still agree with Mr. Funiciello about the need for a single-payer health insurance plan – Medicare for all, essentially – and we still disagree with Rep. Stefanik’s call to increase overall military spending. We liked that Mr. Derrick said the current level of security at the U.S.-Canada border is enough. We loved that the candidates were concise and stuck to the time limit, and that they didn’t interrupt each other.

It was a good debate. If you missed it, Time Warner Cable News lets you watch it for free at www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/decision-2016/2016/10/3/north-country-congressional-candidates-debate-on-twc-news.html. We encourage you do do so.

There are two more debates: Oct. 17 at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury and on Oct. 24, televised on Mountain Lakes PBS.