Cobb better reflects the North Country

Democratic Congressional candidate Tedra Cobb talks with Enterprise staff at the newspaper’s office in Saranac Lake Sept. 6 about her campaign’s differences from opponent, incumbent Republican Elise Stefanik. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Northern New York is blessed to have three remarkable women as candidates to represent us in Congress for the next two years. Whoever wins, we want her to know we will respect her and want to converse with her regularly, on behalf of our thousands of readers.

But for now, voters must choose. Based on our interviews with the candidates and extensive coverage of this nearly two-year campaign, we lean toward Tedra Cobb of Canton.

For voters who cannot bring themselves to vote for a Democrat or Republican, Lynn Kahn of Schroon Lake would also be an excellent choice. As a Green Party candidate she is unlikely to win, but she shone in all three debates as being knowledgeable about government reform and what voters are saying, and proposing tangible policy solutions.

Incumbent Rep. Elise Stefanik is extremely smart and hard-working, brilliant at navigating Washington, moderate on many issues and often willing to work across the aisle. We also know of numerous times when she and her office have really helped North Country individuals, municipalities and businesses. It was she who helped the town of Harrietstown finally get the flood rebuilding aid it had been promised by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and newspapers owe her thanks for being one of the first politicians to write a letter to U.S. commerce secretary Wilbur Ross opposing a tariff on newsprint paper from Canada.

But Stefanik also showed this election that she is willing to be dishonest for political gain in her TV ads — and in person when she refuses to take back those ads’ claims that had been proven false.

This summer, at the beginning of the general election campaign, the Post-Star newspaper of Glens Falls asked all three candidates to promise one thing: Don’t lie — not in in speeches, writing or advertising. All three agreed, but Stefanik had already launched an ad campaign that contained false claims about Cobb’s voting record as a St. Lawrence County legislator. Other ads lied in an attempt to tie her to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, falsely claiming he had appointed her to the state Committee on Open Government — it was then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. When the claims were debunked, Stefanik refused to stop running the ads. That’s unacceptable but also baffling. Stefanik has won two landslides in this Republican-majority district without resorting to such dishonest tactics. Why taint your reputation now?

Both of her opponents kept up their end of the no-lies pledge. Kahn couldn’t afford ads but never, to our knowledge, spoke falsely on the campaign trail. Neither did Cobb, who took the high road with ads that confronted without attacking and made no false claims.

Some will certainly bring up Cobb’s nebulous position on a federal assault weapons ban. She was caught on a surreptitious video telling teenagers she personally supports such a ban but wouldn’t support one publicly because that’s not what voters want. Stefanik’s campaign spokesman claimed this was an example of Cobb lying, but to us, she was being honest about how, sometimes, a politician’s personal preference is outweighed by the desires of the people she represents.

Anyway, it’s hard for Stefanik to claim high ground on this when the video was shot by a teenage Stefanik intern who had lied about his name, lied that his phone was broken while recording the event, and had been paid by the National Republican Campaign Committee as a “tracker” to spy on Cobb events.

Cobb has remained honest throughout a year-and-a-half of campaigning; however, she has avoided endorsing specific policies, instead offering broad positions and priorities. She seems to be avoiding commitments that could come back to hurt her later. If people trust her, that might work, but we hope she hires an excellent staff to help her on legislation. Kahn, for instance, might be a great hire. We also hope she doesn’t just follow her party line and become one more reliable Democratic vote. We are counting on her to represent the independent North Country.

Cobb’s life of community engagement is a reason people might trust her. She has spent the last 30 years working for and with her neighbors, including as a St. Lawrence County legislator, firefighter and health care consultant. Her TV ad showing her splitting wood is kind of hokey, but she’s almost certainly the candidate most familiar with splitting wood — and plowing driveways, running a struggling business, talking to neighbors at the post office even when they don’t share your politics, and attending spaghetti dinners for sick kids’ medical care.

Cobb’s life in the North Country resonates deeper than her words, which is something neither Kahn nor Stefanik can say. Maybe that’s why Cobb has attracted well over 1,000 campaign volunteers and why you see so many of her signs in people’s yards. She doesn’t have Stefanik or Kahn’s Washington network, but she would represent North Country people in a deeper way.

Perhaps at some point Stefanik and her husband will buy a house in this district she represents, in addition to the one she owns in Washington, but over the last five years she apparently hasn’t done much to become part of the community in Willsboro, where she claims her mother’s summer house as her North Country home base.

Cobb has lived her environmental values as well. Kahn focuses on hydrogen fuel, which is good, but Cobb has lived with solar power for 25 years. Stefanik talks an OK game on the environment, but only recently have some of her votes followed, and even then not most of them. We in the Adirondacks need someone we know won’t let coal-fired power plants poison our woods and waters, and not merely pay lip service to the big steps needed to limit climate change.

Then there is Social Security. Stefanik, in the first of three debates, said Social Security is unsustainable and needs to be overhauled for Americans under the age of 50. Cobb and Kahn rightly pointed out that it can be bolstered and that it’s not an entitlement but an investment by workers in every paycheck of their lives. People under 50 are less likely to have the strong pension and retirement plans of the previous generation, and are more likely to rely on slim 401(k)s or nothing at all. They need Social Security more than their parents do, yet Republicans such as Stefanik want to gut it while giving huge tax breaks to the richest Americans.

Finally, we come to health care, which Cobb says is the reason she decided to run. Whereas Kahn backs a Medicare-for-all bill with specific amendments, Cobb isn’t tying herself to any particular plan but rather to overall priorities — ones we agree with. Like her, we don’t think it’s necessary for the government to take over hospitals and employ all doctors and nurses, but we think it has become clear that a government health insurance plan should be available for all, the way it is for the old, the poor and the military. Stefanik wants to go in the other direction: Scale back the Affordable Care Act and leave our health mostly in the hands of private insurers. If you add up what Americans spend now for health care — private insurance payments, taxes, etc. — key studies show it’s more than what Medicare for all would cost us. The big difference is that offering something like Medicare to everyone would shift more of the burden from workers and employers to the wealthy, whom Stefanik’s votes tend to favor.

Our reason for endorsing Cobb is not partisan; we think independently and don’t accept any party’s package deal. It is mainly because we think her honesty and community engagement would make her best North Country representative.

Despite these editorial board opinions, whoever wins this election will be our representative. We promise to treat her with respect and neighborliness, and we also promise our news team will report on them accurately and fairly.

We respect our readers’ opinions and hope ours can be food for thought. We do not care whom you vote for so much as that you vote. Please do so on Tuesday; polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.