Greenfield woman to challenge Stefanik
Lochner vies for Republican congressional nomination
GLENS FALLS — Jill A. Lochner wants to bring a moderate Republican voice back to the forefront in the North Country, and she’s running for Congress to do it.
Lochner, a 41-year-old from Greenfield in Saratoga County, said she’s long had her eye on the 21st Congressional District, has thought about running for years, and now believes she is in the right place to bring a fresh voice to Congress for the district.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, secured her fifth term in November. As a candidate, Stefanik said in 2014 that she would voluntarily limit her tenure in the House to five two-year terms. The Congresswoman’s campaign team did not return a request for comment on this issue before press time Thursday.
Lochner, a native of Hannibal, Oswego County, has moved around the state through her adult life, spending time in the Capitol Region, New York City, western New York and the North Country. She said, no matter how far away she was, she always felt a call to return to northern New York, and fell in love with the Adirondacks. Her current address was included in NY-21 until the 2022 election, and she said she would be willing to move back across the border into the district should she win her election.
She bills herself as a moderate Republican, eschewing some of the more extreme aspects of the party that have come to rise in the last decade or so.
“One of the big reasons I’m running, it’s not only (Stefanik), it’s some of the Republican Party in general, it’s become disappointing to me,” she said in an interview in Glens Falls on Thursday. “The loudest, angriest voices get all the attention, and it gives a bad impression.”
Lochner said she sees herself as a “true Republican,” by the old standard of the party; fiscal conservatism, small-government and supportive of business. She’s a strong proponent of the Second Amendment right to own and bear arms, and strongly opposes the recent rash of gun control legislation passed in New York. She said she supports strong border policies as well.
She also wants to see the bail reforms passed by New York repealed, and increased funding for police and first responders.
“I agree with the Republican Party on the basic ideals of limited government, fiscal responsibilities and upholding constitutional liberties including the Second Amendment,” she said. “The Second Amendment should be protected as strongly as the others.”
But Lochner breaks from the party on other issues. She doesn’t support another term for former President Donald Trump, who is running for another term even as he faces criminal prosecution for financial crimes in Manhattan.
“I would certainly prefer to see a different candidate,” she said. “As far as who that is, I’m not sure yet, I don’t think they’re all out there yet.”
She describes herself as pro-choice, and believes that women should have the right to seek an abortion up to the point of fetal viability, 24 weeks, which was the standard set under the now-defunct Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision, now codified into state law in New York and other states.
That difference in opinion is driven by her own experiences. She said she was once an opponent of abortion rights, but then she and her husband tried starting a family of their own.
“I actually struggled with infertility, and my husband and I had to do IVF treatments,” she said. “In that process, it becomes very obvious how precious life is and how difficult it is even to get there when you want it so badly.”
In vitro fertilization, where an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory, then re-implanted into the uterus to grow, has become a point of contention inside the abortion and birth control debate. Anti-abortion supporters typically group IVF in with abortion and oppose it, and many Republican-led state legislatures have considered banning the practice alongside abortion, as it can often lead to the termination of fertilized eggs.
Lochner now has four children, between the ages of five and nine.
Lochner said she and her husband made the decision to donate the frozen, fertilized eggs remaining from their procedure to other families, but in the process of making these decisions she realized that she doesn’t believe the government should become involved in such a deeply personal process.
“What I came to realize in the last few years is that these deeply personal and emotional feelings and thoughts on an issue should not dictate legislation for other people,” she said. “Because I have not lived other people’s experiences, and I can’t imagine having to make that choice.”
She said she’s been disappointed to see procedures like IVF, and other reproductive technologies and contraception looped into the debate over abortion rights, because she said the issues are completely different.
Lochner has worked in education for her entire professional life, focused on education for disabled students in her early years. She has a masters degree from Nazareth College in Rochester in educational technology and became a state-certified elementary and special education teacher. In the late 2000s, Lochner moved to New York City and began helping the city school district implement educational technologies.
“We built software to help them track student data,” she said. “It was a huge project.”
She said that was one of her first views into the inner workings of government at any level, and said she saw a disconnect between the modern world and the government.
“That’s where I got a chance to see that disconnect, the problems in government,” she said. “We had this new technology, we were rolling it out, and then we would come across schools that had no internet, couldn’t support any of what we were trying to do.”
Lochner is just beginning her campaign for Congress, setting up for a primary scheduled for early summer 2024. She doesn’t have much of a campaign staff yet, and said she’s prepared for an uphill battle to defeat one of the most senior Republican politicians in the country. Stefanik, the fourth-senior Republican in the House, who manages the public messaging for House Republicans and regularly raises many millions of dollars from a very loyal local and national base, regularly beats her opponents by 10 or more percentage points, and has not faced a primary challenger since her first run for Congress. A handful of Republicans have started campaigns, but failed to make it to the ballot.
Lochner said she’s reached out to the Republican committee chairmen for the counties covered by NY-21, but has had a frosty reply so far.
“I mostly didn’t get a reply, and I got a few replies that were very pro-Elise,” she said. “It’s exactly as I expected, and it’s a challenge for sure.”
But she said she believes she’s got a strong message that can resonate with the voters of the 21st District; a bona-fide Republican who supports small government, Constitutional rights, and who is committed to honest and service. She said her own experience outside of government, compared to the long political pedigree of Stefanik, who worked in the Bush administration right out of college, gives her an advantage.
“I’m not a politician, I’m brand new to this, but that’s the point,” she said. “It’s this stark contrast with who she is, she isn’t there for the district or the constituents, she’s there to climb and put herself into a better position.”
When reached for comment, Congresswoman Stefanik’s chief advisor Alex DeGrasse issued a statement dismissing Lochner’s candidacy outright.
“Like every election cycle where the media salivates over potential challengers to Congresswoman Stefanik, this is yet another candidate who has zero ties to the district, will get zero support and will not even qualify for the ballot,” he said. “Elise has earned a landslide victory every election and has never had stronger support among both primary and general election voters in NY-21.”
He said this is not the first time a moderate, anti-Trump candidate has announced a campaign against the Congresswoman, and the lack of success for those candidates should be proof of the veracity of Lochner’s own campaign.
“Elise will continue to deliver results for the hard working families, small businesses, veterans, farms and seniors that she proudly represents each and every day,” he said.
There is still plenty of time left before the 2024 campaign will spin up in earnest, with the ballot petition process starting early next year. Until then, Lochner said she plans to build her campaign team, garner supporters and listen to the constituents she hopes to represent.
“I really want to get out there and talk to the people of NY-21, hear directly from them about their concerns,” she said.