Owens has some rivals

It looks like U.S. Rep. Bill Owens will have some competition in next year’s congressional race.

Two Republicans, Joseph Gilbert of De Kalb Junction and Elise Stefanik of Willsboro, have announced they are running against the Plattsburgh Democrat, who will face his fourth election in November 2014.

The Enterprise interviewed both of them by phone Thursday.

Joseph Gilbert

Gilbert grew up in Ogdensburg and has been the director of emergency services for St. Lawrence County since May 2012. Before that, he served in the U.S. Army for 24 years and was a military intelligence officer when he retired.

Since he began working for the county, Gilbert claims he has cut more than $200,000 from his department’s budget without sacrificing jobs or services, and added that he will save the department more money this year.

A Tea Party member, Gilbert said his primary objective is to reduce the size of government and its role in people’s lives.

“I kind of wish I didn’t have to run, but the country is headed in the wrong direction,” he told the Enterprise. “We’ve gotten to the point where we can’t trust the federal government with anything. Most politicians will go out there and try to tell you what they will do for you. My message is, I’m going to go out there and stop the federal government from what they’re doing to you.”

Gilbert said the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, should be repealed and added that things were fine without it.

“Why is the federal government involved in health care at all?” Gilbert said. “When you sit down to watch a movie on TV, how many care insurance company ads are you going to see? That’s the free market at work; you can shop around for whatever package you want. Why is health care different? There weren’t that many people uninsured to begin with. We had the best health care system in the world.”

Gilbert said that the ACA is just one way the government is overstepping its boundaries and infringing upon people’s lives, and he criticized Owens for voting in favor of it. He added that local government should have a larger role in people’s lives than the federal government.

“Bill Owens is our representative, and I don’t think he represents the people in this district,” Gilbert said. “The people in this region don’t want that (ACA). It’s time to get someone in there who will listen.”

He said small business owners are suffering the most, and that he will work to increase opportunities for them, which will, in turn, create jobs.

“If you look at our region, unemployment is way higher than it is in other places,” Gilbert said. “Taxes are crushing us. By the time you die, you will have given away most of the money you’ve made to the federal government. It needs to end.”

To get his message out to the people, Gilbert said he will soon begin holding town hall meetings throughout the North Country.

Elise Stefanik

Stefanik is a former staffer for President George W. Bush. She worked in the White House from 2006 to 2009 on the Domestic Policy Council staff and in the chief of staff’s office. She was also the director of debate preparation for 2012 vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan.

Now she works for her family’s company, Premium Plywood Inc., based in Guilderland Center.

“The relationships go back 20 years with many of our customers, so I think I’ve seen firsthand many of the struggles small businesses face – and I’ve also seen, with my experience in Washington, that Washington is definitely broken,” Stefanik told the Enterprise. “There’s too much gridlock, and we need new ideas and new leaders who are willing to step up to the plate and stir things up.”

Stefanik said she thinks voters are ready for a change.

“I think we’ve seen six years of Barack Obama’s leadership, almost as long as Bill Owens being in office, and things haven’t gotten better,” Stefanik said. “Small businesses are being taxed at higher rates, there are increasing regulations that are strangling small business growth, and Obamacare (formally known as the Affordable Care Act) is a huge issue.”

She said the ACA is a recurring concern among people she has spoken to lately.

“Even as I’m driving around today, talking to small businesses, I don’t even bring that issue up,” Stefanik said. “It’s something I hear every day from virtually every small business that I talk to. The uncertainty, the increasing cost of health care – they definitely want to see some other legislation put in place of Obamacare.”

Stefanik said the ACA should be repealed and replaced with “common-sense reforms,” although she wouldn’t get into specifics on what those might be.

“There’s a lot of time between now and next November, and I plan on rolling out very robust policy plans and new ideas,” Stefanik said. “I definitely think we need to replace it (ACA) to lower costs and increase access to health care, and I plan on sharing those ideas in the coming months.”

Stefanik said some of the most important questions facing North Country residents today are how to grow small businesses and how to retain young people in the region.

“I think people are really looking for new leaders,” Stefanik said. “I think they are tired of what’s happening in Washington. I’m personally tired of what’s happening in Washington, both seeing it firsthand when I was in Washington and now from a small business perspective. It seems no one is fighting for small businesses, Main Street.”

She hasn’t taken a stance on the Farm Bill, but she said it is important to stand up for upstate farmers. She added that she would like to speak with people first, “working from the ground up,” before solidifying her policy stances.

“I want to spend as much time as possible in all of the counties in the district,” Stefanik said. “I think it’s important to take the time and listen to what voters have to say, and get a sense for what issues they care about.”