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Doheny, Stefanik spar over bank bailout but stay mostly cordial in debate

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WATERTOWN — Republican congressional candidates Elise M. Stefanik and Matthew A. Doheny struck a more cordial note during their second televised debate on Thursday, though they did not completely refrain from criticizing each other’s qualifications ahead of the June 24 primary.

The sharpest exchange came following a question about the bank bailouts in the 2008 financial crisis. Both candidates tried mightily to cast the other as somehow connected to the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Ms. Stefanik used Mr. Doheny’s experience working for Deutsche Bank in New York City to portray him as being complicit in the abuses that brought the country to the brink of financial collapse.

“I don’t support the bailouts. I didn’t support TARP,” she said. “My primary opponent was working on Wall Street, which is predominantly responsible for the financial crisis, and I believe we need a representative who represents Main Street. I don’t think we should have bailouts for big banks when small businesses don’t get that same deal.”

Mr. Doheny countered by using Ms. Stefanik’s experience working on the Domestic Policy Council staff of the George W. Bush White House to portray her as an architect of the plan.

“Unfortunately, you heard my opponent’s answer. And it’s hypocritical,” he said. “I mean, left out was the fact that my opponent actually worked in the domestic policy unit in the Bush White House when these bailouts were actually happening. She was there. Look, I am dead set against these bailouts. It is against the Constitution; it is against what we believe in the free market.”

Both candidates vehemently denied being involved with either designing or receiving funds from the program.

Responding to a follow-up question from WWNY-TV anchor Jeff Cole, Mr. Doheny again brought up Ms. Stefanik’s experience in Washington.

“This is D.C. double-speak, Jeff. I mean, she was there but she didn’t believe in it, this is, time and time again ...” Mr. Doheny said before Ms. Stefanik interjected.

“Were you not on Wall Street? You were on Wall Street,” she said.

The debate moved on quickly from there, with each candidate voicing disapproval of the bailout, before continuing in a virtually unbroken chorus of agreements.

Both expressed support for repealing the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law, but differed somewhat in their responses to the question.

Ms. Stefanik said she would like to see health insurance sold across state lines and the same tax incentives small businesses receive offered to individuals, while Mr. Doheny said he favors bringing medical malpractice lawsuits under control. Both favor repealing the medical device tax.

When it came to veterans’ care, the candidates agreed that former service members should be able to access health care within their communities instead of having to drive to Veterans Affairs hospitals in Syracuse or Albany.

Mr. Doheny said the solution to resolving the recently revealed problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs was to promote “accountability, transparency and flexibility.” He said he would seek to audit every program in every branch of government if elected to Congress. Ms. Stefanik said she would make use of the veterans advisory team she has assembled in the district and would try to secure a seat on the House Armed Services Committee.

Both Mr. Doheny and Ms. Stefanik said that in order to resolve problems surrounding the high number of undocumented immigrants working on north country dairy farms, the issue should be removed from the larger immigration debate and resolved as part of an effort to encourage economic development and the sustained viability of agriculture in the district.

The two candidates differed on the so-called Interstate 98 “rooftop highway” proposed from Watertown to Plattsburgh.

Ms. Stefanik said she opposes the project, which is estimated to cost up to $6 billion. Instead, she proposed improving the existing infrastructure along Route 11 to allow for better traffic flow.

Mr. Doheny said that he favors the rooftop highway project but that he would also like to see improvements to Route 11 in the absence of any substantial progress on the I-98 proposal.

“Elise is right,” Mr. Doheny said.

The candidates also agreed that the proposed extension of the Keystone pipeline in the Midwest would be better than transporting crude oil via train through the north country. They also agreed that enforcing slower train speeds in populated areas was an important measure in increasing safety while the debate over the pipeline continues.

“This is another issue we agree on,” Ms. Stefanik said.

The candidates also agreed on updating plans for regulating the levels of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River; on encouraging expansion at Fort Drum; and supporting Second Amendment rights.

During the lighting round of Thursday afternoon’s taped debate, when the candidates were asked a series of rapid-fire questions, Mr. Doheny and Ms. Stefanik agreed on same-sex marriage, which they said was a states’ rights issue; medical marijuana, which they both support; hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas, of which they both are in favor; and the Common Core, to which they both are opposed.

While the word “abortion” was not mentioned, the candidates were asked whether they are pro-life. Ms. Stefanik said she was; Mr. Doheny said, “It’s a personal choice, but I’ll get a 100 percent pro-life voting record in Congress.”

The candidates had a final opportunity to score points when allowed to ask each other a question.

Mr. Doheny asked Ms. Stefanik how she could call herself a small-business woman when she had spent so much time working in Washington, D.C. Ms. Stefanik said she grew up in a small-business family and witnessed the sacrifices her parents made to ensure the success of their plywood distribution company. She said that while her business experience differed from Mr. Doheny’s, growing up in a small-business family and working with small businesses around the district gave her a better understanding of the economic challenges in the area.

Ms. Stefanik took a lighter approach in her question for Mr. Doheny. Citing some of her favorite activities such as hiking, skiing, reading and cooking, she asked Mr. Doheny what he liked to do when he wasn’t campaigning.

“Well, it’s a wonderful question and I appreciate that. Unfortunately, I wish some of your D.C. allies would ask more questions like that as opposed to tearing me apart on camera,” Mr. Doheny said, before saying that he likes to spend time with his wife, Mary, and his 11-month-old son, Declan.

Mr. Doheny has been endorsed by the New York state Independence Party, while Ms. Stefanik has been endorsed by the state Conservative Party. Regardless of who wins the Republican primary, the names of both candidates will be on the ballot in November on their respective minor party lines. They will face Democrat Aaron G. Woolf and Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello in the 21st Congressional District race to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh.

The debate will be broadcast on WWNY, public TV stations WPBS and Mountain Lake PBS and North Country Public Radio tonight at 7.

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