Capital Region Congressman Paul Tonko debates repeat challenger Liz Joy
The two candidates for the New York 20e The congressional district met for its only debate last night. The forum, co-sponsored by WAMC, showcased the ideological differences between incumbent Democrat Paul Tonko and challenger Liz Joy, a Republican. WAMC South Adirondack Office Chief Lucas Willard was one of the panelists in the debate.
Tonko, first elected to Congress in 2008 after a long career in the New York State Assembly, faces a 2020 rematch from Joy, who has not held elected office.
The hour-long debate at WMHT studios in Troy drew heated responses from the candidates, who were asked about the rising cost of living, gun violence, social programs, abortion, the integrity of elections, clean energy and other topics. Questions came from debate partners, including the WAMC, Times Union and WMHT, and were reviewed by local chapters of the League of Women Voters.
During the debate, Tonko praised Democratic achievements in Washington that would benefit the region, including CHIPS and science law to support high-tech manufacturing. Joy, who during the pandemic has frequently appeared at rallies to protest COVID mandates, touted her experience as a mother and grandmother and an advocate for children.
In a back-and-forth on the first question on the rising cost of living and poverty, Tonko defended the Cut Inflation Act, which Democrats hailed as a way to pay down the national debt, reduce health care costs and make investments. in clean energy technology.
He tried to address Joy’s criticism of the $700 billion bill, which has become a target for Republicans.
“What we have done is allow all forms of energy to benefit from the Cut Inflation Act. It lowers the cost of all forms of energy, including fossil fuels. You need to correct your facts, Ms. Joy,” Tonko said.
Joy has repeatedly attacked the law, which includes a number of Biden campaign goals.
“I found it interesting, the Inflation Reduction Act is the same law he imposed that gave you 87,000 IRS agents – who are actually armed – to sue you, your wallets and your checkbooks,” Joy said.
The Inflation Reduction Act calls for an investment of nearly $80 billion in the IRS over 10 years. A 2021 Treasury Department report says the money would primarily be used to enforce tax policy for wage earners earning more than $400,000.
The figure of 87,000 IRS agents has been used as a campaign tool by Republicans, although that number is misleading. Fact checks from multiple outlets show that such an investment could see the IRS make 87,000 hires, though most likely aren’t agents. IRS staffing has dropped about 20% over the past decade.
As the debate continued, the candidates stood out on a number of issues. Tonko condemned the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, while Joy is anti-abortion. She said she would not vote on legislation banning the practice, saying she respected the court’s decision to leave the matter to the states. A bill banning abortion has been introduced by Republicans in the current Congress.
Regarding firearms, Joy does not support a ban on assault weapons, unlike Tonko.
On labour, Tonko said he supports unions and new infrastructure projects should be completed with union labour. Joy said she supports unions but wants entities to be able to choose whether or not to use union labor.
On an issue related to the peaceful transfer of power, Joy said she would accept the election results if she lost.
“If you lose the race, you lose the race, but I don’t foresee that happening. I don’t need more time to say that,” Joy said.
“Mr. Tonko, same question for you,” said moderator Dan Clark.
“Yeah, that’s an interesting answer because I still haven’t heard the concession from last campaign that we were both in contention for the 20e Congressional District.
Shortly after the 2020 election, Joy attended January 6e Stop the Steal protest at the United States Capitol, but was not part of the riot.
On crime and policing, Joy called herself the “law and order” candidate and touted endorsements from local police unions. Tonko said the Democratic-led U.S. Bailout Act provides critical funding to police departments for hiring and equipment.
The candidates were asked about the 2018 Schoharie limo tragedy and the dissatisfaction of the families of the 20 victims who are asking the FBI for information about the agency’s connection to the owner of the limo company involved. The owner is believed to be a longtime FBI informant.
Joy said Tonko did not search for answers.
“I will say no, I don’t think Congress handled it appropriately, especially Mr. Tonko, who was silent and did not question or investigate at all – which was his full jurisdiction to do so – by getting answers from the FBI,” Joy said.
Joy credited fellow Republican Elise Stefanik with 21st District for forcefully requesting an FBI investigation.
Tonko, from Amsterdam, where many of the victims came from, worked directly with the families to push through new regulations on limousine safety at the federal level. The Democrat demanded answers from the FBI, but did not respond to Joy.
“Many of the victims of this tragic accident are family friends, neighbours. I will not be worthy of answering this for not politicizing their pain, their hurt, their loss,” Tonko said.
Each candidate was given equal extended time in their closing statement. Joy’s interruptions prompted a response from moderator Dan Clark.
“He passed…the rules don’t apply to you, I guess, Paul,” Joy said.
“I gave you so many rebuttals, Mrs. Joy. And I also gave you extra time for your closing statement. I don’t think you noticed, Clark said.
Although the district has since been redrawn, Tonko has beaten Joy by around 22 points in 2020.