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Stefanik talks Alcoa jobs, Seaway environmental protection during north country swing

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WATERTOWN - Republican congressional candidate Elise M. Stefanik opposes military cuts that could affect Fort Drum, would push to repeal the Affordable Care Act and believes that taxes and onerous regulations are the biggest impediments to improving the north country economy.

In a wide-ranging interview Thursdays, Ms. Stefanik, Willsboro, said the 10th Mountain Division is “a 21st century military unit” that should be held up as an example for the country’s modern defense system. She said she strongly opposes Defense Secretary Charles Hagel’s plan to reduce defense spending, a move that if adopted also could reduce the number of soldiers at Fort Drum, the north country’s largest employer.

“Fort Drum is obviously important not just to the north country, but to New York state,” she said.

She said rather than reducing Fort Drum’s mission she would be a proponent of bringing a proposed missile defense system to the base to ensure its viability into the future.

“I think Fort Drum would be a great fit for the missile defense system,” Ms. Stefanik said.

While there are portions of the Affordable Care Act with which she agrees, such as allowing children to stay on their parent’s insurance until age 26, she said there are more common-sense approaches available to reduce health-care costs, such as allowing consumers to shop for health insurance across state lines, pursuing tort reform to reduce the amount of litigation owing to medical issues and investing in medical technology.

“I think Obamacare should be repealed lock, stock and barrel,” she said.

Ms. Stefanik said her top priority is creating jobs, but tax reform and elimination of burdensome regulations are needed if the country is going to compete in a global economy. She said creating new jobs cannot come at the expense of existing jobs, such as the ones at Knowlton Technologies, which she toured Wednesday.

“While it’s important to attract new companies, I want to ensure that companies that have been here, paying taxes for 20 or 30 years, have the opportunity to stay here and create jobs,” she said.

She said she has also spent a good deal of time in Massena, hearing concerns about the nearly 200 employees at the Alcoa East plant who have opted to take either early retirement or resignation packages, exiting the local workforce.

“For those 200 individuals who have taken their retirement package, we have to make sure that we have jobs for them so they can take that next career step,” Ms. Stefanik said.

She said she supports the Farm Bill, but said it places too much emphasis on food stamps, one area where she sees an ability to cut costs contained in the bill. She said while at the Watertown Urban Mission on Wednesday, she heard a suggestion that a “sliding scale” be applied to food stamp benefits, wherein a person could retain the incentive to work at least part-time while not entirely losing benefits.

“That’s not a Washington solution. That came from the Urban Mission,” she said.

She said she is committed to working with an Agricultural Advisory Committee for New York’s 21st Congressional District, which was started by Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, as a way of getting local input on farming issues, including the dairy industry.

“Dairy farmers are important because their footprint is across the north country, in every county in this district,” she said.

Ms. Stefanik said education reform should not be a “top-down” mandate, opposing the federal Common Core standards that dictate curricula for states. She also said the implementation of the standards under Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was “abysmal.”

“I think parents and the communities are the best judges of what the standards are,” she said.

Describing herself as “a card-carrying member of the NRA” and a gun owner, Ms. Stefanik said she strongly opposes the state’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act and ardently supports the 2nd Amendment.

“I’ve been opposed to the SAFE Act since its inception,” she said. “At the national level, I think it’s important that we speak out for our constitutional principles.”

Calling the environment “our greatest asset in the district,” Ms. Stefanik said tighter regulations are needed to protect it, particularly along the St. Lawrence Seaway, with stricter rules regarding ships needed to prevent the introduction of invasive species and hazardous spills. She also said that while she supports fracking, she opposes all federal subsidies to companies for alternative energy projects, including wind power.

“I do not think the federal government should be picking and choosing what receives subsidies,” she said.

Miss Stefanik, 29, faces a June 24 Republican primary against Matthew A. Doheny, Watertown, and Joseph M. Gilbert, DeKalb Junction.

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