New York’s typically Republican congressional district recently elected a new representative, Democrat Bill Owens, who defeated his conservative opponent with 49 percent of the vote on November 3, 2009 in a special election.
Owens was sworn into office on November 6, 2009 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The following day, Congressman Owens voted in favor of the Affordable Healthcare for America Act, which seeks to spread healthcare to individuals in need and bans current insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions. According to his campaign website, “Bill Owens is committed to healthcare reform. He understands that we need reform for the millions of Americans who don’t have affordable health care, as well as for those who have inadequate care or live in fear that their coverage may not be there when they really need it.”
While the issue of health care reform is highly debated, the need for more coverage is becoming known by more and more hardworking Americans across the country. Unfortunately, much of the problem lies in the hands of those in power of healthcare, the insurance companies. Owens’ campaign also promised his “fight for health care reform that responsibly fixed our broken system for us and future generations.” Just one week in, Owens has fulfilled his promises with his vote for the Affordable Healthcare for America Act.
Owens is not only committed to healthcare reform, but he is particularly concerned with the lack of jobs for qualified Americans. Even though Owens was raised in the New York City area, attended Manhattan College and studied law at Fordham University School of Law, his U.S. Air Force stationing in Plattsburg exposed him to the economic struggles in the North Country. Owens demonstrated his leadership and devotion to creating jobs with the founding of the Plattsburg Airbase Redevelopment Corporation in 1995, which helped bring over 2,000 jobs to the area.
With his experience, Owens has promised to make local job creation his top priority. He said the area has a “right to keep Fort Drum strong, attract new business, protect our farmers and their families, invest in job programs locally including training and placement programs for veteran, and attract alternative energy industries to create good-paying “green collar jobs.” His understanding of the need for jobs and the demographics of the north country is valuable to his role as Congressman.
However, while he seems to be a perfect fit and gained nearly 50 percent of the votes last Tuesday, Owens is the first Democrat to represent the district since the mid-19th century. St. Lawrence County hasn’t seen a Democratic representative in the House since 1854. In fact, the special election last Tuesday was held to replace Republican John McHugh, who resigned to become Army secretary.
An interesting turn in the race for the seat makes the election of a Democrat even more interesting. Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava dropped out of the race just three days before the election. Doug Hoffman, who lost to Scozzafava in the nomination for the Republican candidacy in the race, chose to run as a conservative candidate. Hoffman slowly climbed the polls ahead of Scozzafava, who was criticixed for her support of abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
As party leaders shifted their support to Hoffman after Scozzafava’s dropout, many expected her to endorse Hoffman as well. However, on the Sunday before election day, Scozzafava released a statement endorsing Bill Owens. Scozzafava publically stated, “I am supporting Bill Owens for Congress and urge you to do the same. It’s not in the cards for me to be your representative, but I strongly believe Bill is the only candidate who can build upon John McHugh’s lasting legacy in the U.S. Congress.” It is not every day that a Republican passes on her support of a Democratic candidate, especially in New York’s 23rd district. Scozzafava exhibited genuine dedication to her district, not her party.
“In Bill Owens, I see a sense of duty and integrity that will guide him beyond political partisanship. He will be an independent voice devoted to doing what is right for New York. Bill understands this district and its people, and when he represents us in Congress he will put our interests first. Please join me in voting for Bill Owens on Tuesday. To address the tough challenges ahead, we must rise above partisanship and politics and work together. There’s too much at stake in this election to do otherwise.”
Naturally, as Scozzafava strayed from the Republican National Committee’s endorsement of Hoffman after her decision, she naturally attracted lots of negative attention from fellow Republicans. Nevertheless, she has stayed strong in her spport of Owens and will continue to serve as Assemblywoman in Albany.
Congressman Owens will hopefully live up to his statement of thanks and promises he has made to the district. “I’m honored by the trust the voters of the 23rd district have placed in me. I look forward to representing you in Congress and working to bring jobs to upstate New York, reforming healthcare, and strengthening the economy.”