JOHANNA M. COSTIGAN, CO-EDITOR IN CHIEF | OCTOBER 6, 2016
“Zephyr Teachout.” To the average Bard student, these two words may seem as likely to be the name of an educational event or a foreign disease as they are the name of an important local Congressional candidate. Teachout is, in fact, the woman who may be representing the Annandale population on a national scale.
During her talk at Bard, the 19th district Congressional candidate described the problematic “culture of fear” amongst congressmen. She argued that, as a result of spending between 40% and 70% of their time raising money, they experience pressure to support legislation that is in agreement with the beliefs of their campaign contributors.
She said that this issue, though relevant on a national level, also pervades her own race. While her campaign is a grassroots effort, with over 62,000 donors and an average contribution of $19, her opponent John Faso is largely funded by two hedge fund billionaires who regularly support conservative candidates.
Those two men are Robert Mercer and Paul Singer. Mercer contributed $11 million to a group supporting Ted Cruz for the Republican Presidential Nomination. Singer has contributed millions to a collection of Republicans in recent years, including Marco Rubio.
Teachout believes these two fundraising approaches demonstrate the essential difference between her campaign and that of her opponent. “We’re not even in the same category,” she told the audience. “It’s like comparing apples to elephants, just two totally different worlds.”
She spent a lot of time discussing the state of American democracy. She advocated for establishing a truly representative democracy, wherein politicians weren’t tied to the opinions of their financiers. She noted a perceived sense of anger in the American populous.
“We need to take that anger and honor it and say the real issue here is people are feeling out of power because they are out of power. Let’s address that by trying to have a more representative democracy.” She included suggestions for how to achieve this goal, emphasizing her comittment to publicly financing elections and overturning the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. She also mentioned the important fact that far more women and people of color run in publicly financed elections.
Teachout later discussed policy issues she finds vital, such as the economy and the environment. She talked about the threat she has found to be a major issue in many of the towns she has visited in the district.
“Big companies are pushing out the small entrepreneur. The core of our communities in this district are independent businesses and family farms who are getting pushed out by larger businesses,” she said.
Teachout clarified the stark difference between her environmental policies and those of her opponent. She began by commenting on the major waterway in the 19th district. “I think we have to clean up the Hudson. So much has been done, but you still can’t eat the fish,” she said.
She also said she is proud to have already acted on behalf of the anti-fracking effort. She mentioned that the availability of healthy water is not a political issue. Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between needs clean water, a fundamental need for all citizens.
Her opponent is a proponent of fracking and has served as a lobbyist for companies that owned fracked gas. He has supported a pipeline that would go through 277 streams. “You can’t tell me that you have a healthy economy when the kids in it are sick. I reject that idea. We have to protect our health and our water. That’s where a healthy economy starts,” she said.
Teachout spoke about a strategy she learned early in her fight against fracking in New York. “Just take it down a notch. Talk about water. Talk about whether you can drink from the faucet. I find that if you do this there’s a lot more broad agreement.”
“In this district, water protection is not a party issue. I don’t run into people who say it’s okay if the water is poisoned.” She said the best way to avoid petty party conflicts is to focus on the most fundamental needs and rights of local citizens.
She invoked the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to prove the necessity of environmental reform: “‘A nation that poisons its soil poisons itself.’”
In her discussion of environmental issues, Teachout also mentioned the fact that this area has a long history dealing with these issues and implementing their solutions. “Representing the Hudson Valley means representing renewable energy.”
Teachout suggested that despite the hardships associated with public office, government is the primary setting in which individuals can make a difference regarding the issues they and those who elected them care about. “I want all of you to get deeply involved in electoral politics,” she said.
Voting and canvassing are examples of ways one could achieve this goal, though she also encouraged running for office. She recalled a story of a young woman she met who is extremely passionate about environmental reform and rejected the idea of running for an elected position.
“She cared deeply but she didn’t think politics was for her. We gotta get over that. If you care deeply about the terrible inequality that we have in this country, whether it’s water quality, trade policy, or anything else you care deeply about, think about electoral politics as a way to make a change,” she said.
Teachout and Faso’s race is the closest Congressional race this year. A few votes could make the difference.
She further distinguished herself from her opponent by assuring the crowd that she would genuinely represent the district, having traveled to 160 out of the 165 towns in it thus far, while the Super PAC contributors aren’t from here, and aren’t representative of the people who are.
Teachout emphasized that she doesn’t look at her race as a competition between the left and the right. Instead, she views it as big money versus the people. “That’s the fight we’re in now, and it’s a very serious fight,” she said.
Referring to the two millionaire donors supporting Faso’s campaign, Teachout joked that they should be fully accountable for their candidate’s ideas.
“I challenged Singer and Mercer to a debate. We haven’t heard back yet.”
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