Two candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination to defeat U.S. Rep. Chris Collins in the 27th Congressional District
HOPEWELL — The questions covered everything from gun control to health care and taxes — and the two Democratic candidates seeking the party’s nomination to run against incumbent Chris Collins in the 27th Congressional District agree on all the major issues. The candidates, Nate McMurray and Nick Stankevich, also each shared some personal stories with the audience at a forum Wednesday evening at Finger Lakes Community College.
McMurray is town supervisor of Grand Island in Erie County. He holds a law degree and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, is fluent in Korean and Mandarin Chinese, and is an expert in Korean culture and business practices.
Stankevich co-founded two local companies, Woolen Stitches, an artisanal wool shop, and a hydroelectric energy start-up that will provide clean energy. He runs his family’s business, the Genesee Country Inn Bed and Breakfast in Mumford.
Questions chosen from those submitted before or during the event were moderated by FLCC Adjunct Professor of History David Hughes. The panel asking the questions was comprised of two military veterans — Kurt Hass, an FLCC student; and Michael Tucker, a 2017 FLCC grad — and Laura Kenyon, vice chair of the Canandaigua City Democratic Committee and a former FLCC adjunct instructor.
One of the questions leading off the forum centered on how each candidate would defeat Republican Collins in the 27th district, where Republican voters outnumber Democrats 2-to-1.
“This will be a difficult election,” said McMurray. “But we have an opponent who is vulnerable.” McMurray mentioned attending an event with Collins in which Collins spoke to local farmers, telling them “how great things are,” McMurray recalled. He said those in attendance just listened quietly, looking down. As a Democratic town supervisor, the only Democrat on his Town Board and the only Democratic town supervisor in a long time, he said he understands people want leadership. “People are desperate to be listened to,” he said.
Stankevich said that in Mumford, he is also accustomed to living and working in a predominantly Republican stronghold. “People are tired of the status quo,” he said. Stankevich said the focus needs to be on people and meeting the needs of average, working Americans. “There is a sea change in the air,” he said.
On a question about gun violence and preventing school shootings, Stankevich said just days ago he returned from Washington, D.C., where he met with Collins to discuss gun violence. While there was agreement on certain aspects regarding background checks, “we need to do more,” Stankevich said, adding the AR-15 has been a weapon of choice for many mass shootings. He said he owns a handgun, has a shotgun and likes hunting. “I don’t think a hunter needs an AR-15,” he said.
McMurray said he thinks lawful gun owners who use guns responsibly have been “wrongly attacked” due to gun violence. “I think the Second Amendment is a check on tyranny,” he said. McMurray also said he doesn’t think arming more people with guns in hopes of combating gun violence is the answer. In talking with local law enforcement McMurray said he hears the police don’t want these assault-type weapons in the hands of people, with fear that every time they pull someone over or perform other duties of their job it may trigger a person to use that weapon.
Both candidates said they don’t think teachers should be armed, and both support resource officers in schools. Stankevich said he supports overturning an amendment that forbids the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence. The CDC should be able to study gun violence as part of the effort to do more to stop it, he said.
On other issues:
Both support legalizing marijuana. Stankevich talked about it as a “non-addictive substance that can relieve pain.” He also talked about the benefits of regulating it if it was legal and the tax revenue it would bring that could help fund education and other needs.
McMurray said data shows that opioid abuse decreases where cannabis is legalized. He talked about a personal experience, a friend’s daughter who benefited greatly from taking marijuana medically and how it relieved her pain and seizures.
Both candidates support a single-payer health system, which would guarantee that everyone has health care. “It would make every farm, every business more profitable,” said Stankevich.
McMurray said that with the amount of money the nation spends on wars, “we have the resources to take care of our people.”
“We need single-payer. If not, we hurt ourselves in the long run,” McMurray said.
The candidates also talked about addressing the student debt crisis and overturning the tax law that by the Republicans’ own admission is creating a $1.5 trillion deficit. “They are setting up a failure,” said McMurray. The tax law, which initially gives a small benefit to the middle class and big benefit to wealthier Americans, also threatens to strip Medicare and Social Security “that you have earned,” McMurray said.
“The tax bill does focus on people,” said McMurray — ”very, very rich people.”
“This law was an attack on the middle class,” he said. “Do not take his crumbs,” he said, referring to the support Collins gave the tax bill, and adding that the small benefit now is in “exchange for your Medicare and Social Security.”
Both candidates urged everyone to vote and support candidates who care about people.
“We are at a crossroads,” said Stankevich. “When you lead with people you’ll always be on the right side of every issue,” he said.
“I love the Democratic party,” said McMurray. Throughout history, he said, the party has been the one to stand up for civil rights and gender equality and against evil and corrupt wars “I love America,” he said. He asked that voters in the 27th “vote for that one person who can beat Chris Collins."
The forum was broadcast live on Finger Lakes Television, channel 1304 on Spectrum Cable. Finger Lakes TV is simultaneously webcast at fingerlakestv.org/live .