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Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm

NY-27 race shaping up as a war over words

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, kathy hochul, NY-27

GOP candidate for Congress Chris Collins reportedly has a history of saying things he maybe shouldn't, and his opponent in the race for the NY-27 has shown she's willing to use those statements against him in the campaign.

“All of us are human," Hochul said in an interview Thursday. "It’s important if you misspeak that you own it and say you made a mistake."

But, she added, “When there’s a pattern, then it’s trouble. If it’s an honest mistake that is a different category.”

As for criticizing Collins for saying people no longer die from cancer in an interview with The Batavian, Hochul said she thinks the comment raises legitimate policy concerns that should held up to scrutiny.

“He said it was out of context," Hochul said. "It looked like it read in context to me. He also said he misspoke, but either way, if you’re going to engage in this level of debate and criticize health policy that provides care to people with preexisting conditions, if you want to have these conversations, it’s important to state your position clearly."

Collins readily admits he makes statements that are easy targets for his political opponents, but he said that's just a byproduct of his straightforward style.

“Clearly, I’m not a politician," Collins said. "I come out of the private sector. I speak very directly. I actually answer questions. I’m not someone who filters, who is consistently filtering everything you say.”

As for the cancer comment, Collins thinks it's ridiculous that anybody would believe he thinks people no longer die from cancer.

Opponents concentrating on just one portion of his full quote miss the overall point he was making, Collins said.

Clearly what he said is there've been advances in health care, Collins said, and new treatments are more costly, above any increase in inflation, than what existed even just 10 yeas ago.

"The result is we live a lot longer and people today are surviving where they may not have a decade ago," Collins said. "Thanks for advances in cancer treatment that saved my sister’s life."

Over the course of Collins's several years of public life, the former Erie County executive has been criticized many times for public statements, most notably in 2009, when Collins compared Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to Hitler, and in 2010 when Collins was reported to have offered a woman a seat at an event in exchange for a lap dance.

“I will say, about the Shelly Silver comment, it was a poor attempt at a joke in front of a friendly audience," Collins said. "It didn’t come across and in hindsight, I should not have said that.

"As for the lap dance remark," Collins added. "It never happened. I can’t apologize for something I never said.”

During her year in Congress, Hochul has gotten into trouble for an apparent misstatement once.

Republicans jumped all over a statement by Hochul at a political forum in Erie County where she reportedly said, “Well, basically, we’re not looking to the Constitution on that aspect of it. Basically, the decision has been made by this Congress that American citizens are entitled to health care.”

Hochul thinks that the public is ready to forgive a politician a genuine mistake, but when they do say something inappropriate they should own the mistake.

"If you’re not adding anything positive to the policy debate, then you have to deal with the consequences," Hochul said.

In his interview published in The Batavian on June 24, Collins made other remarks that could be construed as politically sensitive misstatements, but Democrats have not pursued those comments as aggressievely as the cancer statement.

Most notably, Collins made statements that could lead one to conclude that the GOP nominee doesn't believe in civilian control of the military and that the president is commander-in-chief -- two concepts enshrined in the Constitution.

When asked if there was an opportunity to cut spending by cutting the military budget, Collins said, "It’s not my call. I would say you look to your military commanders, you say what is our mission and you look to the experts on how to achieve that mission in in the most cost-effective way, making sure they’ve got the tools they need to accomplish their mission."

Collins then added that President Barack Obama has been out of line in his handling of the military in Afghanistan.

"Whereas our current president has tried to micromanage the military," Collins said. "He’s replaced commanders in Afghanistan because they don’t agree with his policies."

In an interview Friday, Collins said he certainly supports civilian control of the military and understands the president is commander-in-chief.

“President Obama has politicized his position beyond what you would call a professional commander-in-chief," Collins said. "That’s just my opinion. Others may have a different opinion, but I know many people who share my opinion.

“The Constitution is the Constitution and he can do what he’s allowed to do, but that doesn't mean that what he does is right," Collins added.

From Hochul's point of view, Collins's remarks regarding the president's handling of Afghanistan is misplaced criticism.

"Regardless of party affiliation, the president of the United States remains the commander-in-chief," Hochul said. “When the president made a decision to take out Osama Bin Laden, some said that may have been too big a risk. I understand he overrode a lot of people when he made that decision, but I thank him on behalf of the people of this country that he did.”

Finally, as is often the case in taped interviews, the original statement from Collins on advances in health care was quite long and was trimmed to make for shorter reading. While we believe the quote as printed in the origional article fully explains the point Collins was attempting to make, for transparency's sake, below is his full statement. The part of the quote used in the original article is in bold.

"The fact of the matter is, healthcare today is different than healthcare was five, 10, 20 years ago. We didn’t have Lipitor, we didn’t have robotic surgery, we didn’t have what we have for prostrate cancer. People just died. People now don’t die from prostate cancer, breast cancer and some of the other things. The fact of the matter is, our healthcare today is so much better, we’re living so much longer, because of innovations in drug development, surgical procedures, stents, implantable cardiac defibrillators, neural stimulators -- they didn’t exist 10 years ago. The increase in cost is not because doctors are making a lot more money. It’s what you can get for healthcare, extending your life and curing diseases, and drugs that step in for high cholesterol and high blood pressure and everything else. Those are expensive, if anyone thinks that’s just free, we didn’t have them 20 years ago, so when people, I think, erroneously say, the increased cost of health care is more than inflation, they’re forgetting about, you’re getting a different product. Do you like the product you’re getting today or not? That’s decisions I think people have to make."

Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Hochul campaign rips quote out of context to try and slur opponent

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, kathy hochul, NY-27

The Kathy Hochul campaign just released the following statement:

“Chris Collins has demonstrated a stunning lack of sensitivity by saying, ‘people now don’t die from prostate cancer, breast cancer, and some of the other things.’ Tragically, nearly 70,000 people will die this year from these two types of cancer alone. We can disagree about public policy without making these kinds of outrageous and offensive statements."

That's the statement, with no reference to the source nor the full quote so people could judge the context for themselves.

The original source is The Batavian (both as a courtesy to The Batavian and as a matter of complete transparency, the Hochul campaign should have included this fact in its release).

Here's the full quote from Collins:

"People now don’t die from prostate cancer, breast cancer and some of the other things," Collins said. "The fact of the matter is, our healthcare today is so much better, we’re living so much longer, because of innovations in drug development, surgical procedures, stents, implantable cardiac defibrillators, neural stimulators -- they didn’t exist 10 years ago. The increase in cost is not because doctors are making a lot more money. It’s what you can get for healthcare, extending your life and curing diseases."

On its face, the opening part of the quote from Collins sounds outrageous, but in context, clearly, Collins misspoke. More likely, he meant to say. "Fewer people die from prostate cancer, breast cancer and some of the other things." 

That's not what he said (I taped the interview and the original quote as published is accurate), but the rest of the quote clearly explains the larger point he is trying to make, which is that medical advances have driven up the cost of healthcare.

To rip this quote out of context and try to use it to paint Collins as some sort of insensitive boob is the kind of below-the-belt, negative campaign tactic that keeps people from being engaged in the process and casting intelligent votes. Frankly, I think of Kathy Hochul as somebody who is more dignified than this sort of mudslinging.

Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Hochul issues statements on healthcare decision and Holder contempt vote

post by Howard B. Owens in kathy hochul, NY-26

Rep. Kathy Hochul's statement on the Supreme Court's decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling provides much needed clarity in an important national debate on the appropriate role of the federal government in the delivery of healthcare. While I was not in Congress to vote on the Affordable Care Act, I have always believed, and continue to believe, that the law is far from perfect, and I remain concerned about the high cost of implementing the law. That is why I have worked to roll back many of its most troubling provisions, including the financially unsustainable CLASS Act, the Medical Device Tax, and the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which could result in the rationing of Medicare.

“I am hopeful that today’s ruling will help to focus our country on the need for more effective policies that drive down the cost of care and ensure that all Americans — especially children, seniors and veterans — have access to quality and affordable health care. I stand ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to continue to improve the law and find appropriate solutions to the rising cost of health care in this country.”

Kathy Hochul's statement on the contempt of Congress vote for Eric Holder:

“We can all agree that the Fast and Furious operation was ill-conceived and the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was an avoidable tragedy. Now, our objective must be to evaluate the facts and work to prevent such an event from ever happening again,” Hochul said.

“At a time when our country is facing significant economic challenges, it’s disappointing that both parties have, yet again, become distracted by Washington politics. The people of Western New York deserve a transparent government, regardless of which party is in control. Congress has a constitutional responsibility to exercise appropriate oversight, and I believe Attorney General Eric Holder should fully disclose the documents requested and allow this issue to be resolved.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 12:51 am

Bellavia thanks volunteers, pledges support to GOP after primary loss to Chris Collins

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, David Bellavia, kathy hochul, NY-27

In the end, David Bellavia expressed more regret for his volunteers than he did for himself.

"I’m just exhausted," Bellavia said. "I’ve been walking so many miles and...so many doors...and I’m just trying to think in my head, what could I have done more, what could I have done, but at the end of the day, I’m just so sorry to all of these volunteers who gave me so much time and effort. I just feel really bad that I let them down."

The decorated Iraq War veteran thanked several of his volunteers by name during his concession speech at the Clarion Hotel in Batavia on Tuesday night. He then pledged his support to the Republican party and the effort to defeat President Barack Obama and Rep. Kathy Hochul in November.

"I spoke to Mr. Collins and I congratulated him on his victory," Bellavia told his supporters. "I’m telling you right now, we are going to lock shields as a party. We are going to stand in the trenches shoulder to shoulder."

After a campaign in which Bellavia characterized Collins as a "country club Republican" who was out of touch with the rural voters of the GLOW counties, the natural question for Bellavia after his speech: Did you just pledge to stand behind Collins?

His answer, "We’re going to talk. I stand behind the party and the process. I don’t make any excuse for whether it’s perfect today. We lost. I have kids and it’s important that they understand that you have honor when you win and you have honor when you lose. I have no excuses. I’m a Republican. I want to see Republicans win. Chris and I will talk in the future and we’ll move forward."

If Bellavia backs Collins, it's unclear if many of his GLOW supporters will follow.

But at the Clarion on Tuesday night, one of Bellavia's volunteers clearly said she won't vote for Collins in November.

Michelle McCulloch believes Collins was at least tangentially responsible for losing her staff position with State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer.

"You’re asking a person who lost her job because Chris Collins didn’t want me helping someone else in the race," McCulloch said. "I have never tried to work against my party, but I have no use for Mr. Collins. I know what he is and he knows what he is. He will never have my vote or my family’s vote."

Asked if she would help Hochul's campaign, McCulloch said, "I’ll see how things play out. I guess I’ll listen to Kathy Hochul and see what she has to say and go from there."

McCulloch was among the volunteers Bellavia singled out for thanks during his concession speech.

"Michelle McCullough has sacrificed so very much for me and on the side of honor, principle and integrity," Bellavia said. "Your family is beautiful. Your husband is an outstanding man. I’m so sorry for what you’ve had to endure and we’re going to make it right."

Collins will now face Hochul, who won her seat in a special election in May 2011 in which she attacked Collins ally Jane Corwin for her support of the Paul Ryan Budget Plan. Within an hour of Collins declaring victory on Tuesday, the Hochul campaign sent out a press release attacking Collins on the same topic.

Statement from Campaign Manager Frank Thomas:

"Chris Collins has made it a hallmark of his campaign to avoid taking positions on key issues. But one thing is clear, Mr. Collins supports Paul Ryan's budget; a plan that turns Medicare into a voucher program and makes seniors pay $6,400 more for their Medicare benefits to fund tax cuts for multimillionaires. He has even has said that it does not go far enough.

“It is time that Chris Collins comes clean with voters about his plans to take the Ryan’s budget further. What more could he do on top of decimating Medicare and protecting the super rich? We hope that now that he is the nominee he is willing to answer questions on the issues that matter most to the people of the 27th district.”

Previously: Collins landslide in Erie County sinks Bellavia in NY-27 GOP primary

PHOTO: Bellavia during his concession speech with his wife, Deanna, his children and parents (not pictured, his brother, Rand).

Friday, June 22, 2012 at 9:07 am

Hochul goes to bat against breast cancer in annual Capitol Hill softball game

post by Howard B. Owens in kathy hochul

Press release:

Representative Kathy Hochul (NY-26) competed in the fourth annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game against female members of the Capitol Hill Press Corps.

“This event is a great opportunity to have a little fun with my colleagues and some of the journalists who cover us,” Rep. Hochul said. “I was happy I got to play centerfield this year since that’s where I’m most comfortable — not too far to the right and not too far to the left. I’m sure the reporters all noticed my prowess in the center and how well I worked with my bipartisan teammates.”

The press team defeated the congressional team 13 to 10.

The proceeds from this year’s event are going to the Young Survival Coalition, a group dedicated to young women affected by breast cancer.

Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Hochul introduces legislation to help vets get certification for military training

post by Howard B. Owens in kathy hochul, veterans

Press release:

Today, Representative Kathy Hochul (NY-26) introduced the Vocational Employment and Technical Skills Act (VETS Act), which will make it easier for veterans to receive professional certification in skills they performed while members of the armed services.

“The VETS Act is a commonsense solution to a problem facing too many veterans -- difficulty getting a job when returning home. After talking to troops during my trip to Afghanistan and many conversations with local veterans, I remain concerned that one of the biggest fears our troops are dealing with is the prospect of unemployment after their tour of duty. This legislation will help veterans who have put their lives on the line protecting us overseas make the transition to civilian life using the technical skills learned in the military,” Rep. Hochul said.

To assist veterans transitioning to civilian life in finding employment, the VETS Act will eliminate unnecessary hurdles for veterans who have a high level of competence in many certifiable fields. The legislation requires states to alter their certification procedures to take veterans’ military training into account if they seek to become a surveyor, plumber, general construction equipment operator, HVAC repair person, carpenter, electrician, or an automotive/aviation engine repair person.

Earlier this month, Rep. Hochul held a roundtable discussion on the VETS Act to receive input on the legislation from members of Western New York’s veteran community. Additionally, the bill has been reviewed and approved by Rep. Hochul’s veterans advisory board.

Rep. Hochul is also a co-sponsor of other legislation to encourage the hiring of veterans, including the Hiring Heroes Act that modernizes and improves programs to assist our veterans with the transition from service member to civilian life. She voted in support of the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011 – a bill that received bipartisan support – that provides assistance to older, unemployed veterans and provides active duty service members with transition and employment assistance.

In May, Rep. Hochul traveled to Afghanistan as part of a bipartisan Armed Services Committee oversight trip.

Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Chris Collins stops in Batavia to speak out against Hochul and Obama; Bellavia, not so much

post by Howard B. Owens in chris collins, David Bellavia, kathy hochul, NY-27, politics

Kathy Hochul supports Obama, Obama is destroying the country, and only Mitt Romney in the White House and Chris Collins in the NY-27 seat can put things right, Collins told local reporters outside Batavia City Hall today.

“We have to defeat a representative who does not represent our core values," Collins said. "My core values are smaller government, personal accountability, local decision making, fiscal discipline, serving taxpayers and respecting future generations.

"These are not only the core values of the 27th Congressional District, they’re the core values of America. They are not President Obama’s core values. They are not Kathy Hochul’s core values."

Not once during his five-minute speech did Collins mention his GOP primary opponent, David Bellavia.

Asked about it, Collins said he is entirely focused on defeating Hochul on Nov. 6. Even if he loses the primary -- which he said he would win -- he will still be on the Conservative Party line and he said he intends to continue campaigning against Hochul right up until the general election.

"Kathy Hochul supports Obama," Collins said. "She is totally out of sync with the values of the 27th District. She won’t even admit she’s a Democrat."

According to recent reports, Hochul has a voting record that has not been in line with Obama or the Democrats.

The Buffalo News reported over the weekend that "Hochul is bucking the party line," noting that "Hochul voted with the Democratic Party line 81 percent of the time and with the Obama administration 78 percent of the time," which is less than other Democrats.

"Politico" noted that Hochul has not been the lapdog for Obama's health care policies that Democrats expected when she beat Jane Corwin -- in part because Hochul latched onto the GOP's Medicare reform plan as a wedge issue.

Still, Hochul did tell the Buffalo News she will vote for Obama, even though she won't attend the Democratic convention and, the News said, "she gives the president mixed reviews."

For Collins, however, Hochul and Obama are inexorably linked. 

The hook of Collins's remarks today was a statement by Obama that "the private sector is doing fine."

Collins said, the private sector isn't doing fine, not when there is 8.2 percent unemployment, China is cheating at trade and corporate tax rates are too high.

“We’ll keep talking about jobs and the economy, jobs and the economy," Collins said.

With Romney as president and Collins part of a GOP majority in Congress, Collins said policies would be enacted to put Americans back to work, most specifically, lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.

He also said the nation's debt is too high and promised smaller government if the GOP is given a chance to lead the way.

"Small businesses have a lack of confidence in the future of our country," Collins said. "We have a president who let that happen because he needs to keep going to China to borrow money. We cannot continue to borrow $4 million a day, $1.4- $1.5 billion a year and have small business invest in our future. They don’t know where the future is going."

One point Collins and Hochul seem to agree on: Trade. 

Hochul kept her campaign promise and voted against free-trade agreements supported both by the GOP leadership and President Obama.

Collins said he would push for tarriffs on China if the nation continues its current trade policies, which include not letting its currency float on the open market, and giving Chinese businesses a 30-percent price advantage over U.S. companies.

Collins's message for China, "Float your currency, respect our IP, open your own markets -- or else. They need us more than we need them."

Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Hochul announces help for farms from USDA with armyworm infestations

post by Howard B. Owens in agriculture, kathy hochul

Press release:

Representative Kathy Hochul (NY-26) announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Services Agency (FSA) can now file weather-related disaster reports for damage done by armyworms due to the fact that they have arrived earlier than expected and in unprecedented numbers because of the unseasonably warm weather this spring.

“I am pleased to hear the USDA Farm Services Agency will now allow farmers to file weather-related disaster reports for damage done to crops from armyworms," Hochul said. "This is an important step toward the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets declaring the armyworm infestation a disaster, allowing farmers whose crops have been devastated access to low-interest emergency loans to help in the recovery. I urge farmers that have been affected by armyworms to contact their local Farm Services Agency and report their loss immediately.”

Farmers should report their losses to their county Farm Services Administration to begin documenting the extent of the damage. If the FSA can document a countywide loss of 30 percent or greater for a single crop, they can then submit their data to NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets for a potential disaster declaration – allowing access to low-interest emergency loans.

Monday, June 11, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Hochul announces grant for local Head Start program

post by Howard B. Owens in kathy hochul

Press release:

Representative Kathy Hochul (NY-26) today announced that a grant of almost $1.2 million for Head Start projects has been awarded to Community Action of Orleans and Genesee, Inc.

“I am pleased that Community Action of Orleans and Genesee will be receiving this funding to support the Head Start program that so many families depend on to prepare their children for school. The continuation of this program is great news for the children of Orleans and Genesee counties and their parents,” Rep. Hochul said.

The total grant award of $1,174,114 is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Head Start promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.

Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Hochul, after one year in office, says she takes her job title seriously: Representative

post by Howard B. Owens in kathy hochul, NY-26

Last week, Rep. Kathy Hochul marked her first year in office, and it's been a busy year for the freshman Democrat who won a special election over Republican Jane Corwin.

Genesee County political observers estimate that Hochul has spent more time locally than her predecessors, Tom Reynolds and Chris Lee, combined.

"That's where the people are," Hochul said, explaining why she makes so many public appearances in the district. "That's where I can listen, find out their concerns. My title is U.S. Representative and the best way I can execute my duties is to listen to people.

"Every time I’m out out in the community I learn something new and I find another way I can serve my district," she added.

Upon taking office, Hochul said she found a backlog of constituent issues and immediately hired staff that would focus on constituent issues.

So far, she said, her staff has helped constituents garner $800,000 in benefits owed to them by the federal government for one reason or another but had been held up by red tape.

Listening to constituents, she said, is why she continues to oppose the Ryan budget plan and its cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

Genesee County, already with a heavy Medicaid burden, would see it increase under the Ryan plan, Hochul said.

"The Ryan budget plan would convert Medicaid into a block grant program, and that's one of the many reasons I'm against it," Hochul said. "It would make for higher costs for county taxpayers and taxpayers across Western New York. It would limit how much counties get and the localities would have to pick up the cost."

But listening to constituents, she said, is also why she was one of only 24 Democrats, and the only one from New York, to support the balanced budget amendment.

Democrats in Washington, she said, haven't put pressure on her to conform with their agenda.

"My title is representative and I represent a Republican, conservative-leaning district," Hochul said. "I am free to look at every issue that comes before me and vote in the best way to represent my district."

In Washington, Hochul said, Republicans have shown a willingness to work with her. On the Homeland Security Committee, she was the only Democrat during the session to get unanimous bipartisan support for her amendments to bills. That included an amendment to ensure Transportation Security Administration uniforms are made in the United States and that unclaimed clothing from airport screenings are donated to homeless veterans.

Representing the people of WNY in Congress is an amazing honor, Hochul said.

"I come back to the district often because what occurs here is very much more meaningful and where the decisions we make effect lives directly," Hochul said.

Top Photo: File photo, Hochul at the parade in Bergen on Memorial Day this year.

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