Watertown Daily Times - NELSON VISITS WATERTOWN, TALKS POLICY, PHILOSOPHY AND ENDORSEMENTS
WATERTOWN — After spreading out his bumper stickers and flyers Tuesday night in the fireplace lounge of the Masonic Temple, Patrick Nelson lifted up the cover of the piano keys. He tried out a chord to see if it was in tune, then sat down and played a few bars.
It was the start of an informal meet the candidate evening. Mr. Nelson is one of five candidates running for the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro.
It had been a long day, with a radio interview on former Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham’s show earlier in the day and breaking news on an inter-party endorsement issue — the Capital chapter of New York Progressive Action Network, a political group that grew out of the presidential bid of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., endorsed Tedra Cobb, another candidate. The State NYPAN chapter had already endorsed Mr. Nelson and claimed the capital chapter had no authority to endorse someone else.
During the freewheeling meet-and-greet, however, the issue of endorsements was never raised. Instead the conversation among the nine attendees, Mr. Nelson, and Thearse McCalmon, Mr. Nelson’s campaign manager, veered from the big policy questions to bigger questions about the fate of society.
In part, this was a result of the ideological diversity of the residents. Mike Schevier was skeptical of most of Mr. Nelson’s policies.
“I’m a Republican,” he said. “I wanted to hear his ideas ... you never know.”
Others had been supporting Mr. Nelson since he declared his candidacy over a year ago; they include Barbara B. Schell, who met him at an event last spring.
“We’ve had no reason not to support him,” she said.
The discussion began with the specifics of health care, one of Mr. Nelson’s particular focuses.
He began with an overview of the proposal he would like to see, a Medicare for All program phased in gradually, along with some specific reforms that could be achieved by the next Congress — allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and buy medicine from other countries, such as Canada.
The conversation moved on to a discussion of executive bonuses and leveraged buyouts.
“We’re in the weeds a little bit, but I like being in the weeds,” Mr. Nelson said, before discussing employee stock option programs and looping back to health care specifics.
The Republican tax bill, and the idea of lowering taxes to boost the economy, came up for criticism.
“It has never worked,” said Clifford Schell.
“$50 bucks extra in my pocket felt pretty good,” said Mr. Schevier.
That sparked a conversation about tax policy, stagnant wages and stock buy-backs, which morphed into artificial intelligence and the impending danger of massive job loss due to automation.
“Is everyone comfortable where this conversation is going?” Mr. Nelson asked as the conversation went past talking points and specific policy issues to questions of the fundamental arrangement of society. As people nodded, Mr. Nelson added, “This is the actual conversation we should be having.”
Some questions got lost in the shuffle. After discussing the impact of resource scarcity on people’s IQ scores, Mr. Nelson tried to return to a previous question about dairy.
“That’s a very deep point — let’s talk about dairy farms,” he said.
Automation proved too interesting a question, however, to let go of that easily, and student loan forgiveness and free public higher education came after that.
Almost all of the wide-ranging topics eventually looped back to a central theme — income inequality.
“I’m not one that wants to punish success,” Mr. Nelson said. “But there’s got to be a limit at some point.”
Mr. Schevier asked why.
“Because we have ... 45,000 Americans that die every year because they don’t have health insurance, because 65,000 Americans each year die in the opioid epidemic and the resources are available to improve that, because we have 30 million Americans with no health insurance at all,” Mr. Nelson replied. “Why should we structure society so someone can have $100 million while we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world?”
Despite the freewheeling subjects, or perhaps because of it, those who attended felt the conversation was productive, and it went on well over the hour and a half allotted.
“I thought it was a very healthy discussion,” Mr. Schevier said.
“This is being patriotic,” Mrs. Schell said of the forum.
After the event, Mr. Nelson did speak about the endorsement issue.
“(Capital NYPAN) acted improperly,” he said.
Mr. Nelson and Ms. McCalmon rejected the suggestion by the head of Capital NYPAN in Sun Community News, which broke the story, that a surrogate for the campaign had arranged the state-level endorsement.
“I take it personally,” Ms. McCalmon said. “That’s not how I run this campaign.”
Mr. Nelson did say all of the candidates received a letter from Capital NYPAN asking them to submit information for an endorsement.
Ms. Cobb said she would not reject the Capital NYPAN endorsement, and she was never invited to interview for the state NYPAN endorsement.
“If Capital NYPAN and New York NYPAN have a struggle, that’s an internal issue,” she told the Times. “All of these groups have their own internal stuff.”
Mr. Nelson said it was fairly clear who the “Bernicrat” in the race was.
“We were shocked by the whole thing,” Mr. Nelson said.
His main concern, though, remained the policy issues.
“We never did get to talk about dairy farmers,” Mr. Nelson said as he picked up some of the remaining snacks from the meeting as the last attendees left. Then he launched into an explanation of the shortcomings of the Republican-backed Farm Bill.