HAGUE — Taxes, corporate welfare and marijuana came up as topics in an issue-focused 21st Congressional District forum held Wednesday evening near Lake George.
More than 75 people attended the two-hour event in the community center here featuring GOP contenders Matthew A. Doheny and Elise M. Stefanik and Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello. Democratic and Working Families candidate Aaron G. Woolf was invited but did not participate. He has no primary opponent.
Mr. Doheny and Ms. Stefanik will face off in the June 24 primary.
All are running to replace incumbent U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who is not seeking re-election.
Mr. Doheny spoke of his record as a businessman, saying he turned around and saved troubled companies. He said he wants to go to Congress to fix a broken Washington.
“We need to have outsiders. People who are not marinated in the Washington system. People who understand the value of hard work,” he said.
Mr. Funiciello, a bread baker from Glens Falls, said the people of the north country could send a message by sending a Green Party candidate who represents the working class. The two major parties are bought and paid for by corporate interests, he said, while acknowledging that he faces an uphill battle.
“As a Green, we all know that no one’s going to want to play with me,” he said.
Ms. Stefanik, who works for her family business, Premium Plywood Products, Willsboro, said Washington needs someone from her generation.
She served as a White House policy adviser during the George W. Bush administration.
“We need a new generation of common-sense conservatives,” she said.
Despite the television ads attacking Ms. Stefanik and Mr. Doheny, their tone toward each other was civil as they largely agree on the issues.
Both support repealing President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul, simplifying the tax code and investing in the north country’s infrastructure.
“We need a flatter, fairer and simpler tax system that helps average families and hard workers,” Ms. Stefanik said. “The increased red tape coming from the federal level and state level is hampering our ability to do our job.”
Mr. Doheny stressed that Adirondack communities need cellphone coverage to be economically competitive.
Mr. Funiciello also advocated for fairer taxation, but favored either a national consumption tax or value-added tax. His main concern was corporate welfare. Big companies dominate everything from health care to agriculture, he said.
“Anyone who’s accepting money from outside the district is going to be influenced by it,” he said.
Mr. Funiciello supports single-payer health care, saying the country could have a more efficient health care system. The American people already subsidize health care because their tax dollars fund pharmaceutical research and research hospitals, he said.
Mr. Funiciello said he supports a green jobs program. The nation needs to get off fossil fuels and think creatively, he said, citing an article he read recently about constructing roadways out of photovoltaic cells.
Mr. Doheny said his job would be to recruit people to live and work in the north country, where the population is aging and shrinking. The days of big industries in this area are over, he said.
“It’s going to be that young entrepreneur, a person that’s retired from another career who loves the Adirondacks,” he said.
Ms. Stefanik, Mr. Doheny and Mr. Funiciello promised to work across the aisle.
“I’m willing to work with anyone who has an independent, common-sense solution,” Ms. Stefanik said.
Mr. Doheny said compromise is needed in business.
“We need a shot of economic adrenaline,” he said. “The only way we’re going to do it is work across the aisle.”
“How about we elect workers to Congress because they’re the group that is underrepresented,” Mr. Funiciello said.
Both Republican candidates pledged to ramp up constituent service, with Mr. Doheny proposing more physical congressional offices in the district and Ms. Stefanik suggesting a mobile congressional office.
Mr. Funiciello said he would most likely be more focused on large Washington issues, rather than trying to get to every parade or hold town hall-style meetings in every municipality or help constituents wade through bureaucracy.
The candidates also differed on legalizing marijuana. Mr. Funiciello said he is in favor. Mr. Doheny said he is in favor of medical marijuana, and Ms. Stefanik said she is opposed.
Mr. Doheny and Ms. Stefanik will have another debate today, which will be taped this afternoon at WWNY-TV and broadcast at 7 p.m. on WWNY, WPBS public television and North Country Public Radio.