Headed to Washington in six weeks with a solid 10-point win, Congressman-elect John Faso says he hopes to forge bipartisan relationships, much like Chris Gibson, the Kinderhook neighbor he will succeed in about six weeks.
Gibson, who retired after three terms in the House, was an advocate of “no labels” in bringing Republicans and Democrats together for public benefit.
Republican Faso defeated Democrat Zephyr Teachout of the Dutchess County Town of Clinton by some 27,000 votes in the 11-county 19th Congressional District, carrying every county except heavily Democratic Ulster. He took 46 percent in Ulster and ran ahead of President-elect Donald Trump.
A former New York state Assembly minority leader, Faso, 64, characterizes the 435-member House as “a very large state legislature.” Out of office for 14 years, Faso said his service in an “active, engaged legislature” was “good training” for the job he will soon assume.
One of 59 freshmen members, Faso said he understands the benefits of seniority, but hopes at least one fundamental rule of the House will be changed. The so-called “Hastert Rule (after former speaker Dennis Hastert) requires a House majority of votes (218) in the Republican caucus before legislation can be moved to the floor. Republicans will hold a 241 to 194 majority. “It would be a big mistake to ignore mainstream Democrats on important issues,” he said.
Faso said he will maintain district offices in Kingston (at 721 Broadway), Kinderhook and Delhi. His $1.2 million district budget provides for 18 staffers, office expenses, transportation and the like. He said the transition with Gibson, who heartily endorsed his candidacy, has been “very smooth” and that he intends to retain some Gibson staff.
Faso didn’t take a vacation after the Nov. 8 elections, having been ordered to a week-long orientation for new members in Washington. He asked for assignment to the House Ways and Means Committee, rarely given to freshman, in addition to Judiciary, Agriculture and Transportation. Assignments will be announced late next month.
Faso said he considers as one of his priorities the decades-long fight to equalize Medicaid reimbursement payments between Dutchess and Ulster counties. “Ours is the most egregious discrepancy (about 20 percent) in the entire country,” he said. “I hope to make that case with my colleagues, though it is understood that it all comes out of the same pot. Clearly, senators (Chuck) Schumer and (Kirsten) Gillibrand will have to be helpful.”
Support for infrastructure, electoral college
Faso said he supports a major infrastructure bill but want to see some federal regulations for review eased up. “It shouldn’t take 10 years just to plan a project,” he said. He did not detail how the government would finance what some say could be a $1 trillion program.
Faso supports the constitutionally mandated Electoral College method of electing presidents, even if on rare occasions a loser garners more votes. “It has enormous virtue, despite some anti-democratic elements,” he said. “We have to install a president by Jan. 20 and that person has to put a government together before that. The electoral college provides certainty, without which it would be disaster.”
Faso, an attorney and something of a political/policy wonk, carefully analyzed his race and the presidential campaign in this district. He figured he and Trump benefitted from a late-breaking “undecided vote.”
“Our generic polling indicated the undecideds were trending 60/40 Republican, which is the way it went,” he said. Another campaign strategy, he said, was to “go positive in the final two weeks,” at which point he said he felt “pretty confident.”
“My opponent stayed negative right to the end,” he said. Teachout was not available for comment.
Faso said the “overwhelming imperative of the last election was about change.” Despite being pummeled by his opponent as a career politician and a lobbyist insider, Faso said he felt his “vision for the future” and calls for specific reforms resonated with voters. “I also tried to speak to local issues in every sector of the district,” he said.
District participation (before absentee votes are counted) was down substantially from the 283,000 recorded in the last presidential election to about 224,000 this year.
Faso said he’s “definitely optimistic” that the new Congress will better deal with the nation’s issues if it remains connected to constituents. “I learned a lot from talking to people during the campaign,” he said.