Earlier this month, I spoke with Antonio Delgado about his time so far in Congress and the current issues facing this district. This was not my first meeting with him — last October, I was given a dual task for my high school newspaper: conduct my first interview and write my first newspaper article. Although I was a bit nervous during both interviews, Delgado’s calm demeanor allowed for smooth and interesting conversations.
We started off discussing the upcoming 2020 presidential election and the vast number of Democratic candidates. Delgado pulled from his own personal experience in his 2018 primaries, when he beat out six other candidates for the party’s line. “I do think that ultimately, I was better for it, and it allowed me to get a sense of who I am in the heat of the competition,” Delgado said. “I see a lot of value in the fact that there is so much excitement and such a plethora of ideas from the party.”
When asked about specific issues he would like the 2020 candidates to focus on, he shifted the conversation toward the process. He said that we must engage in civil conversation and stop with the name calling and personal attacks.
“I would encourage any candidate to first and foremost ground the conversation in morality and in not just left and right, but right and wrong. Then, we will elevate the conversations to the issues with the emphasis on bringing people together.”
We then talked about two particularly tough topics: the possible impeachment of President Trump and the actions of Attorney General William Barr. “I am certainly of the mindset that the case is not closed,” Delgado said. “We must continue to work. We must continue to focus on how we can secure our electoral infrastructure.”
As for Barr, “If he continues to act in the manner in which he has, he is no longer fit to hold that position,” Delgado said.
I asked Delgado what he believes the biggest surprises have been so far in Congress. “Personally, the realities of having to manage being away from the family,” he said. “Trying to understand how to do that in a way that has the right balance.”
He also mentioned as a challenge how surprisingly slow getting things done in Washington can be in this time of partisan gridlock and divisiveness.
We then talked about the things he has done so far in Congress of which he is most proud. “My biggest bill that I have introduced to date is Medicare X Choice Act.” The bill, if it becomes law, would allow Americans of all ages to buy into a government-backed “public option” health insurance plan, using the same Medicare providers network available to Americans over age 65.
“Given how much I campaigned on a public option, and how dedicated I was to achieving legislation for that purpose, I am most proud of this act,” Delgado said.
As his re-election campaign is already gearing up for 2020, Delgado still has a lot that he hopes to accomplish. I asked him specifically what he would like to achieve. In his response, he focused on providing more funding for different educational programs like universal pre-k and trade school, as well as fighting climate change in an effective manner. “The key throughout is inequality,” Delgado said. “Whether it is income inequality, inequality in education, or in health care. There is too much of it going on across the country.”
One issue we talked about at length was student loan debt. Delgado believes that student debt has become a serious problem for many recent college graduates.
“We must prioritize education. When I was growing up, a Pell grant covered about 70 percent of a four-year education. Now, they only cover 30 percent.”
He also believes that student loan interest should not accrue during the student’s active enrollment period. He believes that interest should not start until a borrower is an active member in the workforce. Additionally, forgiving debt is a way to help over-burdened loan recipients.
Delgado also spoke of the importance of staying connected to the district, noting that he’s already done a dozen town hall meetings and has opened three offices, with plans for two more. “The people that I represent are the ones I owe my allegiance to. I am an extension of the community. From my vantage point, every priority goes back to the district, they go back here … It is important to actually stay grounded,” Delgado said, and added “You can do that best by connecting with people and really listening to what is going on. I am not here to be a show horse. I am here to be a workhorse.”
(Editor’s note: Ben Johansen is a senior at Onteora High School pursuing a mentorship in political journalism in the school’s Community Mentor Program.)