Stefanik primary challenger Lochner embraces role of party outsider

Special to The Post-Star| By 

Published May 5, 2023

Congressional candidate Jill Lochner, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, in a GOP primary next year, cast herself as a party outsider by criticizing the GOP debt limit bill that recently passed the House, largely along party lines.

The legislation to increase the federal debt limit in exchange for spending cuts, which Stefanik championed, passed the House April 26 with only four House Republicans voting against it, none from New York.

The legislation, widely viewed as a starting point for negotiations over preventing default on federal debt, is not expected to pass the Senate.

Lochner said the legislation — HR 2811 — did not have specific enough language to guarantee there would be no cuts to Department of Veterans Affairs programs, and that she would have insisted that the legislation include repealing a $10,000 limit of the federal income tax deduction for state income taxes paid.

“The act is killing clean energy initiatives. It promotes coal and disincentivizes nuclear energy. … Nuclear energy is America’s workhorse,” she said in a statement on Monday. “If I were a member of Congress, I would be working with my party to get these changes made so that I’d be able to vote ‘yes.’”

Stefanik did not return a Post-Star request to comment for this report, and her campaign did not respond specifically to Lochner’s criticism of the debt ceiling legislation.

“Elise has earned a landslide victory every election and has never had stronger support among both primary and general election voters in NY-21,” said Alex DeGrasse, the congresswoman’s senior advisor. “This isn’t the first time a Never-Trump … and self-declared “moderate” Liz Cheney supporter have attempted to foolishly run against Elise.”

In a telephone interview earlier on Monday, Lochner said she now has volunteer campaign coordinators in six of the 16 counties in the 21st Congressional District, and will appear at her first public forum this weekend.

She will participate in a “roundtable discussion” from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at LittleGrasse Foodworks at 309 Miner St. in Canton during Canton Canoe Weekend.

She said she previously has campaigned informally at Potsdam, Warrensburg, Malone, Massena and Salem.

The Stefanik campaign has downplayed the chances of Lochner being able to collect a sufficient number of valid signatures to get on the ballot.

In the telephone interview on Monday, Lochner disputed that criticism.

“They’re just throwing out things to discredit me with,” she said.

Former Republican congressional candidate Liz Lemery Joy, who challenged Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, in 2020 and 2022, has criticized Lochner, who lives in Greenfield, outside the 21st Congressional District, for challenging Stefanik in a primary instead of challenging Tonko in the 20th District where Lochner lives.

Lochner said that Greenfield was in the 21st District until congressional redistricting last year.

She added that Stefanik, too, lives in the 20th District and that Tonko, for that matter, lives in the 21st District.

“She (Stefanik) could also challenge Tonko. It’s a very silly argument,” Lochner said.

On policy, Lochner, so far, has primarily distinguished herself from Stefanik on abortion.

Lochner supports full abortion rights up to point of about 23 weeks that a fetus can live independent from the womb.

“I believe the line should be drawn at the previous fetal viability standard, which existed for nearly 50 years since Roe v Wade. Past the point of viability, there has to be an emergency need,” she. “I also recognize an individual’s right to interstate travel, including for abortion services.”

Lochner said she has not yet had time to study Stefanik’s voting and sponsorship record in detail to specify other policy issues on which they differ.

Lochner, like Stefanik, opposes legislation, as proposed so far, to establish a federal “red flag” law, which would allow police officers and judges to get a court order to temporarily seize guns from people thought to be a danger to themselves or others.

Lochner said no version of the legislation introduced so far, has the necessary safeguards to protect lawful gun owners.

Lochner has picked up support from at least one prominent Democrat.

Kevin Robbins of Fort Edward, a frequent critic of Stefanik in Post-Star letters to the editor and in social networking, recently announced he has changed his voter enrollment from Democrat to Republican so that he can vote for Lochner in next year’s Republican primary.

“If I can’t have a Democrat to represent me, I can at least have a better Republican,” he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Robbins said he made the decision independently, not in response to any organized effort.

“I don’t mind if others might want to latch onto this, and I’d certainly be happy to influence them,” he said.

Lochner said she has not ruled out running as an independent in the 2024 general election, but at this point she is focused on the GOP primary.