Editor’s Note: This candidate profile series focuses on those running in the 23rd and 24th districts. Each candidate was given an equal opportunity to interview with FingerLakes1.com for this series. To check out the profile on Republican Incumbent John Katko click here.
“I think it will be close all the way to the end, but I believe we’re going to win, because the people of this district understand what’s at stake, and that this is their opportunity to make a change.”
Dana Balter, the Democratic Party challenger for NY-24 believes that “the stakes get higher with every passing week” as this year’s Election Day keeps creaking closer.
In her 2018 rematch against Rep. John Katko [R-NY], she is confident that voter turnout won’t be suppressed in the district because of the pandemic.
“Our sense of the mood on the ground is that there’s a huge amount of enthusiasm for this election,” Balter exclusively told FingerLakes1.com as a part of the Race for Congress: 2020 candidate series.
Balter believes that she’s “expecting to see record numbers in our district this fall” and feels that despite “a lot of confusion,” the electoral process will stay intact, saying Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders enhanced the ability for New Yorkers to vote in 2020.
In 2018, Balter gave Katko his most contentious race since taking office in 2014, winning by a five-point margin against her last cycle.
She is expected to win by a two-point margin, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College, pitting her at a 42-40 lead against Katko.
“We showed in the last cycle that people were ready for change, that people were starting to see through his facade. He’s been masquerading for a long time as a moderate,” she said.
Based on the latest polls that show her campaign leading in the rematch for NY-24, she sees why her campaign is out-polling the three term Republican incumbent.
“People understand finally that what he says to us here and what he does in Washington do not line up. Now, they’re tired of that,” Balter added.
But for this particular election cycle, Balter believes that Democrats are going to win big down the entire ballot, even uttering a prediction ahead of this upcoming Election Day.
“I think that in NY-24, people are going to vote to send me to Congress and people are going to vote to send Joe Biden to the White House,” she predicted.
“His support of Donald Trump is an overriding factor that I think disqualifies him from representing the people of this district.”
At the national level following the election of President Donald J. Trump, Balter claims that Americans are “less safe” than right before when he officially took office in 2017.
She even thinks that’s the case here at the district too, saying that Katko has been “supporting and enabling the agenda that’s put us there.”
“On top of the policy issues where he stands with Trump to our detriment, he consistently refuses to call out Donald Trump’s damaging, hateful rhetoric,” Balter claimed.
Balter firmly believes that it’s “a moral imperative for our leaders,” especially for Katko to “stand up to that in loud and unequivocal ways, saying this is not acceptable.”
“He has consistently shown that he does not have the political courage to stand up and fight back against that,” she suggested.
She sees Trump’s demeanor and Katko’s silence as something that’s “in fundamental opposition to what central and western New Yorkers value and what people here want and need from their government.”
“It’s going to be up to Congress to codify these rights, it’s going to be up to Congress to codify access to safe legal abortion.”
The law of the land will be tested at the U.S. Supreme Court in the nation’s capital, and Balter stands by the legal precedents that have ensured the rights for women to access abortion care, especially the landmark case of Roe v. Wade.
But now, Balter is even airing her own concerns about the Affordable Care Act being decided inside the highest courtroom.
Just one week after this Election Day, the Supreme Court is set to officially hear a case on Tuesday, November 10 that may in fact overturn the Affordable Care Act, leaving an estimated 300,000 people within the 24th District without any sort of coverage, including herself.
“I’m one of them. This is the most important issue to people, the most personal issue. This is about your right to survive,” she shared.
His position on the federal tax bill “put health care at risk for all of us” and “is in direct opposition to what’s best for the people of this district,” she claimed.
After voting for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which removed the individual mandate penalty, effective January 1, 2019, Balter has considered Katko action on this particular issue as “disingenuous at best, a straight up lie at its worst.”
“The issue of health care, John Katko voted with Donald Trump to gut the Affordable Care Act with his vote on the tax bill. He won’t acknowledge it. He hates it when I bring this up. That tax bill set up the court case that we are watching unfold right now,” she insisted.
While the Affordable Care Act remains in limbo, part of that potential decision and outcome rests in whether Supreme Court justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed before the election while the U.S. Senate hearings were still underway.
But in the late evening hours of last night, Barrett had been officially confirmed to become an associate justice and sit on the U.S. Supreme Court after a 52-48 Senate vote occurred in favor of her nomination following two-weeks worth of hearings in Washington, D.C.
Just hours after the Senate’s approval of her nomination, Justice Clarence Thomas swore-in Barrett at the White House later that same Monday evening.
This year, Balter has received endorsements from NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and she believes that “the vast majority of people in the district and across the country agree that a woman should have access to safe legal abortion that decisions about abortion.”
“There’s no place for government in that decision,” she emphasized.
As a battle for women’s health care and reproductive rights ensue in the courtroom, Balter sees the role of Congress as essential “to codify these rights” like access to “safe legal abortion.”
This is why she’s seeking votes to send her to Congress in 2021 and not her rival, who is a practicing Catholic like Barrett and stands on the opposite side of the issue.
“We’ve got to elect people who understand why that’s important and who are committed to protecting those rights and this is an area of very stark difference between me and my opponent, John Katko who has said that if he could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, he would,” Balter claimed.
In 2014, Katko joined EWTN News Nightly to talk about what his Catholic faith means to him on Capitol Hill and the topic of the abortion came up.
He asked, “I’m all about trying to find compromise. There’s no middle ground there, right?”
“In my district, it would be a lot easier if I were pro-choice, a lot easier. Despite that, I stand strong,” Katko continued.
That statement and Katko’s repeated effort to defund Planned Parenthood on five separate votes since 2014 has shown Balter that “we can’t count on him to codify access to abortion rights.”
“He promised us when he first ran for office, he would never vote to defund Planned Parenthood. He’s broken that promise and voted five times to defund Planned Parenthood,” she further elaborated.
For Balter, she has officially lost her trust in him on that particular issue and among other voters in the 24th District.
“It is a disturbing pattern of both broken promises and an imposition of his own personal beliefs on women, and that is not something that we can afford in our elected officials. So, I think I think this is a very important issue in this election,” she added.
“I think what the COVID crisis has done is just intensify the urgency of these issues.”
Even a global pandemic hasn’t shifted Balter’s policy aims, but only reaffirmed that the argument for health care access for all is “even more compelling” than ever before, which starkly clashes from Katko’s position on Medicare for All.
“The spread of this virus makes it clear that if I am going to be safe and healthy, you need to be safe and healthy to write that our fates are intertwined that way,” she explained.
As the COVID-19 crisis hit, Balter claims that 40-percent of all households could not afford a $400 out of pocket emergency.
From a policy perspective, she sees her prerogatives being split and parceled out into two key policy approaches: “policies that are going to help people get through the crisis” and “policies that are going to help us rebuild our economy.”
She rattled off a list of policies that she openly supports: extended unemployment insurance, hazard pay for workers, expanding the paycheck protection program and providing direct aid to state and local governments, just to name a few.
Balter also backed the Restaurants Act of 2020, which had been introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer [OR-03] that intends to allocate a $120 billion grant program “designed specifically for food and beverage purveyors who’ve been hit particularly hard by this crisis.”
In contrast, she called out Katko’s record on COVID aid and relief at the federal level.
“It matters that John Katko has now voted twice against all of those things, he is standing in the way of that aid getting to our communities, but I will be pushing for that kind of aid,” Balter attested.
Katko did in fact vote against the Heroes Act, also known as H.R. 6800 back in mid-May, joining his 183 Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives, all of whom voted against the legislation except for one descending party member who voted with Democrats. Eleven other Republicans abstained from that vote as well.
On the economic front, Balter doesn’t shy away from speaking about how she openly supports a Works Progress Administration type of project, one that mirrors the New Deal “that will address the public challenges we have with our infrastructure, everything from roads and bridges, to broadband to water systems to modernizing the grid to weatherizing our buildings, all of that stuff.”
Through this expansive reinvestment in America’s infrastructure, she hopes that it will “give us the opportunity to put millions of people to work in good paying jobs” and in-turn get the economy back on track.
“I want to serve on the Agriculture Committee, because I think it’s very important for our region to have a seat at the table, when we’re setting the agenda for agricultural policy.”
Aside from focusing on infrastructure, Balter cares about the current status of the agricultural industry in the district.
She acknowledged how Katko stood by Trump as a part of his “reckless trade war,” in her own words, considering it as “a perfect example of where his allegiance with Trump is devastating for central and western New Yorkers.”
“He supports Trump’s trade war with China, and that that’s been good for us, but all you have to do is go anywhere in this district and talk to a farmer to find out how disastrous that trade war has been for our district,” Balter mentioned.
Although Katko has openly opposed unfair trading relations with China and other states on the global stage, he still had his reservations about the issue even back in July 2018 during a telephone town hall meeting, according to the Auburn Citizen.
This time around, Balter continues campaigning to sit on the Agricultural Committee, deeming it as “an incredibly important area of policy for our district” in her rematch bid for Congress.
If elected, she wants to “break up big AG” and “reorient policy so that it is designed to better support small and medium sized farms.”
“Money dominates our political system, that’s why money in politics is a big issue for me, and agriculture is no exception,” Balter admitted.
With 97-percent of the district’s farms being identified as small and medium sized, she desires to “make sure that policy coming out of Washington meets their needs.”
But most of all, Balter aims at making farming “a sustainable way to make a living” and “building regional food hubs,” which would allow farmers to serve their local communities with direct access to sell their products.
“The next generation doesn’t want to take on the family farms because it’s a life of very hard work with very little return, and that’s a shame. It’s a shame for the families and the farms that have been around all of these years, and it’s a shame for our communities that are going to loose access to good, fresh, clean local food produced by the hard work of people in our region,” she shared.
“If we’re serious about solving it, we have to look at it that way and that’s why guaranteeing health care access to every single person is critical.”
Across the entire district, dealing with opioid substance abuse has been a prevalent problem for many communities, especially Cayuga County; and Balter seeks to address that challenge, if elected to Congress.
First and foremost, she wants to “frame it as a medical problem” and increase the number of providers within the region.
“There aren’t enough substance use disorder treatment programs and providers to meet the need,” Balter said.
In these spread-out rural communities, Balter believes that the expansion of telehealth medicine services aptly responds to the provider problem.
In addition to these initiatives, Balter still wants to “crack down on dealers and address the supply of opioids into our community,” but it’s still not enough.
“That goes without saying, but doing that alone doesn’t solve the problem,” she admitted.
She seeks to pressure pharmaceutical companies for not being responsible and shouldering the burdening effects of addictions on families.
“We’ve also got to hold the drug companies that really created this crisis accountable. Right now, the pharmaceutical companies who flooded our communities with opioids, who hid the dangerousness long after knowing what the risks were, are now also profiting-off of the treatment for addiction and that is morally disgusting,” Balter expressed.
“We have to rid the system of the influence of money in politics. It’s a necessity.”
As for buying interests, Balter has argued that Katko “has taken millions of dollars” from corporate PACs across several industries: “pharmaceutical, big banks, insurance companies, oil and gas, you name it,” as she put it.
“He’s taken tons and tons of money, and I of course, don’t take any corporate PAC money,” Balter claimed.
However, During the 2020 fundraising year, Katko has vastly surpassed fundraising after earning $1,052,999 in business PAC contributions in comparison to Balter’s $5,000 worth of contributions.
Balter received $32,500 from labor PACs that contrasts Katko’s $181,000 in contributions from the same category.
Under the political PACs category, Katko collected $399,025 versus Balter’s $181,679 that she accrued.
In total, Balter has received $219,179 in PAC contributions in contrast to Katko’s $1,633,024.
Beyond PACs, however, there are notable discrepancies between the candidate’s in-district versus out of district and in-state versus out of state campaign contributions.
Almost 70-percent of Balter’s total fundraising has come from in-state for $906,844 [69.1%] and just less than 40-percent from out of state $405,316 [30.9%].
Whereas Katko has collected more than half of his total fundraising coming from outside of New York State with 54.5-percent or $600,699 and only 45.6-percent in-state, which amounts to $502,868.
For Balter, her in-district contributions outpace Katko by comparison.
She has 44.1-percent of her contributions coming directly from the 24th District, amounting to $578,776 and $536,606 [40.9%] for out of district contributions.
Balter has an additional $196,778 or 15-percent of contributions that lack district data, according to Open Secrets.
In the case of Katko, only 25.8-percent of his contributions are coming directly from the district, amounting to $284,828 and $501,818 [45.5%] from outside of the district.
Katko has an additional $316,921 or 28.7-percent of contributions that lack district data, according to the same source.
By these metrics alone, Balter believes that her “support comes from real people,” while saying, “I think that matters a lot, because it’s an indication of whose interests we are looking out for.”
“One big problem with that kind of money in politics is that the politicians who take it have allegiance to somebody other than the people that they represent, and John Katko is a perfect example of that,” she claimed.
Even thinking back, Balter remembers when she first entered the political space and the challenges that she faced financially speaking just to become a first-time candidate in 2018.
“So the choice is between that man and me.”
In 2020, the choice between Katko and her is one based on a failed record, according to Balter.
Katko has been in office for six years since 2014 and is currently serving out his third term.
During his time in Congress, Katko “has done very little to solve the challenges that we’re facing” like health care, economy and women’s rights in Balter’s eyes.
“So, the choice is between that man and me, somebody who is unafraid to stand up and speak truth to power, who will be a tireless champion for what the people of this district need,” she said.
Despite being a Democratic candidate, Balter promises to rise above party affiliations to better serve the entire 24th District and not just her own party’s interests.
She would consider legislating on behalf of NY-24 as “an absolute commitment” to her fellow residents.
“My first priority is doing what’s best for central and western New Yorkers, no matter what my donors think, no matter what my political party thinks, no matter what the President in the White House thinks the people of this district come first,” Balter expressed.
Most of all, she confidently considers herself to be “the person best suited to represent the people” because “my story is their story.”
“I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. I know what it’s like to have a preexisting condition and not be able to find health insurance because of it. I know what it’s like to be sick and not be able to work and see the medical debt mounting with no income, and not knowing how you’re going to survive that. I understand those challenges firsthand and I think that this fall, people here have the opportunity to vote for someone who shares their experiences and therefore will be a fighter to make sure that none of us have to face those kinds of challenges again,” she concluded.