Fleming, LaLota To Face Off for Congressional Seat - 27 East

Fleming, LaLota To Face Off for Congressional Seat

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Bridget Fleming

Bridget Fleming

Nick LaLota

Nick LaLota

Bridget Fleming and Nick LaLota

Bridget Fleming and Nick LaLota

authorStephen J. Kotz on Sep 19, 2022

With incumbent Republican Lee Zeldin mounting a run for governor, New York’s 1st Congressional District will send a new representative to Washington, D.C., this year, as Democratic Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, 62, faces off against Republican Nick LaLota, 44, a former Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioner who is currently the chief of staff for the County Legislature.

As would be expected, with the partisan divide seemingly growing by the day and the Democrats’ tenuous hold on the House expected to flip to the Republicans, the two candidates have painted themselves as polar opposites of one another in advance of the November 8 election.

Fleming, citing the January 6 insurrection, former President Donald Trump’s false claims that he was cheated out of the last election, and his continuing grip on the Republican Party, said democracy itself was at stake.

“We are at a frightening time for American democracy, and an important moment in our history,” she said, calling the election a referendum on Trump and the sharp-right shift of the Republican Party. “Fundamental freedoms are really threatened right now.”

“This election is way more about Joe Biden than Donald Trump,” countered LaLota, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He said the polls he has read indicate that Americans are more concerned about the economy, where inflation has been stubbornly running above 8 percent, public safety, and border security than they are about Trump.

“If folks have fears, they can act on those fears,” LaLota said, if Trump decides to run again in 2024, as is expected. He quipped that Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., had campaigned against him in his primary run, but would not say whether he would support a second Trump presidency, other than to say the economy was doing well under the former president until the pandemic hit in March 2020.

In the wake of the Supreme Court having overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion is another issue that is expected to weigh heavily on the race.

Again, LaLota argued the court’s ruling simply puts the onus on states. “In the blue State of New York, abortion laws are unlikely to change anytime soon,” he said.

LaLota describes himself as pro-life, but willing to accept abortions in the first trimester or later in a pregnancy in the case of incest, rape or if the life of the mother is at stake. But he said in most cases he joins the vast majority of Americans who oppose second or third-semester abortions.

“There’s no gray area where I stand and where my opponent stands on this issue,” said Fleming, who added that limiting or banning outright abortions was nothing more than an effort to wrongly control medical care for women.

“How can a one-size-fits-all law cooked up by politicians outside the realm of medical science work? You can’t do it,” she said. “You can’t do it in law books. It is a scientific, medical issue and very complex. One-size-fits-all regulations will ultimately endanger women.”

Fleming, a former Manhattan prosecutor and Southampton Town Board member, said arguing Biden was responsible for all the economic woes facing the country was a simplistic response, and typical of Republican efforts to pin any problem facing the country on Democrats.

“We are coming through one of the most dramatic shocks to the world economy we’ve ever seen,” she said of the pandemic. “The economy was basically shut down. We were all at home playing Monopoly and baking bread while millions of jobs were destroyed.”

She acknowledged that inflation is like a pay cut for working Americans and said the federal government needed to step up efforts to provide aid to those who cannot keep up, while seeking to prevent price gouging.

And despite inflation, she cited “the strongest job growth in history” as one of the indicators showing that the American economy remains resilient.

But LaLota said much more could be done. Pointing to gasoline prices, which spiked following the Russian invasion of Ukraine but have since moderated, LaLota said the first thing a Republican majority in the House should do is “pass a bill to establish energy independence.”

LaLota said the country has more than 43 billion barrels of known oil reserves and should take aggressive steps to tap that energy. “We have what God gave us below our feet,” he said. “Let’s make sure we rely on that before buying from countries that aren’t our friends.”

Similarly, LaLota said the United States needs to wean itself from its dependence on trade with China and other countries “with whom we are adversaries” and promote the expansion of manufacturing at home. Finally, he said long-term economic prosperity depends on the Congress finding the discipline to begin passing balanced budgets, so the country is not dependent on China to finance its debt.

While Fleming points to evidence of climate change and global warming as a reason to double down on the production of renewable energy sources, LaLota described himself as “an all-of-the-above Republican when it comes to energy policy.”

“Wind and solar are a part of America’s future,” he continued. “But I have a 5-to-20-year horizon because the technology is not there to solve America’s energy needs today.”

The candidates also weighed in on the issue of gun control.

While LaLota said he supports Second Amendment rights and sees no reason to restrict sales of assault rifles, he said it was important to get guns out of the hands of criminals and take a more proactive approach to identifying those with mental health problems before they harm others. Steps that limit the types of weapons someone can buy just punishes law-abiding citizens, he said.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t take common-sense steps” to strengthen red flag laws, outlaw high capacity magazines, and require waiting periods before gun purchases, Fleming said. “Why should weapons of war be permitted?” The reason, she said, is too many politicians are beholden to the gun lobby.

Despite the political vitriol in the air today, both candidates expressed a desire to see Congress work together.

LaLota, who criticized Biden’s approach to handling the growing number of immigrants trying to enter the country through Mexico, nonetheless agreed that for too long members of Congress on both sides of the aisle had failed to come up with a common-sense solution. He said the same was true of unchecked deficit spending.

For her part, Fleming said she hoped both sides would turn down the heat of their rhetoric and commit to having conversations with all stakeholders at all levels.

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