QUEENSBURY—As he cut the ribbon on a new headquarters for his congressional camapign, located along a suburban thoroughfare in Warren County, Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco was asked by reporters whether he would have voted for the stimulus bill making its way through Congress.
(His Democratic opponent, Scott Murphy, has already said he would have voted in favor.)
Calling it a "hypothetical question," Tedisco said he wouldn't vote for any bill he hadn't read–although that's hardly all he said.
Tedisco's full answer to the question, transcribed below, stretched to about five minutes.
"It's a hypothetical question," he began. "And I think it's totally irresponsible, and I can give you the perimeters. I told you the things that are concerns about me: transparency, openness and accountability, and I really want to see more about infrastructure. I'd like to see more help for education, to tell you the truth, because that's very important. You know, health care funding, helping people pay mortgages. But, what I see out there is that there was an 11,000 page—1,100 page—bill out there, that not one elected official had the time to read. Now, if there's anything that's irresponsible, it's voting for a piece of legislation, no matter how much it may or may not help, no matter how much you're told by others. We were not elected to let a staff person come into the room and tell us, ‘These are all of the good things about this, these are the reasons why you should vote for it.' You've got to sit down, no matter how large or monstrous the bill is, and do due diligence. You've got to read the bill."
He went on.
"And I noticed my opponent came out and said he would have voted for that stimulus package. Well I'll ask him right now: can he explain what's in those 1,100 pages? And if he can't, that's kind of irresponsible. I'll tell you one thing. When I get to Congress, I'm not only going to have some input on those 1,100 pages, I'm going to cut it down to probably about four, if I can, because we've got a little bit too much spending and taxing out there right now, and government's a little bit too large as far as I'm concerned, and we're destroying a lot of trees when it's 11,000 pages out there. And I'm also going to be able to understand exactly what's in the bill."
He concluded, "So it would be irresponsible for me to say, yeah I would vote for it, or I would vote against it. But I can tell you that I've worked very hard for accountability to make sure it's going on a straight line: Targeted assistance to the middle class, to the farmer who's having difficulty making ends meet, to the people who truly need it. You can't just give ‘em lip service and spend billions of dollars on what they call earmarks, what we call pork barrel here. Yeah, there's some great things in there. Love the unemployment help that we need to bridge that gap. Love the infrastructure. They've got some nice tax cuts in there, maybe could have been more tax cuts to leave more money in taxpayer's pockets. Because there's no question in my mind that the taxpayers of the 20th Congressional District know how to spend their money better than the federal government and the state government."
At this point, one of Tedisco's aides clapped loudly, and the room began to applaud. In a pause that followed, I asked Tedisco why he wouldn't take a stand on the stimulus bill, given that the platform of his candidacy hinges on his extensive government experience.
"Eleven-hundred pages would be impossible," he said. "It might take me–you know, I'm reading a great book about Lincoln now that's only 700, 800 pages, and I've been going for about a week on that, and a little bit farther, you know I'm a pretty good reader, but I'm not a speed reader. So, to think that I would vote for something that I haven't read and don't see the fine lines of information, uh, you wouldn't sign a contract, would you, if you didn't read it and understand it?"
Tedisco paused and looked at me. I didn't say anything.
"No. And neither would I sign a contract. And that is a contract on behalf of the people who are suffering the most. I'm not going to sign that contract yet. I wouldn't say I wouldn't sign it, but I'm going to read it first and I'm going to understand that document. I owe that, and any public servant owes that, and—" he paused.
"Look, I'm not going to be a lemming. OK? I'm not going to go out there and have my party tell me how to vote or have any party tell me how to vote. I don't care how many Republicans voted for it. I don't care how many Democrats voted for or against it. In New York State, I have a history of standing up and speaking out and going my own way. You know what? It's served me pretty well. The only special interest group I've ever voted for are the citizens that I represent, the most important voice in this democracy. I can give you an example. Remember when Mario Cuomo—seems like a long time ago, but it brings back some serious visions sometimes—when he was the governor, we had some challenges. One year he said, 'We're going to lag every state worker's pay. We're going to lag it.' And we voted legislatively, and the vote was to lag state workers pay. I stood up on the floor of the New York State Assembly and said, ‘Wait a second, I'm a state worker. And every assemblyman in this room and senator is a state worker. And the governor and comptroller are state workers. I don't see our salaries lagged in this budget.' The answer was, from Mr. [Denny] Farrell, ‘We're not going to lag our salaries,'" Tedisco said.
"I said, 'I am.' I walked out of the building, I went to the comptroller's office, and I voluntarily lagged my salary. The only elected official, the first elected official, to lag his salary. You know what? Several senators and several assemblymen walked the walk with me after talking the talk about the state workers and lagged their salary."