By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Short excerpts of long Chronicle interview conducted Oct. 21.
Chronicle: How would you explain Elise’s overwhelming victories if she doesn’t represent the people?
CastellI: Well, I’m not quite sure that she’s had as strong an opponent to challenge her. And I think that we have a very, very different Congresswoman right now than we’ve had in the past. This is a moderate district. It’s a district that voted for Barack Obama twice, same district…elected moderates, Kirsten Gillibrand, Chris Gibson, John McHugh, certainly, Bill Owens, and Elise Stefanik.
And up until 2020 she was certainly I think, still viewed as that moderate voice, someone that had a record of bipartisanship up until this Congress….
Only two bills that she has sponsored have become law, a commemorative coin and the renaming of a post office. That’s it, look it up. Everything else has been trying to claim credit for things that she voted against.
…She tried to claim $13 million for rural health care in her district that came from the American rescue plan that she voted against, so time and time again…
…She doesn’t make herself available to most press here in the district to actually answer hard questions. She doesn’t show up in the community to talk to constituents of all political stripes. It’s been years since she’s been in certain communities.
She certainly hasn’t had town halls, and people are thirsting for a change…
And they’re looking for a moderate. They once thought they had one. We’ve seen someone make this pivot to the far right to advance their career, and it’s turned a lot of folks off.
Chronicle: What do you think of President Biden’s Afghanistan exit?
Castelli: I thought it was a bit of a catastrophe. I’ve been pretty open about my criticism of this administration and the conduct of the withdrawal.
I give them a little degree of empathy because they were handed really terrible circumstances — a surrender deal that had been orchestrated by the former administration, former President Trump and Mike Pompeo…
Chronicle: How do you grade President Biden’s nearly two years in office?
Castelli: B minus, I think, we just talked about the withdrawal from Afghanistan, I’m critical of that, critical of their handling of the economy, and particularly inflation.
I think they were slow to recognize that inflation was not transitory between the administration itself as well as the Fed.
And I don’t think that they put in place measures that could have started a little bit sooner, whether that was, you know, rising interest rates or what have you.
But, you know, I think the management of a pandemic, that was a bit of a moving target, in terms of these variants that continue to pop up in the place that we’re all in today, sitting here with one another without masks on. They deserve some credit for that.
I think they deserve some credit for the management of what’s happening in Ukraine.
Chronicle: Is there any circumstance you would favor sending troops to Ukraine?
Castelli: I don’t think so. I don’t think that there’s a clear vital U.S. interest there. They’re not a NATO ally. But we have shown our ability to provide the kinds of resources that have put them in a position where they are winning that conflict…But that’s also not a foregone conclusion…the kinds of comments from Kevin McCarthy and others sort of questioning American resolve and the funding and the support that we may provide — that’s a gift to Vladimir Putin.
Chronicle: What’s the funding limit?
Castelli: I don’t know if there’s a specific dollar amount. And there is legitimate concern by those who may say that we’ve committed, at least at this stage, $40 billion to the defense of Ukraine’s borders, but not our own…
Chronicle: What about the border?
Castelli: …It’s not clear to me that our border is secure. And as a former national security professional, our border should be secure. We stop being a sovereign nation if we don’t have the ability to control our own borders.
…Leadership of both political parties for the better part of the last, you know, three, four decades, have been talking about border security and comprehensive immigration reform, as political talking points, but not actually problems to be solved.
…I don’t believe that Republicans as we currently see them are, or let’s focus on our incumbent Elise Stefanik, is actually serious about addressing border security, if she was, in 2017 she wouldn’t have opposed Donald Trump’s efforts to build the wall.
…I believe we actually do need to secure a border, but I don’t trust politicians in Washington to do it. And so what I have vocalized is support for establishing an independent, bipartisan commission to actually study the security of the border, to determine where there are vulnerabilities and gaps and to offer actual recommendations.
Chronicle: Should the U.S. be energy independent?
Castelli: We already are. Because we produce more than what we consume, certainly from a fossil fuel perspective… to truly be independent, we actually need competition and diversification and not being held hostage to either big oil companies and OPEC…
Chronicle: Is that the thrust of how you’ll fight inflation?
Castelli: Inflation right now that we’re dealing with is an imbalance of supply and demand. The challenge after the pandemic…is that demand came back, but the supply side didn’t…
…There’s some dynamics, certainly of monopolies, you see that in our agricultural industry, many of our farmers are and have been for quite some time facing challenges with rising costs for fuel, for feed, for seed. And a lot of that is due to consolidation…
It’s also about childcare. It’s about affordable housing. It’s about health care, and prescription drugs…
…How do we create a scenario where maybe through public/private partnerships, where we can increase the supply, because that’s the challenge, we need more of those things to actually reduce costs, and create a greater availability.
Chronicle: What about nuclear?
Castelli: I think it should be on the table…All options should be on the table in terms of alternative sources of energy that can be renewable. And that can get us off this reliance on both foreign oil as well as fossil fuels.
Chronicle: Should COVID vaccines be mandated?
Castelli: Listen, I think in certain circumstances, it may be appropriate.
Chronicle: Was it appropriate?
Castelli: Well, it depends on the circumstance, if you’re maintaining a healthcare setting, where you’re being trusted to provide for the health and well being of others, in a vulnerable setting, that may be an appropriate circumstance…
If there’s a circumstance in which you may be an active duty military member, and in order for force readiness, and this is a long standing principle, you ask members who serve in uniform, they’ve had to get all kinds of shots…
But I think that there were acceptable sort of circumstances in which we would expect others to do this.
Chronicle: Should kindergartners need to get the COVID vaccine?
Castelli; I’ll leave that up to parents and local municipalities.
Chronicle: What do you recommend to address gun violence?
CastellI: I’m a gun owner, myself, I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I think it’s around common sense. It’s about universal background checks. It’s about red flag laws that empower our law enforcement…
I think that those are common sense measures that most of us who support the Second Amendment and our gun owners would appreciate and support.
Chronicle: Are you open to expanding the number of Supreme Court justices?
Castelli: No, I’m not. But I would be open to term limits…not just for the Supreme Court, I would like to see term limits in Congress, at the Senate level…
We would be better served as a people, if all branches of government reflected a fresh sort of set of ideas…
The voters in Iowa and California have their say, but the American — the best and brightest are not offered by Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein.
…As a member of Congress, I would seek to advance term limit legislation to impose four terms, if I’m not able to do so during my timeframe, I’m self imposing a four term limit on myself.
Chronicle: Do social media companies have anything to do with freedom of speech or constitutional rights?
Castelli: Not in terms of the concern that we as American citizens have about public spaces.
Our concern, ultimately from a freedom of speech perspective, is about government censorship, and government control and erosion of our ability to express that. The concern that folks have on social media platforms in terms of — we make an agreement, they’re giving us a free platform and free service.
And we have to adhere to their expectations of the terms of that service. They don’t have a responsibility because they are not a government actor or entity to chill free speech…it’s a free marketplace.
Chronicle: Is America a racist country?
Castelli: No, not inherently. I think that there is racism in our nation, as there is throughout the world. I think throughout the history of mankind, there has always been this desire to, at times, and it’s not an overriding principle, look at groups of other as a threat. But humanity has advanced in such a way that we have gotten over those things.
Chronicle: Has discrimination been such that there needs to be discrimination to undo discrimination?
CastellI: That’s a good question. I’m not sure that that’s necessary. I do believe that awareness, though, is useful…We’ve not done I think, an adequate job of building awareness of certain things that have happened in U.S. history.
Chronicle: What about affirmative action?
Castelli: I think I have serious concerns about advancing one group at the expense of another.
I think you can recognize that certain groups have historically been disadvantaged, and to make efforts to recognize those groups and give them an opportunity and a level playing field…
Chronicle: Should trans women be able to compete against biological women in women’s sports?
Castelli: I think the question for that is best left up to the governance authorities for certain sports.
Chronicle: What if a high school said no? Is that a civil rights issue?
Castelli: I think it’s always going to be — it’s best left up to the local area to determine how best, with parents involvement, about how best to approach who is involved in whatever sport we’re talking about.
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