Lee Zeldin interview transcript

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This is the transcript of an interview between Michael McKenna, columnist for The Washington Times, and Rep. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican who is running to replace Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2022.

What is your bio?

I am a proud New Yorker born and raised. The short time I didn’t live in New York, I was in the Army on active duty for four years. I grew up on Long Island and went to college and law school at SUNY Albany.

At Albany, I completed Army ROTC and went on active duty, during which I was stationed in Fort Huachuca in Arizona, Fort Bragg in North Carolina as a Military Intelligence Officer, and then I was in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. I was deployed to Iraq in 2006 with the 82nd Airborne.  Today, I still serve in the Reserve, where I currently serve as a Lt. Colonel. Right now, I am in charge of an international rule of law team based on Long Island.

When I came off active duty, I moved back home, very close to where I grew up. I’m raising my family there; my daughters go to school in the same school district, right there in my hometown, where I went to kindergarten through 12th grade.

Why are you running?

New York is in bad shape and we have to save our State.  People — passionately, emotionally — have been talking to me as if this is the last stand, a last great opportunity to save our state.  They have been talking about attacks on our wallets, our safety, and our freedoms.

They are getting close to their own breaking points. They are citing the high cost of living, not making enough to make ends meet, the rising crime, cashless bail, not supporting law enforcement enough, our kids not getting back in school in many places across the state.

At the same time, New Yorkers are watching other states provide a pathway to more prosperity and more freedom and, as an additional bonus, have warmer weather. New Yorkers are asking themselves why they should stick around all of these failed liberal policies and a Governor who abuses his powers and disgraces himself day in and day out. 

When I was born in Queens Hospital, New York was the most populous State in the Union.  It’s now number four.  What happened?  Can it be fixed?

I don’t want to oversimplify, but the trajectory of spending recently has been out of control.  To pay for all of the spending priorities, the taxes had to continue to increase.  Just recently, not only did they have to increase spending drastically, but to pay for it they created a new income tax rate which is the highest income tax rate in the entire country.  The reason why they did it was to pay for a multi-billion-dollar fund for people who aren’t even legally in our country.

If you confront some of these Albany politicians about the taxes and ask them about the tax increases and suggest that these are bad ideas, their claim is that taxes have no effect on behavior.  When you say that people are leaving the state, they ask you to show them proof.  When you show them proof, they change their answer to saying that paying taxes is patriotic, which of, course, the rest of us point out that we must live in the most patriotic state in the entire Republic because we’re getting taxed out of our homes.

It is not just about the taxes, although that’s a major part of it. We talked earlier about the negative effects on public safety due to the failed liberal policies, but the biggest constant over the longer period of time has been out of control taxes and spending that is driving people over the edge and driving businesses out of the state.

You know, it is also about the culture created by policy.  Amazon was going to move one of its headquarters to the state, was going to create thousands of high-paying jobs, there would have been a heavy investment, and it would have helped the local communities.  Instead, you had AOC and other politicians pushing Amazon out and, ultimately, Amazon headquarters isn’t going to get built and other businesses are watching that and they’re saying “why would I come to New York if you are going to treat me, treat our business like that?”

So, unfortunately, while the policies have been really flawed in harming the business climate, it’s also been the rhetoric and culture.

Why are you the best candidate for the Republicans in this gubernatorial race?

I have assessed this race from a number of angles and have come up with a plan that I am very confident will win this race.  I got in the race a week ago and hit the ground running with a launch that included videos, website, texts, etc.  I raised over a million dollars the first day of the campaign.  Right after I announced, I was at events upstate from Syracuse to Wayne County to Rochester and then to Buffalo and Erie County before heading to DC for votes.

The response has been incredible.  A lot of New Yorkers are familiar with who I am.  Obviously, my base of support; where I have won elections has been on Long Island.  But I found in my travels is that there are many New Yorkers all across the State who pay attention to what goes on in Washington.  They are familiar with who I am and what my stances are on the issues that matter to them.

They’re hungry for a win.  Before I even decided to get into the race, I had hundreds of phone calls with people who were asking me to run and telling me if you don’t run, if you don’t win, I’m leaving this State.

So, I have come off of 6 consecutive races in which I was targeted.  I beat an incumbent Democrat to win a State Senate seat in 2010.  I beat a six-term, 12-year Democratic incumbent to win a House district in 2014.  Pelosi and the Democrats have come after me every single time with millions of dollars – seven figures and sometimes eight figures – to try and take me out, and I’m still here after winning six consecutive, hard-fought general election campaigns.

I’m battle-tested, we know what it takes to win, we have great plan, and great team.  We had a great launch.  The financial support is there.  The volunteer base is there.  And we’re going to work our tails off the next year and a half to bring home a win and help save the state.

What is the single most important issue facing the State at the moment?

While there are a few different tough issues facing the state that are all incredibly important, when I’m talking to New Yorkers about their breaking point, they’re talking to me about not being able to afford to stay in New York.

New Yorkers are more mobile than ever.  And they’re realizing just how much further their money will go in another state and they want more economic freedom.  They are pursuing job opportunities where maybe they would be able to take that trip that they can’t afford now.  Maybe they can own a home as opposed to having their first kid in the basement of mom and dad’s house.  The stories that I hear, while they cover a wide range of different, tough, incredibly important issues, what I hear about the most are the economic issues that are causing people to hit their breaking point.

The relationship with former President Trump?

When I’m talking to New Yorkers about the issues that matter to them the most, it is a conversation about improving our economy, and our public safety, and our quality of education, and Democratic operatives and their allies in the media are free to talk about whatever issues they want to discuss.  Meanwhile, I’m going to keep talking to real voters about the issues that they are telling me matter to them the most, and I’m confident that when you are looking to the fall of 2022, if you go knock on the door of an undecided voter and ask, “what are your top three issues/five issues/ten issues” we’re going to find they are along the lines of what we’ve been talking about right now that I’ve been focused on and I will continue to stay focused on to save our state.

How do you think President Biden is doing?

The President is doing a horrible job right now.  It’s hard for me to say he’s running the country; it appears the federal government is being run by committee, telling President Biden what the moves of the day will be as opposed to providing recommendations and assessments on all the top issues and having President Biden making his own decisions across the board on the right path forward.  It is a team of rivals approach where many of those players are not fit for the task at hand, and, as we see at the crisis on the border, they have no idea what they are doing.  They are way over their head.  At first, they try to tell you there is no crisis. Two sentences later, maybe they’ll admit that there is a crisis, but it’s all President Trump’s fault.  The way that they are divorced from reality on so many key issues ends up creating a greater national security and public health issue.  They are unfortunately leading many Americans to believe that this is not the Presidency they were singing up for when they voted for Mr. Biden last November.

Do New Yorkers understand that the border crisis eventually winds up in everyone’s kitchen?

Yes, and by the way we are being reminded of the effects of the soft on border policy when the State legislature is creating a new high income tax rate to pay for a multi-billion-dollar fund for people who are illegal in the country.  They are paying economically for the cost of illegal immigrants who apparently have more of a voice in state government than many of these hard-working New Yorkers, and it’s causing a lot of problems.

Your take on court packing and reparations?

This House Democratic majority is not representing well the will of the people.  This is about Nancy Pelosi wanting more power, more perks, more prestige and not willing to actually listen and reach across the aisle and move Americans forward as best as possible.  It is a straight partisan power grab to add justices to the Supreme Court.  That’s all that this is.

If there’s a vacancy on the court, and you want to put up a nominee to fill the vacancy, that is part of the process and that’s what President Trump did.  The reason why the Supreme Court has six Justices appointed by one side of the aisle versus three Justices appointed on the other is a circumstance of Donald Trump having great nominees that got confirmed.  If a justice retires, or passes away, they need to be replaced on the court.  President Biden can put forward a nominee for consideration of the Senate.  But this idea of adding justices to the Supreme Court is a raw, partisan, hyper-political power grab that shows where Nancy Pelosi’s priorities are, and it’s not what’s best for the American public.  It’s about what is best for Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats.

You see as well where President Biden’s remarks on Inauguration Day about unity are more and more of a farce as each day goes by.  More gets jammed through without any real attempt to listen to any real ideas or garner support from anyone other than their most radical supporters.

The only version of compromise Nancy Pelosi is good with is if you agree with her positions 100%.

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