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Capital Region Rep. Paul Tonko adjusting to life in the minority in U.S. House

 Congressman Paul Tonko at his Albany office, January 14, 2023.
Dave Lucas
Congressman Paul Tonko at his Albany office, January 14, 2023.

In the new Congressional term, Democratic Representative Paul Tonko of New York’s 20th district is settling in as a minority member in the House.

Tonko, a Democrat, gave an overview of the first two weeks of the 118th session of Congress on Saturday in his Albany office.

He said the last term was one of the most productive sessions of Congress since 1965.

"With great efforts made with the American Rescue Plan that put shots in the arms and paychecks into the pockets, and provided for essential services, and enabled our private sector partners to survive through a very difficult pandemic, and saving our economy at the same time," said Tonko. "We had the very popular bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed, and then the Chips and Science Act, and then closing with the inflation Reduction Act, which was an historic investment in clean energy and response to the climate crisis. And then the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which I think, again, was historic in, I think, 30 years that we responded to some gun safety legislation. So, a powerful statement made by the 117th Congress. And now, you know, following that with the opening of the 118th, which to me, you know, seem to surround itself in chaos, and confusion and crisis."

Tonko said Republicans got the new session off to a rocky start.

"The vote for speaker, which can be routine, but usually put it into a structured format, by the majority caucus, whichever that rests with, whichever party it rests with, should be done in a very structured, predictable outcome," Tonko said. "So now for the first time in 100 years, we took several ballots, 15 ballots, by which to nominate and secure a speaker for the House. Now, if we can't get that done, without some sort of firmness, and strength, it will, how are we going to govern?"

When it comes to the global economy, Tonko believes lawmakers in Washington should strive to keep the United States competitive.

"We want to make certain we win that race, as we did with the global race on space that unleashed untold amounts of technology through the decades that made us a go to powerhouse as a nation," said Tonko. "Let's continue that path of investing in the pioneer spirit of America, and making certain that the open discussions in the House of Representatives around fairness, sensitivity, compassion, and in making certain that there's a strength there, with a public private partnership that can make all of us stronger in these difficult economic times. And to have good outcomes so that, you know, the hope that we developed, in developing so doing, is going to make a difference in the lives of people."

Tonko pointed to the Empire State's growing strength in the "innovation economy," being bolstered by the semiconductor industry. He likened it to the innovation in the 1800s that led to the creation of the Erie Canal and the communities that sprung up along it.

"We were developing products along a stretch of the Erie Canal that were responding favorably to the quality of life of people around the world," Tonko said. "So I think you know, this eclipsing into this new generation of work. And workforce development is going to be a major push for New York. And, and we have the talent, and we have the institutional opportunities staked here, and the investments that we're fighting for."

Tonko continues his effort to locate the planned National Semiconductor Technology Center in New York.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.