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Mixed reaction to Stefanik's rise in GOP

Watertown Daily Times / NCPR
Rep. Elise Stefanik invited President Trump to Fort Drum in 2018.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney has been removed from her leadership role in the House of Representatives’ Republican Caucus, but waiting in the wings to replace Cheney is North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik, currently the favorite to take on the roll of Conference Chair, the GOP’s third-highest ranking member in the House.

Despite her double-digit margin of victory in the 2020 election, Elise Stefanik remains a polarizing figure in the North Country.

At a gas station outside of Plattsburgh, NCPR asked area residents what they think of Stefanik. Many did not want to discuss politics, but those who did expressed the full range of opinions on her time in office and the possibility of a leadership role.

Stefanik-supporter Ron Mousseau said he voted for her every time she has been on the ballot.

“I think she’s doing a good job, that’s why I keep voting for her,” Mousseau said.

When asked if there were any specific legislative votes or policy stances that endeared him to Stefanik, he simply replied “support for Trump.”

Stefanik’s detractors like Tracy Ward said they do not want to see her in party leadership, even if it might bring more federal spending to the area.

 “Absolutely not,” Ward said.

Credit Elise Steanik / Twitter

“Even the way that she’s handled herself during the pandemic, and the mask wearing. Even the constant sticking up for Trump, absolutely not.”

 Loyalty to Trump is what earned Stefanik the former President’s endorsement to replace Cheney.

The three-term congresswoman has repeatedly expressed support for the former president, including his false claims that the results of the 2020 election cannot be trusted.

Stefanik objected to certifying the results of that election, a move denounced by her one-time mentor former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.  

Despite all that, some North Country voters like James McGraw opted to take a practical view of Stefanik’s potential ascension. 

“Politics is all about connections and the bigger you are there, the more connections you’re going to make,” McGraw mused. 

“It might help out the area.”

That is a possibility according to SUNY Plattsburgh political scientist Harvey Schantz. In an interview, he said that congressional leaders play an important role in budget negotiations.

“Oftentimes leaders are in the room when these bills get passed. So you might find a leader gets a particular spending item passed.”

Schantz also pointed out a recent Congressional rule change that makes that possibility even more likely; the return of earmarks, colloquially known as pork barrel spending.

“About two months ago Congress reinstituted earmarks, which are special projects that members of Congress can ask for their state or district,” Schantz explained.

Lawmakers enacted a self-imposed ban on the process back in 2011. The ban was repealed earlier this year.

Credit Liz Cheney / Twitter

Although she previously endorsed Liz Cheney, Stefanik is currently running unopposed to replace her as Conference Chair.

On Twitter she laid out four planks of her campaign, including  a unified conservative message and a – quote- a communications posture on offense.

For her part, Cheney vowed to continue her resistance to former President Trump and his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

“We must go forward based on truth. We cannot both embrace the Big Lie and embrace the Constitution,” Cheney said following her removal.

She added that she would do everything in her power to ensure that “the former president never gets anywhere near the oval office.”

As Stefanik’s star continues to rise in Washington, her hold on North Country Republicans appears lock-tight.

None of the local Republican officials contacted by NCPR agreed to comment on the record about Stefanik’s new job.

However, 12 county GOP chairs from across Upstate New York endorsed her for the role in a letter that Stefanik posted on Twitter.

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