'Young gun' Altschuler bucks party line
At last count, Suffolk's 1st Congressional District included 155,713 registered Republicans, 130,411 Democrats, 20,950 Independence Party members and 113,676 unaffiliated voters, according to the state Board of Elections. Mitt Romney's supporters figure he will do well there in November. Between 1994 and 2002, three incumbents were unseated at the polls.
All this shows the seat's competitiveness. Now, presumptive Republican nominee Randy Altschuler, whose primary rival George Demos has quit campaigning -- though Demos' name remains on the June 26 primary ballot -- is turning his rhetoric toward the general electorate. He is expected to face Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), a 10-year incumbent.
Altschuler in an hourlong interview Monday with Newsday reporters and editors seemed to stay at arm's length from the House of Representatives majority caucus led by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Strategically, that may make sense given that neither Boehner, nor House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for that matter, polls well nationally.
"One thing that I have always been critical of Tim Bishop about is that he votes with his party, you know, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98 percent of the time," Altschuler said. "I don't think it's proper if I come back here two years from now as a congressman and have the same record, voting with my party all the time."
Circumstances differ from Altschuler's razor-close loss to Bishop in 2010. For one thing, he talks to reporters, which he declined to do then. For another, he has the Independence endorsement.
A larger turnout due to a presidential race will help push up campaign expenses, among other changes, aides say.
And Altschuler said this time he will respond to all allegations from Bishop, including expected attacks on his former firm's role in "outsourcing" jobs.
Like other Democrats, Bishop (who has no primary this month) voted against the recent budget proposal crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), saying it would "expand tax breaks for special interests" at the expense of senior citizens and others.
Asked where he might have differed in polarized Washington with GOP colleagues, Altschuler replied quickly: "The highway bill."
Earlier this year, a bipartisan measure to fund road and transit projects through the long-standing federal trust fund bogged down in the GOP-led House.
"I agreed with Congressman Bishop and some of the Congress people from both sides of the aisle who thought that was not going to be helpful for Long Island," Altschuler said. "The party doesn't always get it right."
He drove a similar route through other issues.
Entitlements? "Everyone wants to protect" Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he said, so "let's roll up our sleeves" to fix those programs. Borrowing? "I was not one of those people who said 'Don't raise the debt ceiling.' . . . We've already spent the money, so arguing about whether or not you raise the debt ceiling is academic."
Health insurance? Repeal "Obamacare" but try other steps to create affordable coverage. In public employment, big unfunded pension liabilities are not "a political Democrat or Republican issue," said Altschuler.
Altschuler, who founded and ran a business with overseas offices, said he favors "free-trade" agreements, and says he sees marriage as between a man and a woman. That's consistent with the platform of the Conservative Party, which backs him as before.
One Altschuler statement won't be contested at this point.
"This is going to be a long campaign," he said. "Things are heating up."