State Sen. Jack Martins and former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi squared off Tuesday night in a Huntington Station debate after earlier radio interviews — each making their case for the House seat representing Long Island’s 3rd District.
Martins told more than 70 people gathered for the debate at the South Huntington Public Library that the presidential campaign between the candidate he supports, Republican Donald Trump, and Democrat Hillary Clinton is a version of “reality TV, probably at its worst form.”
He said the country is “desperately in need of changes with regard to our tax structure and to improve our job market so we can allow the next generation to live and stay here.”
Suozzi said what will be important for the next congressman representing the District is “figuring out, as Americans, what we have to do to make our country a better place to live in.”
The League of Women Voters and Huntington Matters sponsored the debate. The only televised debate between Suozzi, a Democrat, and Martins, a Republican — taped last week — will air at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on News 12 Long Island.
The winner will replace Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, who is retiring. In South Huntington, Suozzi and Martins agreed that Congress should not have delayed confirmation hearings for President Obama’s nominee for Supreme Court justice, Merrick Garland.
Martins also said he has “no problem” with an eight-year term limit for House members. “It shouldn’t be a career,” he said.
There currently is no limit on the number of two-year terms House members can serve.
Suozzi said he is “reluctant” to support term limits, but they may be needed because “the system is broke.”
In separate interviews Tuesday morning on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show,” Suozzi and Martins spelled out their differences and where they agree. In what Lehrer called a “lightning round,” Suozzi said he backs Clinton’s call to eliminate the Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal Medicaid funding for abortions except in the case where the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. Martins said he opposes Medicaid funding for abortions.
Martins also said he would permit allowing retirement age to rise as part of an overall solution to future funding of Social Security, but “not affecting anyone in the system now.” Suozzi said he would oppose raising the retirement age, noting that “blue collar bodies wear out faster by the time they reach 65.”
Suozzi said he would permit increasing the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the country by 10,000 a year. Martins said he would also permit the additional refugees but “only if they are properly vetted.”
In their separate interviews, both said the carried-interest tax loophole for hedge funds should be eliminated, that climate change is real and requires a strong federal response, and that universal background checks should be required for firearm sales at gun shows.
Clinton has proposed income tax hikes for the highest earners, but Suozzi told Lehrer he opposes her plan, noting that the state and his district send more money to Washington than each gets back. Even if the tax paid for free college tuition for families earning $120,000 a year or less, Suozzi said it’s “not a good trade-off” unless money also funds infrastructure and sewers to protect groundwater.
Despite partisan gridlock, Martins said he would be “more than able and willing to work” with Clinton on environmental and infrastructure issues to protect the Long Island Sound and the region’s aquifer.
Asked whether his stated plan to vote for Trump without endorsing him showed a “lack of courage,” Martins said he is “no more “responsible for the things Mr. Trump says than [Suozzi] is for Hillary’s email server.”
Martins said he will vote for Trump because he disagrees with Clinton on numerous policies like Obamacare, tax hikes and her judgment on issues the Clinton Foundation and her emails.
“Having people with good sense in Congress,” he added, would be a check on whoever wins.
CORRECTION: Huntington Matters, along with the League of Women Voters, co-sponsored a congressional debate Tuesday between State Sen. Jack Martins and former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi. Huntington Matters was incorrectly identified in the story.