Kathleen Rice  at her office on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016.

Kathleen Rice at her office on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. Credit: James Escher

A first-term member of the minority party doesn’t have much power to fix a broken, stagnant U.S. Congress.

But Democrat Kathleen Rice is smart and capable, and if she chooses to, she could be a more powerful, effective voice on matters important to her district and nation. She has more to do.

In her first two years, Rice has focused on several key matters, including her desire to add technology to new cars to prevent drunken driving, her signature issue when she was the Nassau County district attorney. Rice also has turned her attention to the recovery from superstorm Sandy and to gun control, an issue prioritized by her predecessor, Carolyn McCarthy. Rice emphasizes the need for background checks and closing gun-show and online sales loopholes. But other than participating in the Democrats’ sit-in on the House of Representatives floor and smartly voting to allow President Barack Obama to fast-track trade deal negotiations, Rice has rarely made a public splash.

Rice, from Garden City, sits on the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs committees, where she has focused on airport security and the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Her presence has been inconsistent at best in her district, which stretches from Atlantic Beach to Mineola; she hasn’t been as visible or involved as she should be. She has a firm grasp on national and local issues, and mostly walks in step with her party. But last year, Rice angered labor leaders when she became one of 28 Democrats to vote for the fast-track legislation known as Trade Promotion Authority, despite originally opposing it.

Rice, 51, said she believes in a path to citizenship for immigrants here illegally, and that the United States should take in more Syrian refugees, although she wants federal agencies to further certify that newcomers aren’t national security threats. But some of her positions lack nuance and depth; when she was asked about fixing the Affordable Care Act, her primary response was that she wasn’t in Congress when it was passed.

Rice’s opponent, Manhasset Republican David “Bull” Gurfein, a retired Marine who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, was a congressional liaison for NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, and is now president of a health and fitness company. He’s smart and espouses clear, conservative, pro-business positions. But his views often go far afield of reality, and don’t reflect his district’s interests and needs, such as when he says he does not think rising sea levels have a “significant impact” here. Gurfein, 51, supports a flat tax and reducing federal offices like the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. While he says he supports universal background checks for gun purchases, he also worries about a national registry or a “gun grab.” He says the answer to the Syrian refugee crisis is to screen them outside of the United States, and to destroy the Islamic State even if that means a declaration of war and lengthy occupation of the Middle East.

Rice has a more pragmatic view. In a second term, she should do more in her district, and in Washington, she must fight harder for her key issues.

Newsday endorses Rice. — The editorial board

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