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Rep. Bill Owens addresses crowd in Greenwich, in Washington County. Photo: Brian Mann
Rep. Bill Owens addresses crowd in Greenwich, in Washington County. Photo: Brian Mann

In first NY21 debate, Owens-Doheny agree on farm bill

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Across the US, the 2012 campaign has been marked by bitter rhetoric and fierce partisanship. The federal farm bill has been caught up in the hard-line battle, with any conservatives pushing to kill the measure.

But in their first debate of the season, in the Washington County community of Greenwich, the candidates for New York's 21st district House seat both supported the farm bill. On a wide range of issues, Republican Matt Doheny and Democrat Bill Owens made a clear bid for the center.

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Matt Doheny supporters outside the debate, Photo: Brian Mann

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In a way, last night's debate in the Greenwich High School auditorium harkened by to a different age when America's two parties were less polarized, when the debat was less bitter.

The forum was sponsored by the Washington County Farm Bureau and on issue after issue relating to agriculture, Democrat Bill Owens from Plattsburgh and Republican Matt Dohny from Watertown basically agreed.

Both men said that the Republican-led House should pass the federal farm bill, which has already cleared the Agriculture committee on a bipartisan vote, and won passage in the US Senate.

Owens noted that he had worked closely on the bill with Republican Chris Gibson, the popular congressman who represented this part of Washington County before redistricting shifted the political boundaries.

"During the Ag committee mark-ups, we had 20 amendments that we voted on," Owens said. 

"Chris Gibson and I voted on 19 out of 20 together.  This is very important from my perspective because one of the critical issues that we face in congress is the inability to get things done and an inability to work on a bipartisan basis."

In the 21st House district, there are far more Republicans than Democrats, so Owens will likely need some of Chris Gibson's supporters to cross party lines if he hopes to win another term.

But Doheny also made a clear bid for the middle, noting repeatedly places where he differs from his own party leadership — including the farm bill.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, has called dairy price supports in that bill "Soviet style."

And a coalition of conservative groups has urged him to reject the farm bill bill, describing the taxpayer subsidies in the plan as "wasteful and market distorting."

But Doheny says he made it clear to Boehner that he thinks the measure should be approved.

"[Speaker Boehner] clearly knows where I stand on the bill.  He clearly understands that it's important for this district.  We need to have a level of certainty and finality for the next five years."

Doheny said he worried that federal farm policy would revert back to a system of outdated laws established in the 1930s and 40s if the farm bill isn't passed.

The two men also agreed on the importance of maintaining Social Security programs and federal subsidies for broadband infrastructure in the rural North Country.

One area where they differed sharply was alternative energy.  Owens supported taxpayer support for farms using or producing renewable energy, ranging from wind to biomass.

Doheny criticize those programs and said that Democrats has a history of "throwing good money after bad" on energy projects.

The first face-to-face encounter of this election season, held before an audience of about 100 people in Washington County, offered no fireworks. 

Doheny accused Owens of being part of the "sausage factory" in Washington and criticized him for supporting the Democratic Party's controversial healthcare bill. 

Owens was cordial but rarely acknowledged Doheny during the hour-long session.

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