When Representative Tim Bishop, the incumbent Democrat, and Randy Altschuler, his Republican challenger, sat down at Hampton Bays High School on Monday night for a second face-to-face, microphone problems and a high school senior almost stole the show. The event was a meet-the-candidates session rather than a debate, with rebuttals not encouraged.
As the session began, Mr. Altschuler’s microphone was the first to hum. When that was corrected, the humming migrated to Mr. Bishop’s microphone, and he wound up going through five of them, including two handed to him by the moderator, Bruce King, president of the host Hampton Bays Civic Association, before the program could proceed.
Jennifer Linares, a senior whose entire civics class was in the audience, tried to steer things in a positive direction. “We are taught not to bully as students, she said. “Why are you, as adults, running negative campaigns instead of concentrating on your own achievements and accomplishments?”
There was no disagreement here. Mr. Bishop called her question “excellent,” and the crowd cheered as both candidates nodded in agreement.
“The state of election politics has deteriorated in my 10 years in office,” Mr. Bishop said, citing political action committees and super PACs for contributing to the negativity. “You find yourself dragged into it.”
“I would like to have a discussion on the merits and our strengths,” Mr. Bishop said, “and I think my opponent would agree with me.” Mr. Altschuler did. The executive chairman of an electronics recycling company who came close to defeating Mr. Bishop two years ago, Mr. Altschuler admitted dismay at recent campaign practices, but he pointed a finger at Mr. Bishop.
“In business, you’re taught to praise your competition. Unlike my opponent, I ran a positive ad . . . about my family life,” he said. “Every time I turn on the television, I see a negative ad charging me with being an outsourcer,” Mr. Altschuler said, referring to a company, OfficeTiger, he sold in 2006. He then segued into the economy and his 10-point jobs plan, which calls on the private sector to create jobs, not government.
Mr. Bishop never mentioned OfficeTiger by name, but said of his own record, “My time in Congress has been led by a fact-driven, pragmatic approach.” He said that he is working on a bipartisan bill to render companies that outsource jobs ineligible for federal grants and loans. “Ideological posturing doesn’t solve any problems; I have solved problems for 15,000 constituents, and I am proud of that.”
Mr. Altschuler had a different take on bipartisanship. “The problem with Washington is that the same people keep getting elected, the people who are responsible for the 40,000 more unemployment cases on Long Island.” He said he would have a self-imposed three-term limit were he to be elected to Congress, said. “That’s not bipartisan; there are only 435 congressmen, and each one needs to count.”
Mr. Bishop focused his remarks on Medicaid, noting that he supported its structure, and the Affordable Care Act, which includes discounted name-brand drugs for Medicare recipients, expanded coverage for young adults, small business tax credits, and pre-existing condition insurance plans.
In this regard, Mr. Altschuler turned negative. While saying it was “absolutely critical that something be done or Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security will be bankrupt in the next 10 years,” he said, “At least I support a plan that will keep the system solvent; I’m not a part of the problem. Mr. Bishop is.”
The candidates also addressed immigration. “I am for deferred action for childhood arrivals,” said Mr. Bishop, who has hosted forums to help young adults apply to the program recently advanced by President Obama. “What’s fair about deporting young people with clean records? Give those 12 to 15 million people work visas and a path to citizenship.”
Mr. Altschuler agreed with the incumbent that the visa process needed reform, but only for undocumented workers on farms and in the hospitality industry. “Those workers [60 percent of agriculture laborers are undocumented on Long Island] should get a three-year renewable visa,” he said. “But what’s not fair is that illegals are using our hospitals and other services and not paying into the system.”
Mr. Bishop, a five-term congressman, was better equipped to answer remaining questions from the audience, such as, “Name an instance you have deviated from your party’s stance on an issue.”
“I did not support an initiative to move funding to charter schools because the jury is still out on whether they work,” Mr. Bishop said. “I also voted to not reduce the federal student loan interest rate below 3.4 percent.”
Mr. Altschuler, who has no governmental experience, said he would promote investment in Suffolk County infrastructure, singling out sewers and waterway dredging.
Concerning military spending, Mr. Bishop said, “We need to reduce overhead in the largest business in world, the Pentagon, which spends $240 billion,” while Mr. Altschuler stated that the country should be armed with the right weapons to remain “the strongest military in the world.”
The candidates had different responses to another question, about what they would do to fix “the $7 million” flooding problem on Dune Road in Southampton. Mr. Altschuler said he would appropriate the federal funding necessary to fix the beachfront road if he could. Mr. Bishop countered that “since there is a ban on earmarks, the federal funds can’t be used for such a project since it is not a federal-aid highway.”
The candidates are expected to meet at least 15 more times before Election Day, including a debate on health care at 7 p.m. tonight at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead.