Jill Lochner talks about her decision to challenge fellow Republican Elise Stefanik in New York’s 21st Congressional district
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is one of the highest-ranking House Republicans and has easily won re-election to represent New York’s 21st Congressional District since her first campaign in 2014. In her next campaign she will face at least one primary opponent: Greenfield resident and educator Jill Lochner. She tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley that she’s been considering challenging Stefanik for some time.
I have been following the race in NY-21 since the beginning, since Elise Stefanik’s first run in 2014. I even thought about running back then. But my life situation at the time just didn't allow it. And frankly I liked her back then. She presented herself as more moderate, more like myself. You know, I voted for her. But over the years she has become increasingly far right. She has become extreme. She's been using her position only to climb and to serve herself and not to serve the people of New York 21. And also the Republican Party in general and politics in general has been very disappointing to me as a whole in this country. The loudest, angriest voices getting the airtime and we've just lost respectful conversation and dialogue and I really think we need to get back to that. And now I have just decided to put myself out there and run.
Jill Lochner, on your website you say that you are a ‘True Republican.’ What is that?
So I believe that there are three parties now in this country: the Democrats, the Republicans and the Maga Party. And they say they're Republicans but I don't believe they are. We've moved away from that. I am more of a Republican like a John McCain Republican. And I think we need to move the party back to that. We don't need to be over at the far end of the right. We need to be a little closer to the middle. And you know, I am for fiscal responsibility, budget reform, smaller government, things like that, that align with Republican values.
But you also, in your issues, list things like supporting women's right and choice and for a lot of Republicans these days that puts you off to the left. Are you a more moderate or a more left Republican? Where would you place yourself?
I would place myself moderate. Yes, the stance on abortion is certainly a difference with Republicans. But I do think the party needs to ease their stance on that. You know, the majority of Americans know that these choices should not involve politicians and these choices need to be made between a woman and her doctor.
Jill Lochner, we've mentioned a few of the issues. What are some of the other issues that you feel need to be addressed for New York 21 that either haven't adequately been addressed or have been ignored at this point?
Well, first of all, I do feel like New York 21 in general has been ignored by the current representative. You know, she hasn't done town halls. She won't talk to constituents. She won't do media that she doesn't already know to be on her side. So first of all, I think New York 21 needs someone who will listen to them, be open, honest, transparent, you know, to be on their side. Also, we need to revitalize upstate New York communities. We need to work on lowering the cost of living. And it still remains that we need to modernize cellular and broadband service.
Some of the issues that you list and you just mentioned cellular and broadband. Those are things that are being done on a statewide basis. How would you be able to help in Congress with some of the statewide efforts that are being done such as cellular and broadband, the bail reform efforts, policing policy, some of the education policies, how do you see yourself working at the federal level to help the state?
Well, the cellular and broadband issue actually was part of the larger Infrastructure Act, which Stefanik voted against. So that is at the level, Bail reform, that's true, that's more at the state level.
Jill Lochner, I noticed on your Facebook page you've been getting some pushback about your decision to take on incumbent Elise Stefanik. One of the questions that has come up on social media: where you live. You are just outside right now New York 21. Why are you running in New York 21 when technically you're living in, I believe, New York 20 right now?
Yes, that's true. My home has been in New York 21 for years up until the recent redistricting. Just the same Elise Stefanik also does not live in the district. I, you know, this is where I live. I've been in New York 21. I've been following this race. I relate and connect more to District 21 than I do to 20. And as far as those people on Facebook it's really two people and it seems to be really the only thing that they have to bring up is where I live. I have a lot of people on Twitter and elsewhere that are backing me and that are very excited to have another option. I seem to be getting a lot of attention for just being reasonable and respectful and for actually communicating with people. And it's really great to see the value in just being me. And no matter what happens, what the result is, at the end of this race I'll still be able to walk away with my head held high and my morals intact.
Jill Lochner, do you have any past political experience?
I do not. But I don't think that's a problem. I think we need a combination of people who, you know, have experience and who are just normal people.
So how does being a normal person help you as you go into Congress if you win?
Well, I understand so called normal people, my constituents, and I'm one of them. I think that helps immensely. And I am not there. I don't have career politician ambitions. I will not be there just to advance my own political career because I don't want to. I'm just there to serve the people of NY-21 and try to enact some positive change.
Speaking of career politicians, you are taking on an incumbent. She's fairly powerful right now. What's your strategy for taking her on?
It's a huge challenge for sure and I do realize that. I understand that she, her and her team, will be ruthless. They will tell lies. Anything that comes out is going to be a lie because I don't have skeletons. There's really nothing to use against me and I think that worries them. And, you know, I will never be able to raise as much money as she can. I will never be able to come close to that. I understand that. But you know, I'm just hoping that hard work and grassroots efforts and getting enough people behind me and people seeing the value in you know, respect and reasonableness will take me far.
In a statement to WAMC, Congresswoman Stefanik’s spokesman Alex DeGrasse said:
"Like every election cycle where the media salivates over potential challengers to Congresswoman Stefanik, this is yet another candidate who has zero ties to the district, will get zero support, and will not even qualify for the ballot. Elise has earned a landslide victory every election and has never had stronger support among both primary and general election voters in NY-21. This isn’t the first time a Never-Trump grifter and self-declared “moderate” Liz Cheney supporter have attempted to foolishly run against Elise. Elise will continue to deliver results for the hardworking families, small businesses, veterans, farms, and seniors that she proudly represents each and every day. Her constituents are proud to have a seat at the highest levels of leadership as the Conference Chair in the House Republican Majority.”