SYRACUSE — Democrat Dana Balter was a political newcomer with little name recognition who faced a daunting task in 2018: Defeat John Katko, a Republican congressman who had vanquished two previous Democratic opponents by wide margins.
It didn’t happen, but Balter lost by only five percentage points in the race for the 24th House of Representatives seat. She also garnered more votes in Onondaga County than Katko.
“John Katko was seen as unbeatable,” Balter said by phone Friday. “We showed that this is simply not true.”
The next congressional race is not until 2020, but Balter is wasting no time in readying for another shot at the Republican from Camillus.
Balter announced last week she will seek the Democratic nomination once again for the right to take on Katko, considered one of the House’s more moderate members. Two other Democrats have announced their candidacies too: Roger Misso and Francis Conole, both of Syracuse.
Balter believes that if she gets the nomination, she can beat Katko this time around.
“We need this seat to be competitive, and it is definitely winnable,” she said. “He knows that he’s in trouble. He is scared and he should be. It’s a winnable seat, and I have every intention of finishing the job and winning.”
Balter said Katko’s vote for the 2017 tax reform package is an example of legislation that may be good for the wealthy, but it didn’t help many of those in the 24th District — besides Onondaga County, it includes Wayne and Cayuga counties and part of Oswego County.
The Democrat said many Central New York tax filers were burdened by big bills, where in the past they got refunds.
“So many people count on those refunds to cover important expenses,” she said. “Now people are not seeing what they have come to count on.”
On top of that, she said the top-60 American corporations paid zero taxes in 2018, and she claimed the tax package has not been a job creator that Republicans promised. Corporations are still taking jobs overseas, she noted.
“We now have evidence of how unfair it was to everyday hard-working Americans,” Balter said.
Further, the tax cut has added significantly to the nation’s debt because of lower revenues, she added, and President Trump and Republicans in Congress are using that rising debt number as an excuse to cut programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
She said that while Katko has opposed cuts to the programs, his yes vote for the tax bill has given the GOP an opportunity on so-called entitlement programs, a word Balter hates because she said all of us pay into programs like Social Security and Medicare.
“We need to fight back against (proposed cuts),” she said.
Balter said she supports the ideas of the Green New Deal that progressive Democrats in the House have proposed as a way to fight climate change. However, she wants to see some concrete proposals laid out. At this point, she called those ideas “aspirational.”
Balter said she is a big supporter of renewable energy, including solar, but that the traditional energy industry — oil, natural gas and coal — is driving Washington policy.
Meanwhile, much of the nation is coming to embrace renewables, Balter said.
“Everyday people know what they need and know what’s best for them,” she said.
Balter, who has founded a non-partisan, civic-engagement nonprofit called Enter the Public Square, said she knows the two other Democrats in the race “casually.” She added that she’s “not surprised” others are interested in the seat.