Emily Martz sits with Editor of the Malone Telegram, EJ Conzola
MALONE | Emily Martz says that she has one overriding goal for the next 45 days: “Introducing myself to as many people as possible.”
Martz is one of six remaining candidates in the 21st Congressional District Democratic primary — all of whom are looking forward to running against incumbent U.S. Rep Elise Stefanik, a Republican, in the upcoming general election.
Martz herself is quite familiar with the north country as a whole. Her family — living in Waitsfield, Vt., a town of less than 2,000 people — regularly visited the Adirondacks for family vacations; approximately eight years ago, Martz decided to make the region her home, citing the familiarity and similarity to her own roots.
“I had found my community,” said the Saranac Lake resident. “I wanted to stay.”
Martz previously worked as an economic development and financial adviser on the West Coast before moving to southern Franklin County. She made use of her economic development skills as a deputy director of the Adirondack North Country Association, as well as teaching classes at Paul Smith’s College.
Speaking with Telegram staff on Tuesday, Martz said her professional background has given her a broad view of the issues that are affecting north country residents.
When asked about pushes by workers and activists toward a $15 per hour minimum wage, Martz said that the goal is good but should be gradually implemented to avoid burdening small businesses.
Martz also noted that powerful interests have taken advantage of the minimum wage issue to drive a wedge between small business owners and workers, as well as using it as a wedge issue against immigrants.
She noted that a $15 per hour wage is not a “luxury”-level payment and that it has been a traditionally accepted American value that people who work 40 hours a week should earn enough to provide for their families.
She acknowledged that there may be room to distinguish between a teenager’s first job and an adult providing for their family, but added that the divide may not always be so clean cut.
“There are breadwinners among the teenagers in these communities,” said Martz.
Martz also added that the increased spending power for workers under a higher minimum wage would help consumer spending, ultimately growing the economy.
A economy also needs consumers, workers, and business owners who can think critically, evaluating risk and costs, which is why another vital issue that Martz is hoping to bring attention to is the shrinking pool of teachers for the north country’s classrooms.
Martz, noting that she has many teachers in her family tree, said that respect for the profession has declined in recent years — and that lack of respect is reflected in policies that reduce local control of the classroom.
While noting that there should be clear standards for evaluating teachers and establishing disciplinary limits, Martz noted that teachers should be treated as professionals and trusted to help guide students into becoming critically thinking adults.
On the subject of education funding, Martz said that it may soon be necessary to rethink the primary mechanism for funding school districts. Property taxes may be sufficient for some communities, but small, rural communities across the north country have been feeling the fiscal crunch as costs rise and property sales price out of the range for potential new arrivals. While she is not sure of a viable alternative, she stressed that finding that alternative should be of paramount concern.
The north country economy will also need a workforce with the skills to navigate the modern economy. When asked about the region’s relationship with Canada, Martz noted that the eastern portion of the 21st district — particularly Plattsburgh and Clinton County — has done an excellent job in workforce development and attracting Canadian businesses. Martz said her major focus would be to support other such efforts of workforce development across the district, to make sure the region remains an attractive choice for expanding businesses.
In regard to energy policy, Martz said that, like in education, local control should be the major priority. When told about local opposition to large-scale solar farms in Franklin County, Martz noted that the long-term consequences of such projects need to be addressed.
“Who’s responsible for the solar panels when the contract is over?” asked Martz, noting that such projects usually have a lifespan of a few decades at most.
At the same time, Martz said that she stands by clean energy. Her previous work at ANCA included connecting companies with municipalities to help improve the energy efficiency of public buildings. She would like to see similar projects take root across the north country, particularly investing in microgrid initiatives controlled by the local population.
Martz gave special notice to the condition of dairy farming in the north country at a time when local farmers are facing a third-straight year of low returns on their products — an anomaly in the regular flow of the market.
One particular concern is ensuring that farmers will be able to recruit the workers they need to reach their production goals — a goal that may be complicated by the current trend of immigration policy in Washington, D.C.
Martz said that she has already spoken to several farmers who are concerned about getting the workers with the skill for the job. Some have had to purchase automatic milking machines — not for the sake of automation itself, but simply because it was the next best thing when no workers could be recruited. For this reason, Martz said that she stands firm on her support of a visa program for dairy workers.
“I think that needs to be first on the table,” said Martz, in reference to immigration discussions.
Speaking to The Telegram about broader issues, Martz also touched on the growing #MeToo movement — especially in light of the breaking allegations against now-resigned Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of abuse and domestic violence.
Martz said that the country is in the midst of realizing truths about sexual harassment and domestic violence.
“For too long, people — mostly women — have felt shame around it,” said Martz, speaking about societal attitudes that have doubted victims and those who speak up about such behavior.
She also noted that this has come about, in part, because there is only so much that the law can do to protect vulnerable persons; at a certain point, Martz said, people have to look at the culture around them and how it is encouraging or allowing such actions to occur.
Martz also briefly spoke about the then-breaking decision by President Donald Trump to have the U.S. pull out of the multilateral agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Martz said that she just heard the decision on her drive to The Telegram’s office, with her radio cutting shortly after the president finished his remarks.
Martz said that while Iran remains a dangerous force in the world, the nation has abided by the terms of the agreement; the removal of the U.S. as a participant would mainly serve to undermine the agreement’s purpose, while also undermining the U.S.’ credibility at the negotiating table on other issues.
Martz said that she hopes to join a more “moderate” Congress in 2019 than the one currently seated in Washington, D.C.
Telegram staff responded by noting that some of Martz’s fellow Democratic candidates would not describe themselves as “moderate.” Martz noted that she stands by many progressive goals — expanding health care coverage, the rising minimum wage, and a commitment to clean energy — that her fellow Democrats do, while also focusing on the most sensible path to those goals.
“I consider myself the pragmatic moderate,” said Martz, contrasting her methods in attaining her progressive goals.
As she heads into the final leg of what has become a yearlong primary season, Martz said that she is looking forward to making more connections with her fellow north country residents.