Democrat Emily Martz began organizing after Donald Trump won the White House but now says her campaign is about more than shock and resistance.

Emily Martz on the campaign trail in Plattsburgh. Photo: Brian Mann
Emily Martz on the campaign trail in Plattsburgh. Photo: Brian Mann

After Trump “Now what?”

Donald Trump speaking at an election rally Monday, April 11, 2016, in Albany, NY. Photo: Still from Trump campaign video.
Donald Trump speaking at an election rally Monday, April 11, 2016, in Albany, NY. Photo: Still from Trump campaign video.

This is a story that begins on a late autumn evening in 2016 when everything in American politics changed. Donald Trump lost the popular vote, but thanks to the structure of the Electoral College, he won the White House.

One of the people watching closely on election night was Emily Martz. She’s in her mid-forties, an economic development expert who worked for years with the Adirondack North Country Association in Saranac Lake.

“I went to bed as a lot of people did in a little bit of shock,” she recalls. “Woke up feeling the same, but I also felt that there was a role for me to play. I didn’t know what it was, but I felt like I had a role.”

Even before Trump took office, Martz helped organize a series of discussion and action groups fromed around a simple question: “Now what?”

Emily Martz began organizing and speaking out in the weeks after Trump's 2016 election victory. Photo: Brian Mann
Emily Martz began organizing and speaking out in the weeks after Trump’s 2016 election victory. Photo: Brian Mann

She spoke in December 2016 at one of those gatherings at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake, where a main topic was protecting healthcare funding and funding for Planned Parenthood.

Already, she was shifting the focus from Trump to the North Country’s Republican congresswoman, a Trump supporter, Elise Stefanik.

“If we have 60 people here, then she can come into her offices tomorrow morning and have 60 emails saying don’t cut funding to Planned Parenthood, don’t cut off the Medicaid,” Martz said.

From activist to candidate, with a focus on healthcare

In July of last year, Martz joined an already crowded field of Democrats wanting to go farther and do more. She announced that she would be a candidate for the North Country’s House seat.

Martz met with Plattsburgh's Democratic Mayor Colin Read. Photo: Brian Mann
Martz met with Plattsburgh’s Democratic Mayor Colin Read. Photo: Brian Mann

NCPR caught up with her last week at a coffee shop in Plattsburgh, where she was meeting with that city’s Democratic Mayor Colin Read. The two talked about everything from high taxes and cryptocurrency companies, but a big issue for Martz is still healthcare.

She’s joined the growing number of Democrats who say that Obamacare didn’t go far enough. She wants a government health insurance program available to all Americans. “One of my main first and foremost priorities woudl be to be able to cast a vote for a single-payer healthcare system,” she says.

Trump in the rearview mirror?

Here’s something interesting about Martz’s campaign.  In the months that she’s been a candidate, she has steadily shifted her focus away from Donald Trump toward a broader slate of issues, healthcare but also job creation, infrastructure projects.

Liz Benjamin, host of the widely watched political program Capital Tonight with Liz Benjamin, asked Martz about this shift. “Are you not banking like the other Democrats are on an anti-Trump wave?”

“This election is not about Donald Trump,” Martz said. “This election is about the people of the North Country.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik. NCPR File Photo: Zach Hirsch
Rep. Elise Stefanik. NCPR File Photo: Zach Hirsch

Martz now says she saw almost from the start that in the North Country, which voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton,  people and candidates had to start searching for common ground.

She describes a conversation she had with a neighbor, a Trump supporter. “I challenged myself to stop and talk beause I realized that one of the reasons we’ve gotten to be such a polarized country is because we’ve stopped talking,” she says.

Martz says in that first conversation she heard a way of talking past the rancor of the 2016 election. “It was a brief but really helpful conversation because we want the same things. We want to be able to take care of our families. We want to know that hard work pays off and is still valued.  We want our country to be protected.”

Is there a path to victory in the center?

This kind of more centrist politics has worked for Democrats in the past. Bill Owens, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Scott Murphy all won elections in chunks of the North Country using this approach. Here’s how Martz describes political moment nearly two years after Trump took office.

“I moved down this path initially because of the [2016 presidential] election. But we can’t forget my need to talk to people who voted differently and my almost daily interactions with people who think differently, in order to understand.”

A big question for Martz in 2018 is whether this kind of message, more about dialogue and policy than resistance, can win out in a crowded Democratic field.  And whether it’s a message that can topple Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.

Stefanik won two years ago in a landslide while embracing President Trump. If there’s not a big blue anti-Trump wave, the winner of this Democratic primary will have to find another compelling argument for turning her out of office.