Mike Sigler is a Tompkins County Legislator for Lansing (6th District) and a candidate for what was to be the new 22nd NY Congressional district. WRFI's George Christopher interviewed him on May 3, 2022.
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Transcription of Interview:
George C., WRFI 0:15
Hello and welcome to WRFI's series of candidate interviews. I'm George Christopher. Our series invited all candidates for both the 22nd Congressional district and New York's 53rd State Senate district in the June primaries. Last week, the State Court of Appeals threw out both the Congressional and State Senate maps, meaning the maps will now have to be redrawn, and the primary is likely delayed. WRFI has decided to continue our series with all the candidates we previously invited. On the phone with us today is Mike Sigler, a Tompkins County legislator from the sixth district and now a Republican congressional candidate. Next Tuesday, we'll interview Leslie Danks Burke, an activist and Democratic candidate for State Senate. You can see our full interview schedule of all the candidates and listen to archived interviews at our website, wrfi.org. Mike Sigler, welcome to WRFI and thank you for joining us.
Mike Sigler 1:05
Thanks, George. How are you?
George C. 1:07
Good. Good. Thank you. Now we'll start off with a two minute opening statement. And then we'll move right into the issues. At the end, we'll leave time for a two minute closing statement. Mike Sigler, the microphone is yours for an opening statement.
Mike Sigler 1:18
Okay, well, two minutes. All right. Well, I want to thank everybody for listening. Obviously, I want to thank you all for paying attention to this election. You know, it's hard when something is is coming upon you and it's kind of a little bit far out to tune in. But but you folks, obviously are you're tuning into the show, and you're learning about the candidates, which is great, though the lines have clearly been redrawn, or they will be, they're being redrawn right now, May 20, I think is a big date for us all, so that we know what the congressional districts will look like with the Senate districts and, and even now, maybe the assembly districts, there's even some talk of the gubernatorial primary being pushed out. So it's obviously a complicating factor. But the issues are the same, right? At least when it came to this redrawing of the maps, the Democratic Party, the leadership decided to do something that was pretty much, on its face, unconstitutional. And that's how the judges found-- even judges who I didn't really expect to rule that way, said, "you went way too far, when it came to gerrymandering, these these districts and it goes against the state constitution." And that was put into the state constitution by voters. So it was the Democratic leadership that basically ignored the voters when it came to this redrawing of the lines. So now we're gonna have to redo all that. So all the time and energy that has been spent going forward so far, it hasn't been wasted. But this is certainly a complicating factor. But we look at that on other issues like inflation. For the longest time, the leadership was saying the Democratic leadership, "oh, that didn't exist." Then they said, "No, it exists, but it will only be temporary." Then they said, "No, it's It's not just temporary, it's gonna last a little bit longer. But it's not that bad." I think anybody that goes to the supermarket knows that it's that bad. I mean, I go to the BJs, I do the weekly shop. I don't even buy any meat there. I just buy vegetables and cheese, maybe $80, for the longest time. Now it's $120. That's a $40 increase. That's sizable. That's $2,000 a year. So it's not just a small bump in inflation--
George C. 3:26
I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you there. Well, you did mention the redistricting situation in in New York State. What do you think that Congress or the federal government should do in terms of redistricting? Because there's been a lot of concern about the legitimacy of the system, due to gerrymandering in different states.
Mike Sigler 3:46
I think New York, they actually did it right. Up until a point I think in the Constitution, we did it right. The point is that New York State said "we want to have an independent board that goes in and redraw these lines." And that was the problem. That's why these lines were unconstitutional. That's why the court came back and said, "You did not follow what the voters of New York state wanted." And time and again, we see the voters of New York State-- we all went to vote in 2021, about certain things that could happen New York State, like same day registration, and the voters rejected that out of hand. They said, "No, we're not doing that." And those were, again, resolutions that people thought, "Oh, these will pass." And yet the voters said no, even when it came to, "we're going to redo our Constitution." The voters came out and said, "No, we're not rewriting the entire constitution." But instead, we added things to it. So when you look at things like that, you need to just go with the voice of the people. And in this case, the Democratic leadership decided to go against that. And yeah, they were pushed back against. The court came back and said, "No, we're gonna listen to the people." So no, I don't think the federal government weigh in, I think the state-- it's our election, New York State can handle it. We don't need the federal government from Washington to come in and, and kind of push around what New York State is going to do. We can handle it.
George C. 5:10
Okay. Well, let's get more into the issues here. Now, there's something that's immediately on everyone's mind. Yesterday, political reporter, they handed him a draft of a court ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade, and Planned Parenthood V. Casey, two major court cases concerning abortion rights. Since then, some have called for the federal government to codify abortion rights into law. I want to know, what's your position on abortion? And how do you think the federal government should respond to these rulings?
Mike Sigler 5:38
Well, I mean, I've always been pro life, I'm still pro life. The states are gonna decide this. You live in New York State, right. So part of the reason this was in front of the Supreme Court, as it was, was the states were making laws, that other people challenged, Mississippi would be one of them. And they were trying to lower the number of weeks down to 15. In some cases, some-- even when Texas wanted to just move to 20, that created an outcry, and that was five months. And yet, that was a large story at the time. So states were trying to do this already. So has anything really changed that much? Well, not really. I mean, the states were already trying to do this. Now this is just gonna throw it back to the states. In New York State, it's already in the in the constitution. So the question really needs to be posed to people like your state assembly people and your state senators. I mean, they're the ones that are going to be forcing, you know, writing this law. In New York State, it's already written, but you get you get a different legislature in there at the state level. And they could turn that when it comes to the federal government. This is kind of what this does, is it the federal government is now going to push this back to the States. And we'll see where it goes from there. But codify it at the at the federal level, you'd need, presumably a constitutional amendment to do that. And I don't ever see you getting this out of even the even out of the Senate, not even because of the filibuster. You have Democratic senators who aren't going to go this direction, either--Manchin is pro life. So I don't even think you can get to the 50 votes to get it to get it passed, even without the filibuster.
George C. 7:18
Okay, well, you describe yourself as pro life. So I guess I would ask the question of, is there any context we think an abortion should be justified or should be allowed to go forward?
Mike Sigler 7:29
Well, I mean, it's always been pretty, pretty reasonable when people talk about this life of the mother is something that you would certainly look at and say, okay, rape for instance, is often brought up, it's such a small percentage of the abortions that are being done. That's almost-- it's not the heart of the argument, when we get to this, the heart of the argument is what's going on right now with the pushback of Roe v. Wade, and enforcing it back to the States. That's the heart of the argument. I mean, the other things that people want to talk about are kind of like dog whistles, when it comes to this, it's the heart of the issue is now is that the states are going to be making these decisions.
George C. 8:07
So is your position that it should be permitted for rape and incest? Even if, I mean, even if these are relatively small numbers, it's obviously very serious and traumatic cases. Should those abortions should still be allowed to go forth?
Mike Sigler 8:23
Well, I mean, those abortions are going to happen, presumably quickly, when it comes to rape, for example, I frankly think that if someone is raped, we should make it much easier for that person to go to the hospital, have a rape kit performed, and I would like to see those rapist prosecuted. What happens now is is not what happened, right? We have rape kits sitting on shelves right now that aren't being investigated, because we don't take it as seriously as we need to. Right? If somebody is raped, you need to go and address the actual crime. And that is a crime. And then we take care of it from there. I mean, this idea that we're gonna then talk about abortion, why are we not talking about the actual crime of rape, and prosecuting the people that did that? So that's the frustrating part when it comes to this debate. We talk about this other issue. Let's talk about the actual crime.
George C. 9:19
If you're just joining us, we are interviewing Mike Sigler, a Republican candidate for Congress in what was New York's 22nd Congressional district, now just generally the Southern Tier region. Now, I want to ask you a bit of a broader question. What would you consider your number one policy priority?
Mike Sigler 9:37
Well, the number one policy priority within the state right now is crime. I mean, the fact that crime has gone up across the state and we have people getting held up at gunpoint in parking lots of Destiny USA for goodness sakes. We have crime down in-- Listen, no one wants to live with crime. It doesn't matter what neighborhood in Syracuse you live in, or what neighborhood in Ithaca you live in. You don't want to see crime at your next door neighbor's house or on your street, you want your kids to be able to go out and play on the sidewalk in peace and safety. And that's what people are looking for. And that's the job of the government. That is where we're failing right now. I mean, anybody that looks at bail reform, for example, looking at it going, "Wait a minute." Put all the things to the side, and let's compartmentalize this, the fact that the state of New York strips the power from judges to actually make decisions, right? Judges in these cases are our frontline workers. You wouldn't say to an emergency medical technician, "you arrive on the scene, but you're not allowed to treat for this, this, or this" would be ridiculous. You'd say "that's crazy, you'd never do that." Well, same idea here, right? You shouldn't be telling judges "Listen, something is staring you in the face. And you can't make a decision. We're not going to allow you to make that decision." You would never say that to somebody. And yet. That's what the Democratic leadership in the state of New York said. They said, "No judges, we're going to tie your hands here." So that's when you get crimes like Connie Tory up in Syracuse. You know, here's a woman that lived through the Depression lived through the world, the Second World War, traveled the world. And yet, here she is, she's killed by a woman in her apartment, just a block away from where I used to live in Syracuse. She is killed in her apartment by a woman who had attacked a woman in that same building just eight days earlier, but was released on bail reform. And the judge said, "I'm sorry, my hands are tied. The DA up there said 'Listen, I want to $2,000 bail.'" And the judge said "no, I can't do it. You know, bail reform is tied my hands here." So everybody knew what was going on. Everybody wanted to do something and yet, Albany said, "No, we're not gonna let you do that."
George C. 11:44
All right. Well, now, this is something that you've talked thoroughly about about bail reform. And you said you want to tie federal funds to the repeal of bail reform laws, which bail reform was mainly being a state issue. Now, what funds would you want to withhold? And how do you think you would execute this policy from the federal level?
Mike Sigler 12:06
Well, I mean, that's what we have to work out at the federal level, right. That's why we have negotiations in the legislature is, how do we ask if there are funds that are going into, it was like the sanctuary cities law and Sanctuary county that we passed a while back, I didn't vote for that. And I thought that the federal government probably should restrict funds because of that. I mean, if we're not going to cooperate to enforce the laws of the country, if we're going to just turn a blind eye to folks that are breaking the law, whether it be federal or local, that's, that's not a country. We're a country of laws. And we have to follow those laws. So when we talk about federal funding, where can we restrict those funds? Is it with police funding? Is it with other funding? I would suggest it probably with other funding, because if you if you restrict police funding, then you're really just hurting the police. So I mean, yeah, we would we would be open to all avenues of how to repeal that bill, because, frankly, the bail reform law, people are dying because of it. And Albany needs to wake up to that. So that's just one of the issues. Right? We also have [unintelligible], it's inflation. It's I mean, there are a lot of issues on the table that really the federal government has dropped the ball on. We can talk about immigration for hours, too.
George C. 13:28
I want to ask you about because, again, this issue of withholding funds. Now last year, the federal budget brought about $4 million to the Ithaca/Tompkins area for infrastructure projects. Now New York State has a bail law recently been amended by Governor Hochul and the state legislature. But would policies like this potentially mean less money for New York State and the Ithaca Tompkins area?
Mike Sigler 13:52
Well, of course it would. But that's what the carrot and stick is right? What about the drinking age, right? When they when the federal government wanted to raise the drinking age, they didn't pass a law that says the drinking age in America is going to be 21 years old, they said, you know, "you're either gonna pass this drinking age that's 21 years old, or you're gonna lose highway funds." So this is not some big unusual thing that was created by Republicans to do this is something that Democrats have gotten across the board as well. This idea that withholding funds so that a certain policy position can be brought to bear. I'm not saying it's wise all the time. But when you have a legislature, like you have an Albany that just does not want to change course on something that is proven so disastrous, then yes, it is the job people do look to their congressman to step in and try to do what they can.
George C. 14:40
Well, then if that's your that's your goal here, how would you make sure that the issues of infrastructure--which is the most local issue there can be almost--how would you assure that these that the Ithaca Tompkins community will have those funds for roads and bridges and that sort of infrastructure?
Mike Sigler 15:00
Well right now the Tompkins County Legislature was awarded $19 million in COVID funds. And we're still sitting on what we had put aside 7 million of them to spend on the community and not a single-- you know, really hardly any of that has rolled out the door. So you can't explain to me that, "oh, this was direly needed money," because it's still sitting there. We haven't rolled that money out to any of the projects that we that we had. And [unintelligible] COVID, frankly, is, you know, we're about a year past when that money really needed to hit the bloodstream of our area. I mean, no, it hasn't happened. And it's proven incredibly difficult to roll this money out the Tompkins County door.
George C. 15:43
Okay, now, if you are elected to the House of Representatives, obviously the house has tons of committees concerned with different issues. What committee would you want to join so that you could best serve the district and the region?
Mike Sigler 15:59
I want to be on House Ways and Means like everybody else, and that's where the money decision making happens. But I'm really interested in a lot of different policy decisions I mean, certainly higher education, I would have to almost be on that. The district as it's drawn right now has more than 12 institutions of higher learning. You have Syracuse University, Cornell, Ithaca, as of right now you have Lemoyne college as well. I mean, they're saying, I don't know what the lines will include at the end. But it's pretty sure that it's still going to be a higher education district. So that's going to be critical. And working with Cornell is going to be critical for whoever the, I presume it's going to be me, you know, I'll have to work with Cornell very closely on some of those issues. But also on agriculture is huge for our I don't think people really recognize how big agriculture is for this district. I was up at [unintelligible] farms just the other day, I mean, they're shipping produce all over the eastern seaboard all the way out to, you know, the Mississippi River. So they have huge contracts with places like Walmart for produce. So agriculture, and that stems into all the immigration issues. So I mean, those are, those are four highlight areas that I just ran through that I would clearly-- it's not even a matter of, "Oh, these are things I want to do." These are things that our district needs to do.
George C. 17:30
Once again, if you're just joining us, we are speaking with Mike Sigler, a Tompkins County legislator and the Republican candidate for Congress. Your website talks about Medicare and Social Security, and you talk about them as being in danger of becoming insolvent, and you said specifically, that those issues won't be rectified without tough choices. What do you think those tough choices are?
Mike Sigler 17:54
Well, I mean, certainly-- listen, I never want to-- people always say the Republicans want to cut Medicare, they want to cut Social Security, and those aren't on my agenda lists. I mean, those are promises that we've made. And you can see that not just for me saying, you can see that in my votes for the Industrial Development Agency. I know those don't seem like they're connected, but when we make a promise to a developer, I don't go back on that promise. If the deal was struck, even before I got there, but the developer, for example, was working under certain assumptions, I can't pull those back. That would be, to me, that would even be an unethical thing to do. So it's same idea with social security, we've made certain promises, right? But there's no real-- I mean, listen, we keep borrowing against social security, we keep borrowing. It's almost like the piggy bank for, for Congress. And if we keep using it like that, then yes, it's going to be insolvent, you can't actually do it. You can't utilize it like a pension fund, it would be too big to actually manage like a pension fund. But we can't just say, "Oh, we have all this money over here. We're going to bring it into our general fund. And that's how we're going to spend it." So that's how I would address you know, when I say they're in danger, we put them in danger. And you can't have, you know, security is a promise that we've made to everybody and we pay into it, and it has to be there when people retire. Should we be looking at the age? Yeah, I think we should. A lot of people were very upset when George W. Bush, for example, suggested we privatize 5%. It wasn't even a privatization. It was something you could have opted into. And 5% of their security would have been put into a different kind of fund. And people said, "Oh, this is this is how we're going to privatize it" and I didn't look at it that way. You know, you've got a lot of people. My mother, for example, she worked her whole life, and she paid into Social Security, and she passed away at the age of 65. She collected I think she was able to retire early because of disability but she collected for two or three years. for two or three years whole lifetime went to work and she got paid on two or three years. And then that's a lot of people. And that's not right either, right? Something you've paid into your whole life, and you have nothing then to show, you know, maybe you're didn't come out of wealth, for example, your family now has nothing. And now they're in a harder hardship than they were before. Is that right? Is that how Social Security should work?
George C. 20:25
Well, clearly, you've expressed a lot of concern about its solvency and making sure it'll be present for, you know, people as they get older. But I guess the question is, how do you solve those problems? What how would you suggest making sure it is solvent?
Mike Sigler 20:38
Well, that's it. I think Congress has to stop borrowing against it. I mean, you have to-- it's a fiddling of the books. So let's see how insolvent it is first, but yes, I mean, do we look at raising the age, right? In some cases, maybe you do. I mean, but some people would say, "Oh, we're gonna just boost the number." You know, right now it caps out at, you know, around 120,000, right, we're gonna make a cap out at 200,000 or 250,000. People forget, you're gonna still, you've got to pay now on $250,000. So it actually doesn't bring in that much more money. That does not make it solvent. So whenever you hear somebody say that they're not telling you the truth. That's, you know, that's a blind alley, because you can't collect money from somebody making 250,000 and not pay out on that, you know, this is not what you do with Social Security. You get paid on a certain amount that you paid in over the years. So, you know, it's a nice way for certain Democrats to say, "Oh, see, I've got an answer. I've got an answer." No, they don't. They're literally, they're giving you a false narrative. So when I talk about how do we make it solvent, the big key is to just stop spending all the money that's in the Social Security fund. You can't put it in a lockbox like Al Gore suggested, but you could certainly run part of it more like a lockbox whereas you are running it more like a pension.
George C. 22:03
You so one of the things you kind of went by there was raising the eligibility age. Is that something that you would consider, the idea of raising the eligibility age of Social Security and Medicare?
Mike Sigler 22:13
Well I would certainly look to see, I would like to ask the question where people are on that. If the eligibility age right now is 65, for example, I don't plan to start collecting-- I would like to maximize-- we'll see how healthy I am at age 65. But, you know, I would like to hold off as long as I possibly can to maximize that. My father is 82. So I'm hoping to live a nice, long life. But yeah, I mean, if people are living longer-- but right now, they're not actually and that should be concerning to us, too, as Americans, right? We've kind of topped out at this point. For decades, upon decades, our lifespan has gone up and up and up, and now it's not anymore. So that should be something that would recalibrate our thinking when it comes to things like Social Security and Medicare.
George C. 23:05
Okay, well, going over back to sort of your background, you've been a legislator in the Tompkins County Legislature for, you know, a good number of years now. Now, how do you think that would help you serve as a representative?
Mike Sigler 23:21
Well, I think in part it, it helps you because you know what the issues are. And when we talk about things like Department of Social Services, and all these local-- I just talked to a group tonight, I said, you know, people always look at government as a hierarchy. Because, that's how it's built. You have President, then you have Congress, then you have your your state legislature, and it goes down that way. And I've never actually looked at Congress that way. I looked at it as a service job. So your congressman, the first person really that you deal with is kind of your town supervisor, or the mayor of your village, for example, your congressperson should be working for that person. And why is that? Because if your streets not plowed, you're not calling your Congressman. You're calling your your town supervisor. So when I go and I talk to a town supervisor, I say, "what are your big three issues?" Because usually there's about three, sometimes there's one, sometimes there's three. If you talk to villages, it's usually water, sewer, you know, that those are the big ones. Usually, it's usually infrastructure projects, frankly. A lot of broadband talk right now. And those are all funding issues for the federal government. And then, you know, then there's the outside issues, which are more foreign policy and things like that. But, you know, and immigration, that's that's a big issue. We've got fentanyl for example, pouring across the border. And why can I talk on that? Because as a county legislator, we see it up. It's up in our faces. We're dealing with it at our Department of Social Services and our parole in our jails. So go into Congress with that base of knowledge. That's important. It's important to have that that kind of global government base when you go to Congress.
George C. 24:57
You mentioned there about the main issues that you'll find with a lot of local governments, villages whatnot, stuff like sewers and whatnot. How do you reconcile that with the issue of cutting off federal funds with the issue of bail reform?
Mike Sigler 25:15
Well, listen, then why doesn't the state address bail reform? Why won't it stop? Why wouldn't give the power back to judges, I'm not stopping the money. The state government's stopping the money, the state government is ignoring a problem that's getting people killed. So don't blame the federal government for saying, listen, address the issue already? You can't keep saying to the state government just "hey, there are people dying in your state? Are you going to take care of this?" I would think that people would be angry, I would think that people in downtown Ithaca would be angry that there are shots being fired almost every night, right, that houses are getting popped with gunfire. Don't you think that's something that should be addressed? And if the state government decides that it doesn't want to, then why should the federal government be complicit in that? I don't think it should be. I would think that the federal government should take some action. And yes, if that means cutting off some funding, that's not the fault of the federal government. That's the fault of the state government.
George C. 26:16
Okay, well, we're unfortunately running low on time here, as is always the case. I want to give you some a couple minutes for a closing statement.
Mike Sigler 26:28
Well, clearly, the big issues facing us right now are inflation. I just drove by the Morabito and diesel gasoline was around $6. I heard at $6.50 at other places. That's going to affect the price on every single thing that is delivered to a store. If you went to go buy-- I was just talking to a farmer the other day. A tractor that used to go for $200,000 is now $400,000. That's an incredible amount of money even for a large farm to to absorb, and that you're gonna see that. You already are, you're seeing it in food prices, you're seeing it in gas prices, everything you buy, you see, and people are feeling it in their wallets. Like I said, a food bill that goes up $2,000 a year, that's your heating bill for the year. That's that's a down payment on a car. That's what you were gonna use to send your kids to their first semester of college. So it's having real impacts there. And then the crime, nobody wants to live where they can't walk outside of their house and feel safe. And that's why people are afraid to go to downtown Ithaca. I didn't ever think that that would be the case. Right? People are afraid to go into certain parts of Syracuse. Regretted, they may have always been afraid to go to certain parts of Syracuse, but certainly not the Destiny mall parking lot. So you're seeing these issues come up. And then you're also seeing that this lingering COVID, where, you know, our kids were wearing masks up until mid March, when all the evidence went to the contrary, that the schools were probably the safest place, that the kids were not completely safe from COVID, obviously, but that it impacted them much less. And yet, all the damage that was being done to our children. And frankly, we have still not addressed that, a lot of the mental health issues in this country. And a lot of the mental health issues, our children are born the brunt of that. And that's something going forward that we really need to address over the next 2, 3, 4, or 5 years. Those are those are gonna be lasting impacts. You know, the one thing too, I want to circle back a little bit back to public safety. One of the reasons I got into this race was because of how our local police officers were treated when people spray painted on the outside of the Ithaca police building. You know, they wrote "pigs" on the outside of the building. We treated our staff with such disrespect. You know, if that had happened to our city clerk, for example, the city council and the mayor would have been up in arms, they would have said this is not acceptable behavior. And yet, because it was police officers, people said, "Oh, well, you know, we're not going to come to their defense." And that was that was apparent to me. That was ridiculous. And if you were to say "What was one of the reasons you wanted to get into this race?" that would be one of the reasons. You know, we just didn't treat our people well during that period of time. I mean, I tried to-- and we had a congressman come to town, we had our state senator come to town, when this crime spree was was happening, and yet, I look to certain people in leadership positions, and they didn't step up for it.
George C. 29:23
Well, you've been listening to our interview with Tompkins, county legislator Mike Sigler. Mr. Sigler, thanks for joining us over the phone and discussing your campaign and positions on key issues.
Mike Sigler 29:34
All right, well, no problem George. Thank you very much for having me.
George C. 29:37
Thank you for being with us. Tune in for WRFI's entire series of candidate interviews. We'll be airing interviews with candidates for both the 22nd Congressional district and New York's 53rd State Senate district, whatever they wind up being. Next Tuesday at 6pm we'll interview State Senate candidate Leslie Danks Burke. You can see the full interview schedule and listen to the archived interviews at our website wrfi.org. Producer for today was Felix Teitelbaum. For WRFI community radio news, this is George Christopher.