Who is Dede Scozzafava?
If you believe Rush Limbaugh, she’s a “liberal woman.” Columnist Michelle Malkin called her a “radical leftist.” There’s “nothing Republican” about her, according to the New York Post editorial board.
Scozzafava was the Republican candidate for Congress in New York’s 23d District. Under fire from the right, which was backing Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, Scozzafava quit the race just days before the election. She endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, who won last week.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a prospective GOP presidential candidate, outlined some of the right’s issues with the state legislator. Scozzafava, he told me, “supports card check. She voted to raise taxes in New York. She supported the stimulus bill. She supported bank bailouts. She supported a number of other, kind of, budget-busting proposals. The New York Post called her a profligate taxer-and-spender.”
On Thursday, I asked Scozzafava if she recognized the candidate that Limbaugh, Malkin, Pawlenty and others had maligned.
“Absolutely not,” she answered. “I know who I am. I’m not sure where they received a lot of the misinformation that they have on me. But I voted with my Republican leader 95 percent of the time in the State Assembly. I think that’s a pretty good percentage.”
The woman I spoke with at length Thursday afternoon sounded nothing like the granola-munching, tax-and-spend liberal I heard so much about these last few weeks. A supporter of John McCain in 2008, Scozzafava is the head of her party’s policy review committee and a floor leader in the State Assembly. She had a succinct answer when I asked her to classify herself: “I’m a Republican.”
“This is my party, too,” she insisted. “There are a lot of moderate people — Republicans, like me — and I’m hearing from an awful lot of them. And I think the Republican Party needs to know if they don’t have room for us and they don’t want us working with them, we’re going to find a way to work against them.”
She acknowledged that many in the GOP would differ with her support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage. But she maintained that she approached those views from a conservative vantage point — a respect for individual liberties.
Her gun-rights bona fides, meanwhile, are beyond reproach. She received an A rating from the National Rifle Association in each election since 2002 (A-plus in 2000) and supported the New York Gun Owners of America in 100 percent of the relevant votes in 2002.
Between 2000 and 2008, she adopted the perspective of the New York National Federation of Independent Businesses 68 percent of the time. (Her most recent rating was 75 percent.)
She also riled the federation by declaring her support for the Employee Free Choice Act, anathema to fiscal conservatives and business leaders. Her state’s largest union, the New York State United Teachers, endorsed her, as did several others, including the local United Auto Workers.
As for the ACORN connection that many alleged, Scozzafava told me she not only had “nothing to do with ACORN” but she also was sponsoring legislation to strip the organization of its funding.
One Democratic ad said she “voted for more taxes and fees for you 190 times.” Scozzafava told me those were local sales-tax extensions requested by counties — meaning they weren’t tax increases at all. (The local paper of record, the Watertown Daily Times, confirmed that.)
She described herself as pro-Israel and pro-defense spending. Diplomacy, she told me, is only effective if bolstered by a strong defense budget. Iran? “It’s hard to put a peace branch out when you’re dealing with a regime like that,” she said.
In short, Scozzafava is more of a mixed bag than a liberal.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough for conservatives and tea-party Republicans. They latched onto Hoffman, whom the Daily Times said was “running as an ideologue.”
And to what end? On Friday, Owens became the first Democrat to represent the district in decades.
On Thursday, I asked former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had called Scozzafava’s nomination a “train wreck,” whether the GOP was better off with Owens headed to Washington. “No, not at all,” he said. “The danger of pushing third-party candidates is that you end up with a Democrat rather than a less-than-desirable Republican.” He would rather have seen Hoffman nominated from the start.
The reality is that Scozzafava won the GOP nomination after four hearings that were open to the district’s 11 county chairs, committee members and elected officials. Hundreds had the chance to judge eight prospective candidates, Scozzafava said.
But rather than listen to those local leaders, who thought a mixed-bag state legislator best reflected the sprawling Northeastern district, many on the right backed a third-party ideologue better suited for a House race in Alabama. They would rather lose than support an ideologically impure fellow Republican.
“If people took the time to really know who I was, they would have a Republican member of Congress today,” Scozzafava told me.
I agree. Unfortunately, the Limbaugh-Malkin-Hoffman ticket didn’t, and a reliably Republican district was handed over to the real liberals.