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Exclusive: Interview with congressional candidate Matt Funiciello

Matt Funiciello

2014 is an election year in New York, and is sitting down with some of the candidates in key races so that the voter will be able to make informed decisions. The next in this series is a phone interview with congressional candidate Matt Funiciello, the Green Party nominee for the 21st Congressional District in New York.

Funiciello was raised on a small subsistence farm near Wilton. He spent several years in Ottawa, Ontario before returning to start a bakery with his brother in 1988. He has owned and run the Rock Hills Bakehouse in South Glen Falls since 1992, and opened a cafe in Glen Falls in 2002. He is currently active in the peace movement, as well as in movements for a living wage, against corporate welfare, reductions in military spending and fair taxation.

We spoke with Funiciello regarding his run for United State Congress.

Why are you running for office?

I’m a small business owner and most small business people recognize that we are of the working class. It’s maddening that every single representative is a millionaire or better and doesn’t need to work for a living. We need representatives from the economic class most of us are from. Voters are beginning to see how corrupt our elections are with the purchasing of congressional seats. People are expected to run for mayor or dog catcher first, but single payer health care won’t pass at that level. Things that are keeping us from moving forward are mostly happening at the national level and we need to begin a new conversation at that .

What are your qualifications?

Strangely enough, I have never even run for office and I’m running against a democrat and a republican who have never run for office either. I’ve been extremely politically active for the last 15 years. I have spoken as a small business owner at the state senate on social issues, a livable wage, single-payer health care and IDA reform. I’ve been active with the state Green Party and served on our state committee for ten years. I also served on the Green Party’s national committee for four years. I’ve been involved in a lot of independent, Green and Libertarian campaigns, keeping myself abreast of the issues. On an organic level I have a pretty decent understanding of the issues and solutions, especially those that aren’t really being discussed in congress. We need some representatives with a point of view that is of the working class.

Third party candidates have a reputation for being spoilers for the two major parties. Do you agree with this assessment? Why do you think that you have a better chance than past third party candidates?

No, absolutely not. In fact, the reason I became politically active was the Greens running Ralph Nader in 2000. I have had separations with the Green Party due to a later lack of support for Nader. I think what the founding fathers wanted when they set up the republic was not two parties that accepted corporate money that’s virtually limitless. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln a hundred years apart had real wariness over corporate control of our “little experiment”. NAFTA, GATT, health care reform, these all show why. After the Clinton’s fake health care reform fiasco, Hillary became the single biggest recipient of donations from pharmaceutical and insurance companies. Without question, in this race, it is the democrat, is a weak and passionless millionaire who doesn't even live here, who may spoil the election for me. The republican is also a millionaire. A Washington insider with Karl Rove money and a rich family who also doesn’t live here. Democrats are outnumbered by republicans almost two to one in this district. So, you could argue that she’s trying to spoil for independents like myself. I have reached across many aisles and I’m known for my community support. People from all political spectrums are my friends, they respect me and will vote for me whether they agree with me about everything or not. The mathematical conclusion is that if the democrat stepped out I could win. I’ve asked him to drop out privately and publicly. He is not a strong advocate for anything. They won’t let you take your shackles off in the democrat party. I would be the first Green ever elected to Congress if the people here can rally around the idea that it is not in their best interests to ever vote for corporate candidates. Those who condemn the rest of us to live in futility and hopelessness by voting for one corporate lobbyist after another also tell us there’s no way to change it. Obviously, they could change it by just voting for legitimate candidates (ie: ones who aren’t feeding at the corporate trough).

There’s a perfect storm with voters right now. They’ve had enough as we saw with Eric Cantor’s defeat. Stranger things have happened. This race is an open seat, it’s a very working class district. The media coverage of my run has been fantastic, a lot more than the usual coverage of third party candidates. I assign the blame and the possibility to the actual voters, though. They are empowered here. I don’t feel like a spoiler at all, as I’m reaching out to republicans and democrats and every independent-minded voter in the district.

Same-sex marriage appears to be heading toward legalization in most states. If elected, how will you ensure that the LGBTQ community will gain equal rights?

I believe that it’s a civil rights issue, without any question whatsoever. People who are LGBTQ are Americans and should have equal rights. I see no reason to separate them into a different group. I’m all for same-sex marriage and, despite a minority of religious backlash, it seems a no-brainer.

I would have to say this is kind of like equal pay is treated in congress. They take it as if it’s a brave stance, to help women resolve the 23 percent gap in income for equal jobs. Aside from many holes in the reasoning, they are not always equal jobs. And we aren’t talking about maternity leave, FMLA, these are for those few rich enough to take three months off on a protracted unpaid vacation. Why aren’t we shooting for benefits other countries have (like six months of paid maternity leave)? I feel the same thing is true when we talk about “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Every human should have the right to be married, cowardly laws are not okay. There are going to be states who say it’s their right to ban same sex marriage and they have an arguable right but the rest of us can live in a civilized society where hate is not encoded in our laws. This is not my top priority, however, it’s number 11. It’s not as important as elevating the minimum wage and getting single payer health care. This is what matters most to the 70 percent of us, who are becoming the 90 percent of us.

What is your opinion on oil fracking?

I’m completely against fracking. I feel like it’s a futile endeavor, similar to bringing in the tar sands oil from Canada, which is what they are doing in northern New York. We continue to believe that fossil fuels are the way. Photovoltaics, used with enough volume, could supply two to three times the energy we currently use, and provide us with many living wage jobs.

There’s a really cool idea, now I don’t fully endorse it, it’s not fully formed, these solar roadways. There was a million dollar grant to the couple that developed it. You put them down in place of asphalt. They light up, they don’t need paint, they generate heat so there’s no snow plowing or ice. They have these neat chambers on the sides that can carry electricity and fiber optics. If we had these on just our major highways over the next ten or twenty years it could provide all the power we use as of today. Why then are we talking about fracking? It is because people like the Koch brothers are buying representatives and they want to extract every last drop of oil and natural gas that we can to profit a very small number of people already at the top. Why are we polluting our own air? We know not to stand over a campfire, why burn things to create energy when we can create it on a passive level?

Do you support an increase in alternative forms of energy, including green energy such as solar and wind?

There are elements of the my platform borrowed from Nader’s platform from the races he took part in. I think a WPA style public project for sustainable, renewable energy would be a good thing. I support socializing and making public our utilities. There’s a plant near here that makes paper, they generate energy and sell about 70 percent of it back to the grid. We lease a public power plant to them, and the corporation then sells us our own power back at a hideous profit. We are not a third world country, we have a standard of living that requires energy. We require energy just like we require water, healthcare, sunlight, food. There’s a debate on as to whether public utilities are better, but who’s on the other side of that debate? We need national, renewable, federal energy jobs. We could be building photovoltaics, hydro plants, windmills. With the technology we have we could stop fossil fuel use. That’s why I elected not to take big corporate money, and I will never do so. Maybe if there were ten of me out there we could impact the national conversation. If we can elect 50 of me around the country, we can start to drive some of that agenda too.

Do you support the legalization of marijuana?

Yes, Cannabis should be legal. It should be returned to its status as medicine. It should be sold over the counter where it has been legal and decriminalized and people should be allowed to grow it. People are unbelievably ignorant about hemp and cannabis. It could support small farms. Look at hemp and its possibilities. During our founding and right up until prohibition hemp was a food, an oil, a textile, paper, fuel, building material, clothing … it’s almost limitless. It was made illegal largely because of plastics (I know there’s about a 20 to 30 year gap between the advent of plastics and the stop of cannabis but it was because of people like JP Morgan and the Duponts, that the factory prison system began and they knew that plastic would sell better if there wasn’t an organic alternative that anyone can grow that would serve the same purpose. Now, 70 percent of the people in our prisons are there for nonviolent crimes, many involving simply the use of drugs. We spend around $65,000 per person per year to incarcerate. This makes me question our sanity as a nation.

Do you have any any lasting concerns about the regulation and safety of marijuana?

I would say no, I really don’t. I’m always concerned about legislation that grants freedoms we should or inherently do already have. I do abide by laws, even if I don’t agree with them. Ron Paul says that if you don’t agree with the law you change the law, that’s what principle is. There are people who break the Rockefeller Drug laws, living a criminal life in New York State because marijuana use is illegal here. I’m uncomfortable telling people that they can’t grow a useful plant. That’s just ridiculous. I intersect very clearly with libertarians on this, but they are much angrier than we Greens. Using on a regular basis hurts everyone’s ability to function on a rational level, I am a real believer in “everything in moderation”. People who are manic or bipolar, who’ve been assigned antidepressants or antipsychotics, they smoke pot and they’re fine. It’s useful as pain relief for those suffering with chronic illness. It’s suspected that Delta-9-THC (a cannabinoid) can be a cancer preventative although long term studies on humans have yet to be released. We’ve seen just an unbelievably bigoted attack on this plant. I have no reservation about making it completely legal. If a parent wants to disallow their children to use it, that’s their conversation, but we don’t need kids or their parents in jail over this.

What is your opinion on gun rights vs gun control?

My position is not complicated. I grew up on a subsistence farm, I was a hunter. I hunted and fished, eating meat and game. While I no longer hunt or own guns, I understand that we live in a gun culture and am 100 percent in favor of guns for that purpose, especially with what the government is doing to corporatize and commodify our food supply. Additionally, about three years ago in our sleepy little town, we had a SWAT team and an armed military drone, like those used in house searches in Afghanistan and Iraq, break down a door because the a guy was asleep drunk on his couch and didn’t answer his door when authorities came calling. We have no-knock raids, the Patriot Act, the NSA, government overreach when it comes to food. I sympathize with those who want guns to protect themselves and their loved ones from any attack, including government forces. I’m for peaceful revolution where we get rid of our corporate representatives by voting them out. But time and again we have seen that this government is violent and above the law and that’s got to change. I think government being scared of us is not a bad thing and perhaps gun ownership is one of the ways to attain that balance. My personal utopian vision would have no guns and no meat, though.

What action, if any, would you take with regard to the Affordable Care Act?

I would leave it as is and render it irrelevant. HR 676 (The Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act) is single-payer health care. Single-payer exists everywhere else in the world and it’s considerably cheaper and with much better results. If we elect enough congresspeople to talk to the media and to the people we would get more sponsors on board. I spent my school years in Canada and their health care is free and amazing. I have friends and family who live there who will complain until I tell them how terrible things are here. I tell them that I have no coverage and my workers don’t either, we simply can’t afford it. I work 50-60 hours a week and we have two incomes, four children and a kid in college. Private health insurance costs about $12,000 a year to cover that family. The ACA has done nothing to help bring costs down and simply forces me to buy private insurance or pay a penalty. Health care costs are out of control, we need single payer. The New York Times ignores and pretends single-payer doesn’t exist, Fox News tells you it’s socialism and that we need to beware of the death lists. Both are corporate propaganda.

Do you support school choice in the form of vouchers?

I don’t believe public money should be used to fund private education. I’m on board with public schools. We simply need to better regulate the spending of federal money by our public schools. When I talk to teachers who are not union, they say that they have far more freedom in charter schools than in the public schools. The Common Core, that we need some kind of federal oversight, and that the same is true at the state level, is even more of a problem. I’m not about not having enough funding, it’s simply not being distributed evenly. It should be done at the county and municipal level, not being meddled with by the federal government.

Do you support an increase in the minimum wage?

Yes, to $15 an hour. I am a small business owner, I pay people more than they would be making in the food business locally. I pay my waitstaff the state minimum wage of $8 an hour plus their tips, and production staff are making between $12 and $20 and hour. Most local food and retail jobs pay between $8 and $15, so this practice has almost bankrupted me, but I’ve been doing it for 26 years. I support my workers but we've also got to pay for Walmart workers’ Medicaid, subsidized housing, subsidizing the Walmart build (roads, parking lots, PILOT programs, tax abatements, sales tax relief, IDA grants and loans - all of the “normal” corporate subsidies). All of these “boosts”, workers are paying for and if we are able to pay $14-$15 for what is normally a $10 job in this economy without bankrupting myself, just imagine how much better GE, Walmart, McDonald’s and all of these “for-profit” companies that live off our collective backs, could do if we demanded it of them. If you give a worker $15 an hour they will spend it immediately. Many people look at an increase as a drain on farmers and small business owners, but pair it with an end to corporate welfare, or any form of welfare and we can elevate our economy and change the lifestyle of the working class. Most prevailing wage studies show that major increases only impact our cost of living by 2-5 percent. If we doubled the minimum wage and only had to increase bread prices by five percent it would be an amazing coup.

How would you handle the current immigration crisis?

If I was allowed to do so as a congressional representative I would simply open all of the borders. We’re all humans. The intermediary step is simple, we have migrant labor coming in because we need workers and we are unwilling to do the farm jobs and dishwashing and sweatshop work we’ve attached to them. We’re letting them in illegally and then pretending that we’re policing their activities and sending them back. It’s already been proven that this is only being done in collusion with the corporate authorities as political theater. What we need to do is get work visas to the workers who want them. We should police the corporations who hire “illegals”, we should put the money we’re spending into regulatory agencies not border patrols. We need to make sure “legal” foreign workers are getting the right amount of pay at either the state or federal level, depending on which rules apply. We need to treat all workers as Americans, whether they’re here for six months, a year, or three years and we need to give them temporary residence rights here. The other end of the stick is that there are people seeking refugee status and they need it. Just because they’re coming through the borders of Mexico or Canada doesn’t mean they didn’t come from somewhere else. I’m concerned with what we are talking about doing with these children who have literally, gone through hell to get here. Their parents had to let them go, physically and emotionally. They sent them with coyotes and the places they’re coming from have trauma, warfare, violence. Turning them around is so un-American, so … there are “bad words” I would like to use, but let’s settle for that it’s just inhumane. We have allowed NAFTA and GATT, we have allowed corporations to literally kill farmers in places like Guatemala and Nicaragua. They work and live in corporate gulags making $5 a day. We have polluted their rivers and shut out their sunshine, we sell them weapons and fund secret wars in their backyards. The ones who have actually thought about it send their kids here. We’ve destroyed their economy and their culture, are we really surprised then that they want to send their children to live here and get jobs? We need to work on returning their countries to some sense of normalcy. Instead of worrying about whether massive corporations thrive, we can worry about how we can all thrive together.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

I’m also really passionate about reducing military spending, which of course ties into corporate welfare. We’re using our military as economic development. In my district we had two major bases, and the federal government passed regulations in 1990 to begin drawdowns.One, air force base in Plattsburgh was a huge economic generator. It is now closed. Another is in the city of Watertown. There is no one running saying they are “against the base”, but when the government decides its going to lay off pilots or soldiers, it simply does it. They just threatened to get rid of 8,000 employees (soldiers and civilians, both). What are these people going to do? They’re workers, too. We need to make sure they get jobs with a living wage and single-payer health care. We need a WPA program that works in conjunction with our collective need for public utilities and sustainable energy. We need to get the 1.9 million who are incarcerated out of prison and working. We need to train more nurses and doctors. We can get 100 million Americans back into the system with single- payer health care, and if we stop giving money to Lockheed Martin and GE and Boeing, we can stop spending 2.8 billion on Stealth bombers we don’t even use. How much are we paying our soldiers? If we’re going to be a dying empire and insist on controlling that empire, we could do it far more cheaply by cutting war profiteering and excess out of the defense budget entirely and still pay our soldiers twice what we pay them now.

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