U.S. Congressman-elect Chris Collins of the 27th District
Former Erie County executive seeks GOP nod for Congress
Chris Collins, Republican candidate for New York’s 27th Congressional District seat, was recently interviewed by The County News during a visit to Geneseo.
Collins has lived in the 27th district for 36 years: 18 years in the eastern part of Amherst and most recently 18 years in Clarence. He is the second oldest of seven children, born in Schenectady in 1950, where his father was a manager for General Electric. Growing up, Collins lived in New York City, Glens Falls, North Carolina, and New Hampshire, all locations of GE plants where his father worked. When Collins was a freshman in college, his father accepted the position of president of General Railway Signal Co. in Rochester.
With a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State, Collins landed a job with Westinghouse in Birmingham, Ala. He marketed Westinghouse products throughout the south while at the same time attending night school and earning an MBA in finance from the University of Alabama.
In a career which had thus far involved marketing, Collins was directed by Westinghouse to a manufacturing plant, selecting Buffalo over Pittsburgh because of the proximity to his parents’ Rochester home. Two years later he turned down a promotion in Atlanta, Ga. because of his fondness for Buffalo.
“I like Buffalo, I like being near to my family, and I like the factory environment,” he relates. “I wanted to progress within the manufacturing world, not the sales world.”
At age 29 in 1979 Collins was holding a general manager position at the Westinghouse Industrial Gear Division in Buffalo. When the two million square foot plant was closed in 1982, Collins had the opportunity to leave Westinghouse and lead the gear division as an independent enterprise.
“I did a leverage buyout before the term was even coined,” he relates. “I maxed out my credit. The day the company started we had no money in the bank.”
The gear division was relocated into the former Bell Areospace Plant in Wheatfield in Niagara County, where it remains in business to this day. Collins sold his interest in 1997, staying on as president, while moving a second company, Delroyd Worm Gear, into the former Bell complex.
With Bill Paxon’s urging, Collins ran for congress in the ‘98 campaign against John LaFalce. Although LaFalce emerged as the winner, Collins ran a highly competitive campaign, winning in Orleans County, most of Niagara County and a portion of Erie County.
Collins spent the next decade as a serial entrepreneur, buying out and resuscitating 22 bankrupt or financially distressed companies, all but two of which are in western New York. These currently employ about 500 workers and have been combined into platform units based upon woodworking, machining, biotechnology, automotive/automation and electrical distribution.
“By combining companies, even though there are now fewer customers, we’ve been able to maintain a healthy volume of business,” Collins explained.
“Every company I have become involved in is still alive,” he notes.
In 2007 Collins was elected as Erie County executive. He was not re-elected in 2011, although winning the towns outside the City of Buffalo.
In our interview, Collins discussed his philosophy of politics and his vision for a revived United States of America.
Fixing a county
“My abilities are in cutting through the weeds and smoke and trying to fix things.”
“When I ran for executive, Erie County was bankrupt. I brought business efficiency into government. We cut the size of government by 22 percent, created a cash surplus, reduced the debt by $120 million, reopened recreational facilities and started paying cash for capital projects.”
“In three years I transformed the county in the worst financial shape in the state into the county in the best financial shape.”
“True, we didn’t fund ‘Shakespeare in the Park.’ We just couldn’t fund everything.”
“I cut the day care subsidy eligibility from 200 percent of poverty level income to 175 percent, eliminating the county share. We were one of only two counties at 200 percent. We tracked what happened. No one went on welfare. They found alternatives. We demonstrated accountability and became consistent with the rest of the state.”
“I kept the WIC program, but transferred it from county government to Catholic Charities, which did a better job. When union employees lost their jobs, the newspaper said I had ‘eliminated the program.’”
“In fact I had improved the service and reduced the cost.”
“The unions are hard working folks who were underpaid but over-benefitted. From for the taxpayer standpoint, there can be a trade-off. We gave them a nice raise but downgraded benefits in line with the public sector.”
“When I ran for reelection, government reform was no longer on the list of concerns. You could say they hired a Republican to fix things, then a Democrat to run them — but with that said, all the towns in Erie County still wanted me back. It was the City of Buffalo — one third of Erie County — that overwhelmingly nine-to-one voted for my opponent.”
“Outside the City of Buffalo, I still got 63 percent of the vote.”
Fixing a nation
“I’m running for Congress to help restore the promise of our American Dream for our children and grandchildren.”
“The country today is at the same tipping point Erie County was four years ago. We can’t take on more debt. We’re the fourth most indebted nation in the world, after Japan, Italy and Greece. We need to get our spending under control, grow our gross domestic product, and get more jobs.”
“I know a lot about creating jobs, about how you can unleash the spirit of entrepreneurship — and how government gets in the way of that. I know about bringing efficiency to government.”
“My objectives are more jobs in America, less spending in Washington, balancing the budget in ten years.”
“I would suggest we need a bipartisan solution, but right now we have a president in Washington who has divided this country: Haves and have-nots; 99 percenters and 1 percenters, Democrats and Republicans.”
“My hope is, when President Romney takes office, as a majority member of the Republican congress, I can be a part in changing the tone of Washington, from divide and conquer to bipartisan debate; getting people to agree we can’t keep spending or the price to pay will be hyperinflation and devaluation of the dollar.”
“We need a president who holds China accountable for floating their currency, respecting intellectual property, and opening their own markets. We want free and fair trade.”
“And if they don’t do these things, they need to pay a price in tariffs.”
“Besides budget balancing in the next ten years, we need energy independence: open up the Keystone Pipeline, more drilling on Federal lands and in Marcellus shale, open up offshore leases. We should be looking at nuclear power. We should understand that it is safe. Let’s get that $500 billion we spend each year back here.”
“We have fuel efficient cars and technology that allows us to get to oil and gas we couldn’t get to before.”
“We truly could be energy independent in ten years.”
“I’m about more jobs in America and less spending in Washington. That is my agenda.”
“I don’t have a social agenda. I do have my beliefs — but the county is at a tipping point. It’s not a social tipping point, but a financial tipping point. That is where we’ve got to spend our energy.”
“I have six core values which I will go back to again and again: Smaller government; Personal accountability; Local decision making; Fiscal discipline; Serving taxpayers, and Respecting future generations.”
“You start with a vision. In Erie County that vision was ‘a world-class community where people want to live and want to visit.’”
“A vision like that brings a smile to your face. Everyone, right wing and left wing, would agree. It’s not just spending or just cutting spending. Rather, it’s seeking out the vision.”
“Then the heavy lifting starts. An agenda emerges. In Erie it was good parks, good roads and bridges, reduced tax burden, rebuilding the convention center and parks.”
“Our vision for the United States will be that this nation will reclaim its past glory as ‘The Land of Opportunity’, providing a bright future for our children and grandchildren. It’s simple. It’s direct — and who could disagree?”
“Deficit spending has no part in that vision.”
“How do we get to no deficit spending?”
“The left will call for increasing taxes; the right for reducing taxes and spurring economic development. You will have a debate and never get full agreement.”
“That’s when you go to data: You discover there is a maximum rate of taxation, and after that economic activity falls off.”
“We have the highest corporate tax rate in the world, and wonder why GE and others are taking jobs off-shore.”
“And we allow China to cheat, then wonder why jobs are going there.”
“Buffalo was once the eighth wealthiest city on the world. Now it’s the third poorest.”
“Once we have the vision we can have the debate: nuclear energy versus safety concerns; Marcellus shale versus environmental concerns, more offshore drilling — safely.”
“We will show the data that with new technology and finding offshore oil, energy independence can be a reality.”
“The United States is very good at mobilizing if it has a vision — even if, as with the moon landing, the vision is audacious. A balanced budget and energy independence are realizable visions.”
“Fiscal discipline is the key. We have to stop subsidizing things that don’t work; subsidizing technology that’s not ready to be commercialized. If cars can run on electricity and natural gas, wind turbines and solar panels are cost effective, that’s fine, but I don’t believe government should be subsidizing them.”
“The cupboards are bare. We don’t have this money. Let the private sector continue to develop the technology until it’s ready to be commercialized.”
Support for agriculture
“The new 27th district is philosophically conservative. It’s independent, hard-working Americans. I know about the agricultural work ethic. They get up early every morning to live the American Dream.”
“Farmers will find me very supportive and available.”
“Subsidies exist in the agricultural world, and I will continue to support them for the obvious reasons of consistent food supply.”
“I am opposed to estate tax which causes a family to lose the family farm.”
“I will favor all legislation meant to make sure are farmers get access to the laborers they need in the summertime.”
“We need to get the EPA off farmers’ backs.”
“We have robbed our children and grandchildren of the American Dream. Right now they are worried they are not going to own a home. They are graduating with college debt and can’t get a job. It’s the first generation that may not have a better life than their parents.”
“That’s tragic and that’s what we have to reverse.”
“I’ve always been an optimistic person. You don’t buy bankrupt companies if you are not.”
“I hear, ‘Bring us some factory jobs’ all the time. It is government’s job — not to create the jobs — but to create the environment in which the private sector creates the jobs. Our economy has been flatlined for the past three years because businesses have no confidence in where this president is going to take the country. They see only unlimited deficits of $4 billion a day, hyper-inflation and devaluation of our currency.”
“Businesses are not about to invest in new infrastructure until they know the world and nation are going in the right direction.”
“We need to get confidence back into this county; sell work ethic, resources and transportation to encourage corporations to come here.”
“I’ll use whatever podium I have to talk optimistically about vision, values and results.”
“People will rally around that.”
“I’ve got the energy and the background to do it, and I’m not afraid of being the contrarian in the room, standing my ground.”
The County News raised the point that Collins and Kathy Hochul, Erie county officials of different political parties who were elected and served together, appear to “belong” to the Buffalo regional area, as opposed to our own Rochester regional area.
“I’ve lived in Erie County for 36 years, but I am not just a Buffalo-area person. My family has been in Rochester for 43 years. My 85 year old mother, four of my five sisters and 13 nieces and nephews are there — and I own a business in the Rochester-area market.”
“But I intend earn that sense of belonging here the old fashion way — through hard work. I will meet with you, walk your streets, go to your events, show in every way that I am here.”
“The district is 5,200 square miles — and I’m filling my gas tank three times a week.”