Republican New York State Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava was considered a shoo-in to win the special election for the United States House seat in upstate New York this week—until conservative activists from outside the district attacked her for being too moderate and drove her from the race. After Scozzafava dropped out, the Democratic candidate ended up beating the third-party conservative challenger, and the district went blue for the first time in over 100 years. Michael Smerconish talked with Scozzafava about the ideological purification campaign against her—and the future of the Republican Party.
Click Below for Pt. 1 of Michael Smerconish's Interview with Dede Scozzafava
Do you recognize yourself? And by that I mean, given all the national attention and the things that have been said about you by pundits, do you recognize the Dede Scozzafava that they’ve been discussing?
Absolutely not. 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 [in the State Assembly] 95 percent of the time. I think that’s a pretty good percentage.
Over what time period?
This past year. I mean if you go back over 11 years, I still think my percentages have to be in the 90-95 percent ranges. I do the policy. I’ve been the head of the peer policy-review committee for the last four years for our Republican conference. We vet all issues through that. I’m the floor leader on the State Assembly and I lead debate for Republican positions. This whole thing became much more of a smoke-and mirrors-type race.
Click Below for Pt. 2 of Michael Smerconish's Interview with Dede Scozzafava
How do you characterize yourself? We live in such a label-induced society— oh that person’s a liberal and this is a conservative. If I was to say to Dede Scozzafava, so what are you? What applies, if anything?
I’m a Republican.
Defined as what?
• Benjy Sarlin: The Plot to Purge GOP Moderates When I look at the Republican Party of Lincoln and I look back at eight principles of being a Republican, I think I pretty much identify with each one of those principles. Whether it’s less government dependency, promoting self-sufficiency, believing in lower taxes, believing in fewer government regulations, believing in less government spending, or believing in individual liberty, individual freedom, and less government interference in the lives of people. Those are all positions that I’ve always held to, I’ve always articulated on behalf of, and those are the things I stand for. And I think those are Republican principles.
I went through an editorial board during this most recent race. And at the end, the gentleman, the lead editor just looked across the table at me and he said, “A moderate Republican? You’re a conservative Republican.” The social issues sometimes people might not agree with, but I really think I govern according to the Constitution and I live my personal life according to my faith, and I try very hard not to mix up the two.
Rush Limbaugh deemed you a "liberal woman." Michelle Malkin said you’re a "radical leftist." The New York Post: There’s "nothing Republican" about her, they scolded.
But they don’t know me. They haven’t taken the time to even accurately reflect on my record. I’ve been a state Republican committeewoman. I’ve been a Republican my entire political career. There were things out there in the press--I’m affiliated with ACORN. I have nothing to do with ACORN—
Yeah, what were the facts on that?
I have absolutely—I have no idea. I’m a cosponsor of legislation to block funding for ACORN.
I hope so. ... Assemblywoman, if I may ask, in the ’08 cycle: Were you supportive of the Republican ticket, the McCain ticket?
You didn’t go— I get the impression from reading and listening that you’d be out there thumping your chest for Barack Obama.
No, I was McCain. I would have been a “no” on cap-and-trade. When the governor of this state tried to have license plates for illegal immigrants, I rallied against that. Several pieces of legislation that are currently in our House, that have been in the past, dealing with increasing penalties for crimes against children and women, those were bills that I sponsored and authored. With Second Amendment rights, I’ve always had a 100 percent record with the NRA. So, you know, my concern is some of the ideologues, that they don’t do the background, they don’t really know who I am, and then they’re just off to the races with inaccurate statements and facts.
“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.”
Is it your intention to stay in the Republican Party?
I have every intention of staying in the Republican Party. This is my party, too. There are a lot of moderate people—Republicans, like me—and I’m hearing from an awful lot from 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. I’d much prefer for us to be a bigger party and us all to work on the things that are most important, the fiscal issues, foreign policy. If you listen to my foreign-policy positions, you know I’m a Republican.
Give me an example.
Israel. I’m pro-Israel. I’m pro-defense spending. I think diplomacy is good, but diplomacy only works if it’s backed up by a strong defense. And making sure you have a strong defense budget. When I see what’s going on with Iran, it’s very, very scary. I don’t think that you can—it’s hard to put a peace branch out when you’re dealing with a regime like that. I think you have to be very, very firm with a lot of these countries. So if people took the time to know who I really was, I think they would have a Republican member in Congress today.
[What about social issues?]
Well, taking pro-choice, I think it’s up to each individual.
Because you regard it as a matter of individual liberty?
OK, and I take it from that that like me you thought that the federal government had no business getting involved in the Schiavo case?
Yeah, because that is a fundamentally conservative opinion, which is let people determine their own fate.
That’s right. And the second issue, on marriage equality, I still believe again that each person has certain unalienable rights, that it’s a civil-rights issue. I think it’s important to have the separation of church and state, that church should not have to adopt anything they don’t believe in. So I also have very much over my career pushed for freedom of religion as well. But they aren’t talking about those cases that I was involved in. This comes down to a couple of issues, and then they twisted and spun a lot of other things around it.
Well, I hope you stay and fight. I would really be frustrated if Dede Scozzafava were to abandon the GOP because I think we’re still out there.
Yeah, I think we are, too. I’m hearing from so many people that just say we need to have our collective voices heard. And you know I’d love to talk to some of the people on the extreme side of the spectrum and just say, listen, let’s find some common ground here and see how we can move this party forward, instead of the divisions that seem to be currently occurring.
Oh, actually, ma’am, there’s one other thing you need to clear up.
This characterization about how a smoke-filled room was responsible for your selection.
Oh, absolutely not.
What are the facts?
There were four regional hearings every committeeperson or any Republican elected official was invited to come and listen to. There were eight candidates. Anybody could run for this seat. I was the only elected official. I was the only woman. We went through four regional meetings. There were hundreds of people that had the opportunity to listen to all of the candidates, and then they could make the determinations with their individual county chairs as to whom they felt were the best candidates. And after that entire process, I did receive the nomination, and the gentleman that ran on the conservative line sent me an email saying he looked forward to supporting my candidacy. We were all asked in many of these meetings, would we support the eventual nominee? To which we all responded that we would. So it was not a smoke-filled back room ...
I guess I am a radical leftist. If you are a radical leftist, I am a radical leftist.
I think the entire Republican conference of the State Assembly, we’re liberal radical leftists. It was never heard, such mischaracterizations run rampant. But let’s hope that something good can come and more voices like ours can be heard.
This interview will also air on the Michael Smerconish Show, which is based in Philadelphia and can be heard in more than 50 cities across the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Atlanta.
Michael Smerconish is a nationally syndicated radio host. His latest book, Instinct: The Man Who Stopped the 20th Hijacker, was published in September.