SYRACUSE — Dana Balter's motivation to run for Congress in 2020 hasn't changed from her reasons for campaigning against Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko in 2018.
Balter, D-Syracuse, views the Trump administration as a threat to domestic policy — Medicare, Social Security and the Affordable Care Act, to name a few — and believes the president's actions have aggravated adversaries and distanced the U.S. from key allies.
More relevant to the 24th Congressional District, she feels Katko, R-Camillus, hasn't done enough to stand up to Trump.
"My representative in Congress isn't doing a damn thing about it," Balter said in an interview after launching her second congressional bid April 16.
Balter is one of three candidates — Francis Conole and Roger Misso are the others — seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Katko in the 24th district race next year.
As Conole and Misso build their campaigns, Balter already has the infrastructure in place from her 2018 run. She gave Katko his toughest challenge yet in three elections. Katko won re-election by five percentage points.
"People thought (Katko) was untouchable," she said. "We demonstrated pretty decisively that that's not true and that so many of the people who had, for years, believed everything that he told us about who he was and what he was going to do for us no longer believe him."
Balter continued, "They see him for what he really is and they are ready for a representative who is going to fight the good fight, who is going to stand up for the best interests of the people here rather than the entrenched powers in Washington."
At her launch party, which filled the Presidential Suite at The PressRoom Pub in Syracuse, Balter urged her supporters to "reignite the movement." She asserted that the campaign will "finish the job we started."
She isn't worried about a potential Democratic primary. She ran in a primary last year after Juanita Perez Williams, with the backing of national Democrats, collected signatures during the final full week of the petitioning process.
Balter won the primary by 25 percentage points.
A primary could be fun, Balter said, because it would give the candidates an opportunity to share their ideas and debate the issues.
"That kind of serious conversation is what voters deserve," she added. "So I'm looking forward to that and may the best woman win."
While she welcomes a primary election, her focus is the same as it was in 2018: Flipping the 24th Congressional District seat.
Balter's platform hasn't changed. She supports boosting renewable energy to combat climate change and create jobs in central New York. Some Democrats have endorsed the Green New Deal, which contains some of the ideas Balter discussed on the campaign trail in 2018.
Balter likes that the Green New Deal recognizes climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed. What she doesn't like about it is that it doesn't include specific policy proposals.
"It's meant to be an aspirational framework, and I can respect that," Balter said. "But what I'm interested in is finding solutions. I want to talk about what are the actual policy steps we can take to solve this problem."
Health care was one of Balter's top issues during the 2018 campaign and will be a priority again in 2020. She supports phasing in a Medicare-for-all system that would provide health insurance coverage to every American.
With a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act possibly headed to the Supreme Court, Balter believes Congress should act to preserve and build on the 2010 health care law.
Medicare for all, she explained, shouldn't be an "overnight solution." She supports other actions that would lead to such a system, including lowering the Medicare age of eligibility and creating a public option that would allow individuals to buy into Medicare on the health insurance exchanges.
"Let's talk about the journey to get to the point where everybody is covered in a stable system that is there regardless of what happens with your job, that covers the essential services, that guarantees you will always be able to get access to a doctor and to medication," she said. "It's really not that difficult. Lots of other countries around the world do it. We have lots of models to look at. We can pick the one we like best. But we've got a Medicare system that works. Let's just everybody in it."
Immigration is another issue Balter discussed a lot during the 2018 campaign that looms as a major issue heading into the 2020 elections. Trump continues to push for the construction of a border wall and an overall crackdown on immigration.
Balter supports comprehensive immigration reform that would bolster security at the southern border and provide permanent solutions for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. So far, though, a comprehensive solution has been elusive. There hasn't been bipartisan agreement on many immigration-related issues, especially during the Trump administration.
Absent any legislative solutions, Balter wants to address individual immigration issues. She acknowledged that there are more people seeking asylum, but the existing system can't handle the case load. She supports hiring more judges to process asylum cases and ensuring those who seek asylum have safe housing.
"That should be something that everybody can agree on," she said. "People are here and we need a process to manage that."
Since the November election, Balter remained active in central New York politics. She appeared at rallies and offered commentary on social media. In February, she launched a nonprofit organization, Enter the Public Square, to boost civic engagement in the Syracuse area. Now that's she's campaigning for Congress again, she plans to hire a staff to run the nonprofit.
She views the 2020 campaign as a continuation of her 2018 bid. She also highlighted the need for "moral courage" — a trait she believes is lacking in Washington.
"We need people who are going to do what's right, not what's easy," she said.