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Interview with Zephyr Teachout

by Stephen Kaye
Fri May 6th, 2016

Zephyr Teachout photo by Carola Lott

We met at the Four Brothers in Amenia.  Zephyr Teachout lives in Dover but will vote in Amenia.  She said she was still teaching property and “corruption” in government at Fordham Law School, but only twice a week and at night.  She also teaches a course in monopoly and small business

She spoke of how she lived in Vermont and gained familiarity with chickens and sheep. 

TMI: Could you say something about how you would deal with gridlock as a new and probably minority member?

ZT:  I have a long history of dealing with Republicans on issues where we share a common interest.  I worked with Heritage and Cato people on the Sunlight Fund that created a database for those who do business with government.   Being gracious helps. 

If you identify areas where we have a common interest, I think we can work together.  For instance, a new rural electrification program for the 21st century like the one FDR did in the 1930’s should be of interest to Republicans from rural areas.  The goal would be to bring broadband to rural, underserved areas to help with jobs and communications.

Another problem weighing on the gridlock issue is that members of Congress spend between 30 and 70 percent of their time fundraising, so they don’t have the time to get to know their colleagues from across the aisle.  I am getting most of my funds from small donors via the internet, some 30,000 of them, freeing up my time to make those connections.  Public financing is the only way to break gridlock because that will eliminate the need to spend time fundraising.

I see eighty percent of my time being devoted to community service, serving my constituents.  

On foreign policy I want to focus on trade and on the trade relations with China.  Our trade policy has been distorted by lobbyists for big interests.  I teach this subject…we are too dependent on one source. I oppose TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) and  NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).  

Too much power has been shifted to the private sector.  We need to hold an honest debate on foreign policy.   

We need a 21st century framework; we are loosing jobs. I want to see local manufacturing and farming providing better jobs for our work force.  One in five should be making something.

On Milk Prices

TMI: Do you have any answer to low milk prices that have forced so many farmers in our area to give up farming? 

Farmers are at the mercy of distributors. Except for small farmers (who can sell direct), and the very big ones, dairy farmers have no control over the prices they get for their products.  In 1966 farmers got 40 percent of the retail price; today it is 16 percent.  The rest go to middlemen and distributors. This is a hidden issue.  I call it the chikenization of farming… other farms are following the pattern of the chicken farmers where a label like Pilgrims of Tyson dictates the hatchlings, the feed, the days on feed and the price.  The farmer bears the risk of loss.  I support organizations and legislation that will reduce the centralization of farming and the trend to bigger entities in the food business, particularly by amalgamation. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has to become more active in this area.

The role of the federal government in education

I agree that the federal government has overstepped badly in this area.  Decisions were made by a few men working behind the scenes, particularly Bill Gates who is no expert on education policy.  No child left behind and common core are not working.  As a farmer once told me, “You can’t fatten a hog by weighing him.”

I am for a classic approach to education.  I support the opt-out movement.  Testing and common core is demoralizing for teachers. But I think New York teachers and parents are changing policy.  They are being heard.  They are leading the country on the opt out movement and on the fracking ban.  This is a sign that good grassroots efforts will produce changes. There is an “incredible spirit – alive and well – at the grassroots.”

Balancing the Budget

The effort should be directed to the corporations that don’t pay taxes, that underpay taxes.  The carried interest is an example of how lobbying pressures preserve small favors for narrow interests. Congress can change this. The SEC and the FTC have more powers than they are using. We learned in the near collapse of the banks that there are companies too big to prosecute.  The FTC should be more active on mergers like the Time-Warner merger and the Charter mergers. 

Global Warming

Teachout receives a phone call telling her she is needed elsewhere.  We nevertheless address global warming. 

We are seeing it in flooding.  Flooding is more widespread, hurts farmers. We have to double down on our infrastructure spending; in energy management. Renewable energy can provide good jobs. We have to end our dependence on fossil fuels.  We should set a goal of 100 percent of our energy from renewables.  We have to recognize that methane contributes to global warming – fracking results in methane leaking into the atmosphere.  We should halt fracking.  Our ground is suitable for heat pumps.  We should be talking about small-scale hydro power.   New York is moving in the right direction.  Renewables should be a priority expressed by the federal government and taken up by the states. 

TMI: Do you have a comment on the refugee situation that Europe is facing?  

ZT:  I believe that we should learn from history, from our disastrous interventions in Iraq and Libya that imposed long-term costs, one of which was the refugee problem.