Having just wrapped up his first year in office, Whitestone, Bayside, Douglaston and Little Neck‘s representative on Capitol Hill reflected on the state of affairs in Washington.
“I love my job. I’m very grateful to have this position,” Congressman Tom Suozzi said in a conversation with QNS reporters on Jan. 26.
The freshman Congressman serves as vice chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, co-chair of the bipartisan Quiet Skies Caucus and Long Island Sound Caucus and a member of the House Committee on Armed Services. He was elected to the seat in November 2016 after former Congressman Steve Israel announced his retirement.
“Washington is really very dysfunctional,” Suozzi said. “I guess I knew that, we all know that from reading the newspapers and watching TV; but now that I’m there, I really see this real dysfunction in the way it operates.”
The dysfunction does not come from a lack of talent in Washington, according to Suozzi, but rather stems from what he called “systemic problems.”
Gerrymandering, “the main, fundamental problem in our country right now,” is the top culprit, Suozzi said.
Gerrymandering — drawing boundaries of electoral districts in a particular way that gives one political party a numerical advantage over the other — has recently re-emerged in the national conversation. Suozzi was one of 36 current and former members of Congress to sign an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to declare partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional.
“If the Supreme Court — and it really is gonna be up to Justice [Anthony] Kennedy — declares partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional, it will change the face of America in the most positive way in the past 30 years,” he said.
In Pennsylvania, gerrymandering was recently declared unconstitutional by the courts under the state’s constitution. North Carolina was also ordered to redraw its congressional map and courts in Maryland and Wisconsin are hearing similar cases.
“All of a sudden, this is getting a lot of steam,” Suozzi said.
Over 400 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are considered “safe seats,” Suozzi noted. This security fosters a stagnant environment, as reflected in the recent three-day government shutdown. Representing a split district, Suozzi does not hold one of these seats.
“So if you’re in a safe seat, and you can’t possibly lose, what incentive do you have to solve these very thorny problems that exist?” he said. “The only way you can lose is if you lose a primary.”
One aforementioned “thorny problem” is immigration. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that shielded some young immigrants from deportation, was a top issue Democrats and Republicans were at odds over during the January government shutdown.
“On some issues I’m very progressive: on immigration and a pathway to citizenship … on the environment,” he said. “But I’m relatively fiscally conservative. I think we spend way too much money in the federal government. I think there’s way too much waste, fraud and abuse.”
One good thing that has come out of these tense political times is an increase in public interest, Suozzi said.
“We have to stop treating [government] like its this dirty little thing,” he said. “We gotta lift up the conversation … Because politics only works when the people pay attention. And people are paying attention.”