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U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney speaks with a small group of Republicans Feb. 17 at The Kopper Keg in Cuba.

By JIM ECKSTROM

CUBA,NY — U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney is a newcomer to what will be the 23rd Congressional District — but she points out to people she meets in its expected boundaries that she has roots in the region.
“My mother’s family lived on a farm in Chenango County,” she told a small gathering of Republicans Feb. 17 at The Kopper Keg on Cuba’s Main Street during a low-key swing through Allegany County. Her family business has also been based in Chenango County since 1946.
“The 23rd is a lot like the district I actually represent right now,” she said, referencing agricultural interests and small-town values throughout much of the 22nd Congressional District.
But after New York Democrats came up with a gerrymandered plan that eliminates most of the existing 22nd District, Tenney, R-New Hartford, won’t represent her hometown or the Utica area. She has set her sights on the 23rd, which — when all is settled — should include all of Cattaraugus, Allegany, Chautauqua, Steuben, Chemung and Tioga counties and parts of Erie, Wyoming, Livingston, Chenango, Cortland, Schuyler, Yates and Broome counties.
“Fourteen counties … it takes 4 1/2 hours to drive across the district,” Tenney said. “But I look forward to the challenge.”
She will be in Olean today at 3 p.m. to meet with Mayor Bill Aiello and walk the downtown district.
Conscious of the suggestion by some in the region that she is an interloper who jumped to the 23rd because it was more winnable than the carved-up 22nd, Tenney has pledged she will live within the 23rd — despite New York state law that says she doesn’t have to.
Tenney, who made stops in Alfred and Wellsville that day as well, pledged to be “very aggressive and a strong advocate” for the reconfigured 23rd District. She expects the district to remain as drawn by New York’s Democrats — despite legal challenges of the state’s congressional district map for 2022.
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, who represents the current 23rd District through 2022, is retiring from Congress. He had endorsed Steuben County GOP Chairman Joe Sempolinski, a former Reed aide, but Sempolinski announced earlier this month he will not run.
Republicans in the western Southern Tier also were eager for former state Sen. Catharine M. Young to run, but she declined as well. State Sen. George Borrello, R-Chautauqua County, hasn’t formally stated that he won’t run, but Tenney’s campaign chest that was expected to hold $2 million by the end of this month is a formidable deterrent.
No Democrats have emerged as candidates. The filing deadline is April 7 and the primary is scheduled for June 28.

Retracing routes
For her part, Tenney said that retracing some of the old Southern Tier sales routes she traveled for her family’s printing company has spurred her to run even more.
“So many former customers along the Southern Tier, a lot of them are not in business anymore,” she said. “I just want to do everything I can to bring more jobs here … that’s why I really wanted to run for Congress.”
Noting that she was impressed by what appeared to be a healthy business district in Cuba, Tenney nevertheless said that with New York’s high taxes and regulations, “COVID finished a lot of (business) people off. I know so many longtime owners of restaurants and businesses who had to shut down because they just couldn’t survive.”
An attorney who practiced constitutional law before she stepped into politics, Tenney said she weighs all her congressional votes based on constitutionality. She said she believes “self-governance” is critical to the health of the nation and she regrets this chapter in the United States’ history when she sees too many “young people who don’t understand what freedom means.”

Socialism firsthand
The Democrats’ policies — and the direction she said many of them would like to take the nation — reminds her of the time she spent as a young woman in the former Yugoslavia, a socialist country that had been ruled by a “benevolent dictator,” Josip Tito.
“It was lovely … but it was not the United States,” Tenney said, recalling the lack of goods at grocery stores and noting that Yugoslavs remembered the days that those who spoke against Tito could be shipped to a penal island.
“Most people in the U.S. don’t know what that’s like,” she said, while suggesting she sees concerning signs that many Democrats would veer the nation toward that sort of socialistic control.
“Before you know it they are telling you what to do and when you can do it,” she said.
Tenney said she wishes there was more bipartisanship in Congress, but she frankly blames unyielding far-left Democrats who retaliate against colleagues who show even hints of moving to the center.
“I’ve had Democrats tell me, ‘I’d love to sign on to that bill, but not right now … see me after the election and the House flips,’” she said, referring to the strong possibility of the Republicans retaking the majority in the House this fall. “A lot of progressive Democrats are vicious, they have a lot of money and they play to win.”