COOPERSTOWN — Here was Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, on Thursday, making stops with a politician from the rival party, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., right in the middle of the buildup of the election season and at a time when many pundits decry the acrimonious partisanship permeating American politics.
The grandson of dairy farmers from Herkimer County, since being elected to Congress two years, has become one of the most independent members of the Republican Congressional Caucus. Only 11 other Republicans have broken ranks with the GOP leadership more times than Hanna has, according to the Washington Post, and he has bucked his own party by voting against cuts to funding for National Public Radio and Planned Parenthood. He was also one of just six GOP congressmen who refused to sign conservative Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”
On Thursday, Hanna made appearances with Gillibrand, the former Democratic congresswoman who once held the seat now occupied by Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, at the Chobani yogurt plant in Chenango County and later at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
The latter event was set up by the Hall of Fame to thank Gillibrand and Hanna for working together on legislation that will channel millions of dollars in new revenue to the Hall of Fame from the sale of commemorative baseball-themed coins that will be produced by the U.S. Mint in 2014.
This would also be on the same day that the new de facto leader of Hanna’s party, Mitt Romney, was in Tampa, Fla., to accept the GOP presidential nomination. Instead of going to the Republican National Convention with scores of his GOP colleagues. Hanna told The Daily Star he thought it was more important to stay in his district and visit places such as the Chobani plant and the Hall of Fame.
Asked if he was supporting the presidential ticket of Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan, Hanna said in an interview, “I haven’t given it a lot of thought.”
He said he has “disappointments” with both major parties and will continue to vote in a way that he believes best serves his district.
“There are many points of difference between me and my party,” acknowledged Hanna, who became a millionaire while running his company, Hanna Construction.
“I cannot accept the notion that compromise has become an unthinkable thing for both sides,” he said. Referring to dyed-in-wool loyalists of both parties, he said, “They spend a great deal of time talking over the top of each other, messaging to the public, but not collectively building policy to move the country forward. And you see that every day.”
He said the sharp divide between the two parties has done little but let the nation’s problems fester.
“You have a party that wants no new taxes and you have a party that wants no changes in social maintenance programs that have become unsustainable,” said Hanna. “I think both parties need to find ways of getting off their hard lines and work together.”
Hanna, who will turn 62 years old in January, said he has not intentionally sought to shape his public image as a maverick.
“I am just not bashful about where I differ,” he said. “I’m a guy who’s been in business. I didn’t make a career out of it by deciding who my friends and enemies were. I went out there and I produced for people, and that’s what I did with this job. You work hard. We’re not talkers. We’re workers.”
Hanna was asked if he was considering supporting the re-election of President Barack Obama. (Earlier this year, Hanna had endorsed what was then the longshot presidential candidacy of former Utah Gov. John Huntsman. Huntsman ended up folding his tent early in the primary season.)
“I haven’t thought about it,” he said. Asked if that meant he was leaving the door open to backing Obama, he said. “I just haven’t thought about it. I have great differences with both sides. It’s hard for me. I feel conflicted about it. At the end of the day, I probably will support my own party. There are certain things, like on social issues, that I find (the GOP) fundamentally misguided. But one of the things I have been able to do by being a Republican is to state that to a group of people who more or less has to listen.”
Asked if he sometimes considers bolting his own party and becoming a Democrat, Hanna said he plans to stay put.
“No, never,” he said. “It’s not appropriate. I wouldn’t do it. I had this buddy, Jimmy Ludlow, who sold gravel, and he’d say he always goes home with the woman he came with. And whether you like it or not that’s what it is.”
He then added: “I’m a guy who built his life out of being productive and showing ingenuity and initiative,” Hanna said. “I’m a businessman, and for my money, the Republican Party understands business better. It understands how this country was built better. So I’m comfortable — but not perfectly happy.”
Hanna’s Democratic challenger, Dan Lamb of Freeville, contends on his web site that the incumbent would “end the guarantee of Medicare” and asserts that Hanna favors “huge new tax breaks” for the rich.
Hanna said he scoffs at such attacks. “In case you didn’t notice,” he said, “I just had a primary with a Tea Partier who thinks I’m everything opposite of that.”
Hanna easily overcame the challenge from the Tea Party candidate, Michael Kicinski, in June.
The incumbent said he is not out to end Medicare, but rather is looking for ways to prevent the program from going bankrupt and avoid saddling future generations with billions of dollars in added debt.
“Who doesn’t like Medicare?” he asked. “How could you not like it?” At the same time, he said, it is imperative that the health care program for seniors be run efficiently. “It is appropriate to build something sustainable for the future and not pass down $16 billion in debt.”
Asked if he was deliberately trying to put distance between himself and his own party by staying away from the Republican National Convention, Hanna did not hesitate in his reply.
“I can find out everything I need to know by watching it on TV,” he said. “My job is here.”