Our time. Why Gareth Rhodes is running for Congress In New York’s 19th District.

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Last week, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to strip 24 million Americans of their health care. As we watched Republicans move toward making domestic violence and sexual assault, C-sections and postpartum depression preexisting conditions, cases of beer were wheeled into the Capitol and buses pulled up to take the grinning members to celebrate at the White House.

Here in the Hudson Valley and Catskills, more than 65,000 people may lose their health care because of last week’s vote. And our so-called “representative” John Faso refuses to hold a town meeting. Our community has zero tolerance for this failed leadership and we will not be silenced.

I was born in rural Ulster County and grew up working on a vegetable farm in the Town of Esopus. I went straight to work after graduating from Kingston High School, drilling water wells across the Hudson Valley and working weekend shifts at Frank’s Deli in Marlboro. With the help of Pell grants and financial aid, I became the first in my family to earn a four-year degree, graduating from CUNY. I entered public service with the Governor’s office in Albany, and was fortunate enough to go to Harvard Law School.

Folks who are from here will tell you that we take care of our own, particularly when times are tough. When we are under attack, we fight back. When the Hudson River was polluted by General Electric, we fought for years — led by heroes like Pete Seeger — to make sure they paid to clean it up. When the floods of Hurricane Irene devastated small towns in the Catskills and destroyed farms and homes across the Hudson Valley, we helped each other get back on our feet. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer shortly after I was born, the health care facilities in this community were there to provide her with care and treatment, and when she died, this community and our neighbors supported my family during that difficult time.

These values: hard work learned working on a farm, and looking out for my neighbor fostered from an upbringing in a faith-centered family and community have been the cornerstones of my life and career in public service.

That’s why when I see our community under attack, I can’t sit on the sidelines. This is my home. Washington is trying to pollute our environment, take away our health care, and attack our values. I am considering a run for Congress because our “representative” has sold out this community and has chosen Trump over us. It’s time to repeal and replace John Faso.

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I’m taking this step not only because we need to fight back against self-interested politicians like Faso and Trump, but because I believe we need a new generation of leaders to step up and fight for the communities that raised them.

Some say we should wait. But for what? If we wait two, four, six more years — how many more cancer patients will die because they can’t afford coverage? How many more of our neighbors will be deported? How many more trillions of dollars will be added to our national debt? And how many more farmers will go bankrupt because they can’t hire the seasonal labor they need to harvest their crops?

Our generation will be stuck paying for the mess that Trump and the Republicans are making in Washington. We will be footing the bill of the Trump-GOP tax plan that gives $5.6 billion in tax breaks, including to the richest Americans and big corporations. We will be cleaning up our air and water after Trump and the GOP gut the Environmental Protection Agency and roll back the Clean Power Plan. Our children will be the ones who will suffer as he and billionaires like Betsy DeVos seek to privatize public education. And we will need to return health care to millions of Americans if Trump and his GOP are successful in their mean-spirited crusade.

We need a new generation of leaders in Washington who have the perspective to transcend partisan bickering and gridlock. We crave authenticity and we are sick and tired of politicians who tell us one thing and then sell out to big-money interests. We actually understand the “pocketbook issues” that Washington politicians like to talk about not because they are poll-tested but because we live them. No, most of us haven’t made millions as corporate bankers who game the system in favor of the wealthy. We bailed them out. No, we don’t just read about student debt. We are drowning in it. No, we don’t just talk about how hard it is to get a good paying job. The unemployment rate for 18–34 year olds is higher than the national average and more than 34% of us still live at home.

On Election Day last November, I was in Columbus, Ohio with a group of out-of-state volunteers and spent the final week knocking on doors and getting out the vote. I talked with folks who had voted Democrat for their entire lives, but were prepared to either abstain or support a con-artist Manhattan billionaire. As we watched the returns come in that night in a Columbus tavern, it was clear that our generation had received our marching orders: to stand up for this country to protect it from Trump and his disregard for democracy, decency, and the American people.

We’re hearing a lot of talk about new people who are inspired to run for elected office. In fact, millennial candidates are more likely to be women, minority or identify as LGBT. We need more elected leaders like this in office. I hope that many of them are like me: new, first time candidates with fresh ideas and a clear vision. If 100 of us run and only ten percent win, that’s ten more of us in office fighting for our children’s future and our nation’s future.

Our time is now. ▪

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