New Congress: From Reliably Liberal Rockstar to Small Government Champion in NY's 19th District

Monday, January 03, 2011

What a difference an election makes. This week, President Obama loses his Democratic Congress as the GOP takes control. That’s the result of 63 local contests, where voters traded out a Democrat for a Republican.

The ideological transition maybe the most pronounced in New York’s 19th Congressional District, which stretches through the Hudson Valley into parts of Westchester County.

There, John Hall, a former 1970's pop star — turned-anti-nuclear activist — turned-Congressman is being replaced by Nan Hayworth, a former eye surgeon who wants to see the health care law repealed and a lot less federal intervention in business.

Rep. Hall was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a reliable vote for liberal measures. For her part, incoming Congresswoman Hayworth says there’s been too much regulation in Washington. Too much spending, and just too much government, she says.

“We need to wind down federal involvement in the marketplace. The Constitution, again, is a guide," she says.

When she takes office on Wednesday, she says she wants to fix what’s broken, and she approaches it with the certainty of a surgeon.

“That is the surgical mentality. It absolutely is. I want to fix it," she says.

When I visited her in her local office in December, it was quiet — a few staffers were there to answer the occasional phone call or accept holiday popcorn tins. Hayworth whisked in with a burst of energy. Wearing a red jacket, a short gray skirt and red high heels, she’d spent her morning visiting her parents at two different local hospitals.

She speaks in controlled spurts, precisely selecting each word before she lets it out. She claims she didn’t believe she could be a doctor until her would-be husband encouraged her while they were students at Princeton, but her demeanor doesn’t betray an ounce of self-doubt.

“I’m a perfectionist, so being an ophthalmologist, we have responsibility for a fairly small area of the body if you will, so I could really do all I could to optimize those eyes and that visual system for my patients," she recalls about choosing a surgical specialty that she could really master.

That perfectionism also led to a major career shift in 2005. After eight years of medical training and 16 years of private practice, she retired and closed her office. She felt she wasn’t being the best mother she could be to her two teenage sons. “Being one of those doctors who really would drop everything when a patient needed me, because that is what we’re supposed to do as professionals," she recalls. "Wonderful for patients, not so nice for your kids.”

She was a full-time mother for two years while her husband continued to practice medicine. Two years later, she took a job as a vice president with a NYC-based health care advertising firm that’s done campaigns for things like Pfizer’s BenGay patch and Merck’s nasal spray.

Then came the 2008 elections. Obama won the presidency. There were Democratic super-majorities in both the House and Senate. Nan Hayworth didn’t like what she saw. It came up at home. A lot.

“My comments were frequent and vivid," she says. "And my husband in December of 2008 suggested to me that I run for Congress.”

He was joking. But he didn’t tell her that until after she won the election, in which she campaigned on repealing the health care overhaul and scaling back the new financial regulations crafted by Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank.

“There is going to be an impetus to unwind Dodd-Frank," she says now. "The goal of fundamentally trying to assure that consumers are not taken advantage of, especially small investors, those of us who aren’t expert. No question, that's laudable. But the means, again, is the problem. This is an enormously costly bill that will actually reduce opportunities.”

Her position on financial regulation will be key, as she’s landed a spot on the House Financial Services Committee. Here, she says she wants to make it clear that the government will not be doing any more bailing out of banks that take on too much risk.

But she doesn’t think more regulation is the answer either. She says more agency rules restrain the free market without necessarily preventing any of the excesses — pointing to the regulators' failure to catch the Madoff investment scheme. “I don’t expect those inherent defects somehow miraculously to be resolved by conferring more power on regulatory bodies," she notes with some skepticism.

Hayworth knows, of course, that anything she and the Republican caucus pass in the House will have to get through the Democratically-controlled Senate and not get vetoed by President Obama. She knows that means that the various repeals and spending cuts she campaigned on won’t necessarily become law, but neither will measures that only get Democrats' support.

“I don’t want to be merely a contrarian or obstructive at all," she says. "I was hired to get many things done, but hired as well to stop potentially damaging things from being done.”

Do no harm, says the former doctor. And just what that means for the rep from New York’s 19th District will be a radically different diagnosis in this new Congress. 


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Comments [12]

Marylyn Rosenblum

John Hall did a great job for a district that was represented by a do-nothing republican congresswoman for too many years. He was particularly wonderful in his support of veterans -- all of whose groups supported his re-election. It's worth noting that Nan Hayworth and her husband are and were (in her case) involved with one of the largest HMOs in the NY Area -- Mt. Kisco Medical Group. Her husband is President and it is where she practiced medicine. They're millionaires. Her bid for congress was supported by the Chamber of Commerce which ran endless TV ads against John Hall, and, oddly, by the American College of Ophthalmology. And should I have any reason to think the endorsement of such a group for a candidate who is against Health Care Reform carries any weight?

I hope John Hall runs again next time round.

Jan. 05 2011 01:49 PM
Mess Hall Mike

Now that he lost ,the Hall supporters have lost their “stage” on John’s Facebook Page … one really posts there anymore. So it appears they are now searching for any Blog or web article they can find to spread their bitterness. Tell us how proud you are of the 111th Congress …were they progressive enough for you ?
We elected Nan to help clean up the mess your reps left behind. So, Can it and Sit down ...let her do her Job.

Jan. 03 2011 10:05 PM
Small town Posturing

Are we are to believe this dog and pony show that she is this small business owner and concerned mother? She quit her private practice to be with her kids, who by that time were teenagers for only two years before moving into a position at a "health care advertising firm". Lets drop the smoke and mirrors, she fits the bill of a corporate insider from the medical industry better than anybody and her campaign funds show that clearly, and that would be okay if she was honest about it, at least then we could fairly assess her reasons for wanting to limit regulation and repealing health care reform

Jan. 03 2011 07:23 PM
Doubtful from Warwick, NY

Follow the money! Look at her contributors then ask the new congresswoman who her real constituents are.

Jan. 03 2011 04:00 PM
chris from NY

@marcello - I encourage yourself and others to view Nan with an open mind and not associate her views with the conservative party - the conservative party has a very wide spectrum of views, as does the liberal party, and I feel it is a disservice to dismiss her efforts based on prior presidencies.

@Joe - I agree that on both sides of the fence, claims are made without specifics to back it up.

To summarize my statement, I think we ALL Americans need to get back to basics, fundamentals. The constitution is more than just a piece of paper, it is an embodiment of an ideal. If we cannot agree on these fundamental principles, we are condemned to failure.

One of the fundamental principles implicitly stated in the constitution is self-governance and sufficiency, rather than reliance. I agree with Nan that personal fiscal responsibility has been falling the wayside since the nation's inception and people AND organizations need to take responsibility for their risks and actions. To Dion's good point, regulations need to be passed to ensure fair commerce. But fundamentally, we need to embrace the bill of rights and the constitution. What we have here is too precious and rare, and we need to stop arguing and start agreeing on principles and ideals. Maybe the America I envision is a tough place to live and succeed in, but you reap what you sow. The farmers who founded our country knew that, and I personally think we have been deluded with the notion of entitlement. I sincerely appreciate any comments and hope everybody had a good Holiday.

Jan. 03 2011 12:12 PM
Marcello from Brooklyn

This is what I truly cannot understand. This woman is a doctor (an ophthalmologist) so you would assume that she has a grasp on the concept of cause and effect.
If she is treating somebody with glaucoma she might investigate the patient eye pressure, which is one of the lead causes of the disease and, hopefully, address that underlying factor.
We are now just barely digging out of the worst financial crisis in nearly a century and there is a large consensus among economists that one of the main factors that caused this meltdown has been the wave of de-regulation implemented during the last thirty years of mainly conservative rule.
The second Bush administration has made a mockery of its role, by filling regulatory agencies with industry cronies: trusting the hen-house to the care of the fox.
My God!!...What does it take for Americans to wake up? How is it possible that somebody could continue to blame government after the disaster we have just gone through?!!...
After government just bailed out half the nation saving banks (and restoring the financial system), car companies (and saving thousands of jobs...), by enacting a fiscal stimulus (and preventing even higher unemployment), by addressing long term budget deficit problems through the implementation of the first timid attempt at health care reform.
What does it take to finally make the connection between the conservative policies of the last eight years and the greatest economic recession in recent history? I am not even talking about the financial crisis only. I am talking about the greatest increase in poverty rate, in wealth inequality, in the amount of people without health insurance which preceded the explosion of the crisis of 2008-09.
And how is it possible that the interviewer remained completely silent on these issues?

Jan. 03 2011 11:45 AM
Joe from NJ

“We need to wind down federal involvement in the marketplace. The Constitution, again, is a guide," she says. When she takes office on Wednesday, she says she wants to fix what’s broken"
Why no follow up questions about WHAT is 'broken' and WHY? HOW are these 'broken' things UNCONSTITUTIONAL? Aren't the COURTS there to tell us that? Does she disagree with court decisions that concluded that such things are constitutional?
Why the softball questions instead of pressing her on theses things? Why did this reporter simply ACCEPT her premise instead of scrutinizing it?

Jan. 03 2011 11:36 AM
Dion from Texas

De-regulation helped the financial collapse. Glass-Stegall was repealed and the rest is history. Texas is not the state to emulate for services to the children and senior citizens

Jan. 03 2011 10:34 AM
Roscoe from New Windsor, NY

Congresswoman Hayworth, as with any M.C., needs skilled reporters asking and reporting on questions which lay bare the assumptions that the M.C. brings to the conversation. Was Ms. Sale able to ask, or think of asking, Ms. Hayworth's understanding of the health care law or the kinds of regulation that are currently in place? Here's one Hudson Valley resident who aims to make that happen.

Jan. 03 2011 09:31 AM
Lyn from NY

The script for this story sounded like it was written by Fox News!

Jan. 03 2011 08:30 AM
Pitt Cairn from Mohegan Lake, NY

"Short skirt / high heels" - did that really matter? I don't care if she wore a wooden barrel. Less on what she wore, and more on what she thinks, please.

Jan. 03 2011 07:52 AM
marklang from california

Let us take an example of Texas. The "Wise Health Insurance" is quite popular in Arizona. It provides so many offers for the low income people.

Jan. 03 2011 12:31 AM

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