ALEXANDRIA BAY — A Republican is challenging Rep. Elise M. Stefanik for her seat in Congress this year.
Lonny Koons, a Carthage resident, Army veteran and current truck driver for R.B. Humphreys in Rome, said he wants to represent normal, average Americans in Congress. He said his campaign committee, Blue Collar Politics, is meant to represent the ideals of the American working class, people who have had to choose between paying for food or the power bill.
Mr. Koons and his wife Kris are Michigan natives, but when Mr. Koons entered the Army in the late 1990s, they moved all around the country, and he was deployed regularly to Iraq and Afghanistan. After 20 years in the service, Mr. Koons and his wife settled in Carthage.
He said he and his wife wanted to be close to a military base, although Mr. Koons was never stationed on Fort Drum. Once they settled in Carthage, Mr. Koons said he committed to never moving again.
“We had 24 houses in 20 years, we were always moving,” he said. “We threw out all the boxes after we moved in here, we are never leaving.”
Mr. Koons said he’s running for Congress because he believes career politicians have lost touch with the people they’re meant to represent, and he said there’s a simple solution to that problem.
“We need term limits,” Mr. Koons said Sunday morning outside of the Family Dollar in Alexandria Bay. Since May, Mr. Koons and his wife have set up a free lemonade stand on weekends in various cities, towns and villages across the north country, meeting as many as 300 people per day.
Mr. Koons said he doesn’t know yet what the federal limit should be, but he said it could come in the form of a mandatory retirement age for government officials, including the Supreme Court.
“Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I have no problem with her but at the end, I don’t think she could have made sound mental judgments,” he said. “Maybe we need to look at something similar to a retirement age, but there just needs to be a cut off for politicians.”
Mr. Koons said he doesn’t support gun control measures, and said he believes the Second Amendment ensures every citizen has the right to own weapons equal to what the government has in its own arsenal.
“In all technicality, if you wanted to own a nuke, you should be able to own a nuke,” he said. “That’s obviously extreme craziness, but at the same time, if the whole point of the Second Amendment is to stand up to the government, if the government has nukes how can you stand up to that with a musket?”
Mr. Koons said, unless the Constitution is amended, there shouldn’t be any restriction on what weapons citizens can own that doesn’t also apply to the government.
Mr. Koons said he would like to see some sort of regulation of social media, and suggested a committee or other body that could admonish or punish social media companies, media organizations and other publishers for spreading false information or opinionated content masquerading as neutral news coverage.
“Everything you see is biased in some way,” he said. “If I watch the news right now, I can put CNN on one screen and Fox on another and almost everything I see would be exactly the opposite,” he said. “Walter Cronkite is spinning in his grave.”
Mr. Koons said the world needs to get back to a standard understanding of facts, and criticized “cancel culture” for silencing voices he said need to be heard.
Mr. Koons also said he supports police, criminal justice and prison reform, because the current system isn’t working. He said, in his travels outside the country, police in other countries are far more approachable and community-focused than American police tend to be. Many foreign police forces don’t regularly carry weapons, and wear less intimidating uniforms, Mr. Koons said. He said police shouldn’t regularly drive unmarked or hard-to-identify vehicles, and should make a point to be more approachable to citizens.
“When I was in (a foreign) country, on patrol, I would be in full tactical gear walking around and nobody wants to approach that,” he said. “But I was a soldier, and I see some police dressed nearly the same way I was then.”
In the judicial system, Mr. Koons said there needs to be a more uniform application of the law.
“If I commit a crime in one location, and she commits the same crime in another, we’ll be given two completely different sentences,” he said, gesturing to his wife.
Some of that difference accounts for differences in state laws, but Mr. Koons said he believes there needs to be a more consistent bar set for most crimes across the country. The issue, he said, is worst for Black people and other people of color, who are usually given longer sentences than white people for the same crimes.
Mr. Koons said he believes there was at least some election fraud during the 2020 Presidential election, and said the federal government has to do more to ensure election security. He said he supports voter ID requirements and other security measures.
Election officials and other experts have repeatedly said there was no widespread fraud found in the 2002 Presidential election, and a former Trump appointee who ran election security in 2020 was fired for repeatedly saying the 2020 election was among the most secure in American history.
Ultimately, Mr. Koons said he wants to represent the average American, regardless of race, creed, sexuality, gender or any other descriptor. He said he doesn’t want to become a big name in Congress, or seek higher office beyond Representative, and wants to ensure his constituents get the services they deserve.
“For four and a half years, I have been trying to get in touch with Representative Stefanik,” he said. “All the calls I’ve made and the times I’ve shown up to their empty offices, I have spoken with one person, and was told my issues weren’t important. I don’t want anyone else to experience that.”
Mr. Koons is running for the Republican nomination to the Congressional seat for New York’s 21st District, which means his current opponent is Rep. Stefanik, a Republican whose enjoyed strong margins of victory for years and is currently the third most senior member of House Republican leadership.
Mr. Koons said he acknowledges that the odds are stacked against him, and Rep. Stefanik’s resources are likely to make it an exceptionally difficult race for him, but he hopes that voters will listen to his message regardless of the amount of money behind it.
“I’m not going to take money from big corporations, and I won’t beg people to give me money,” he said. “I’m going to ask people to look at the fact that I want to support them, period, and hope they give me their own support.”
A senior spokesperson for Rep. Stefanik’s campaign didn’t address Mr. Koon’s candidacy specifically in a statement, but said the congresswoman continues to enjoy “historic” support from north country Republicans.
“Congresswoman Elise Stefanik works hard every day to deliver results to North Country families, small businesses, farms, and veterans,” the spokesperson said. “She was just reelected with the highest number of total votes ever for any congressional candidate in the north country. This support was earned not just from Republicans, but from Conservatives, Independents, and Democrats across the district winning all twelve counties.”