Democratic incumbent Louise Slaughter is one of the most liberal members of the House of Representatives, and proudly so. She's quick-witted, a master zinger-slinger, and energetic. Her folksy populism marinates in an endearing Kentucky accent, but she can get down in the weeds, too — she's a microbiologist — and discuss in minute detail the best circumstances to grow algae for conversion to gasoline, for example.
Slaughter sits on several caucuses, is a member of the House Democratic Leadership, and a ranking member of the House Committee on Rules, a powerful committee that determines which bills make it to the floor and in what order.
Slaughter's critics like to say, "Sure, she's likeable, but what has she done?" The answer is quite a lot.
Slaughter has been a champion of women's health and reproductive rights, which is particularly important in this present environment of mandatory ultrasounds, personhood amendments, and attacks on contraception. Slaughter supports Planned Parenthood and co-chairs the House Pro-Choice Caucus.
In 1994, Slaughter co-authored the Violence Against Women Act, which provided protections for victims of domestic violence. The year before she helped get $500 million for breast cancer research at the National Institutes of Health.
This year, Slaughter won passage of the Slaughter Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which makes sure members of the Armed Forces are aware of their options for dealing with reprisals after reporting sexual harassment or assault.
Slaughter is a vigorous and vocal advocate of the Affordable Care Act, famously recounting at a health-care summit a story of a constituent forced to wear her dead sister's teeth because she couldn't afford dentures — a story instantly mocked by Republicans.
Health-care costs make up about 17 percent of the country's gross domestic product, Slaughter says, and Congress had to do something to get costs under control.
"It had to be done, for the economic health of the country," she says. "Each of us pays about $1,000 a year more simply to cover the uncompensated costs of people who use the hospital who have no insurance. It's the most humane thing to do to start with, but the byproduct of that is we're going to save health care dollars."
The ACA is big on preventative care, Slaughter says, which will help cut costs. And it has more money for medical research, invests in electronic record-keeping, and is set up to discourage over-testing of patients simply for the reimbursement.
Slaughter says support for the ACA will grow as understanding of the law grows.
"I think people don't know what's in there yet," she says. "And I will say that Democrats are not good at sound bites."
In 2008, Slaughter won passage of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, which forbids discrimination by employers or health insurers based on people's genetic predispositions to health conditions. And she continues to fight to keep antibiotics from being used on livestock.
"There's no good cure for [tuberculosis] right now because we're seeing evolution of the bacteria," Slaughter says. "Antibiotics have lost effectiveness. It's one of the biggest scandals in the world."
Slaughter's legislative track record is long, but being a lawmaker is about more than writing and passing bills. Legislators have to know how to exert their muscle behind the scenes, as well. And Slaughter is good at that. In 2011, the Buffalo News called her "among the most creative legislators in Washington," one has "become more tenacious as the terms roll by."
Slaughter called for stricter regulations of procurement policies for body armor and armored vehicles after reading in the New York Times that 80 percent of the Marines killed in Iraq from upper body wounds could have survived if they had extra body armor. A study called for by Slaughter found that testing for the effectiveness of body armor was flawed, the Times story says. As a result, 16,000 pieces of body armor were recalled and replaced.
"I don't give up," Slaughter says. "That's the way I approach the job and always have. I finally convinced them that I wasn't going to accept trash."
Slaughter says she's also had whistleblowers tell her about problems with military helmets, and she's going to look into that.
Slaughter voted no on extending the Patriot Act's roving wiretaps, no to allowing electronic surveillance without a warrant, no on intelligence gathering without civil oversight, yes to continuing military recruitment on college campuses, and yes on a 2003 bill to provide an emergency $78 billion for the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan, and she co-sponsored the Landmine Elimination and Victim Assistance Act:
Slaughter is the author of the Reciprocal Market Access Act, which would improve reciprocal market access for United States domestic producers, and she has secured $25 million to continue fuel cell research.
Her priorities for next term if she wins re-election, she says, include protecting intellectual property rights; passing fair trade legislation; strengthening the STOCK Act — a piece of Slaughter legislation that passed in 2012 which prohibits Congress members and other top federal officials from insider stock trading; making it easier for farmers to get the labor they need; and trying to pass her Keep America Secure Act, which directs "the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security to only purchase electronic components that are manufactured in the United States," according to the Congressional record.
Locally, Slaughter has been a strong supporter of an intermodal station and high-speed rail for Rochester.
"We've neglected rail in the United States," she says. "We found out after 9/11 that it was about the only way we could travel, and it was so inconvenient here."
Slaughter calls high-speed rail one of her top priorities for Western New York.
"The improvement of existing tracks and the creation of a third track dedicated to passenger rail will allow people to move efficiently back and forth across the Upstate region, improve commerce, generate new tourism opportunities, and spark revitalization of Western New York for a generation to come," says Slaughter's website.
And the new downtown train station, which Slaughter got funding for, will help rebuild the distressed neighborhood around the station, she says.
Slaughter has brought a tremendous amount of money back to the Rochester area during her 13 terms in Congress. And the truth is, while it may be fashionable to rail against pork-barrel spending, the money can make important things happen.
According to her campaign staff, Slaughter has secured more than $70 million for higher education and research and development in the Rochester area over the last few years, more than $160 million for transportation projects in Monroe County, and $66 million for Medicaid through the stimulus package.
Some highlights: $15 million for the intermodal station, $400,000 for the Brooks Landing project in the 19th Ward, $225,000 for a renovation and expansion at the Strong Museum, $62.5 million for the University of Rochester's laser lab, $440,000 to upgrade the Monroe County crime lab, and $5 million for the University of Rochester's Wilmot Cancer Center.
Slaughter also helped secure about $1.5 million in public and private funding to dredge the Port of Rochester. Sediment in the port had built up to the point where some large ships couldn't navigate the waterway. Previously, it had been announced that there was no money to dredge the port this year.
Though some people have tried to make an issue of Slaughter's age — she's 83 — Slaughter says retiring never crossed her mind.
"I don't know what age people decide we should not be able to function any longer," she says. "I come from a long line of mountain people, and they're pretty strong and hardy folk. I think I've been blessed with a lot of those genes, because my health is very good."