Don't call NY-27 Reform Party candidate Larry Piegza a spoiler. He may be behind in the polls but if the media had just given him as much attention as Chris Collins and Nate McMurray he would be leading those same polls, he believes.
He is, after all, the only not-arrested, not-out-of-jail-on-bail, pro-Trump candidate in the race.
The tech-company CEO says he has the data to prove he is a logical alternative to incumbent Chris Collins, who has a federal court date pending in 2020 on insider trading charges.
"What I did was I had a robocall," Piegza said. "I called every single Republican, conservative, independent and unaffiliated voter that has voted in the last in an off-year election. In five seconds explain it, 'Hi, I'm Larry. I'm a pro-Trump candidate running against Chris Collins. He's the guy who recently got arrested. Would you consider voting a pro-Trump, third-party Republican?' "
In all, his computer dialed 125,000 phone numbers. Of those, 19,000 phones were answered. Of those, 1,900 completed the survey. Of those completing the survey, 59 percent said they would consider voting for a pro-Trump alternative to Collins. Only 22 percent of the respondents said they would still prefer Chris Collins.
"So as soon as they were actually given a choice, people were actually willing to consider a third party conservative," Piegza said during an interview with The Batavian two weeks ago at Moonjava Cafe. "These are the people that actually vote in off-year elections. Interesting. So, I'm actually convinced that if I can just get my name out that clearly I cannot only win this election but if I don't it's because Chris Collins is actually the spoiler."
Piegza entered the race well before Collins was arrested Aug. 8 by federal authorities on charges of securities fraud, wire fraud, and lying to the FBI (charges Collins denies, though has refused to explain), not just because he wanted to run for Congress as a minor-party candidate but because he knew trouble was looming for Collins, who was already facing a Congressional ethics investigation for his dealings with Innate Immunotherapeutics.
For Piegza, who jumped on the Trump "drain the swamp" bandwagon, Collins is just another corrupt politician out to serve himself rather than the voters of the NY-27.
"I actually believe if the liberal media started to actually realize that I am a real candidate, and get my name out there, I believe I have an excellent chance of winning this election."
Piegza shares the president's concern about "fake news" (though he wishes the president would stop calling reporters "the enemy of the people"), so much so that he and software engineers who work for him, created a now-defunct website, Identifact.org, designed to rate reporters and news organizations on their adherence to facts.
The site never gained traction but Piegza has continued to look toward technical tools to help solve democracies' problems.
His other venture is eDemocracy.us.
Piegza has big ambitions and eDemocracy is at the heart of his plans, now that his company GAP Technoligies Inc., has reached a sustainable level of success, giving him more time to try and make the world a better place.
"(Collins) never had town hall meetings and I thought to myself, 'well, how can I do better than that?' " Piegza said. "It occurred to me that we should really be putting constituent feedback online. Why can't somebody who is actually in the district and has an opinion on a piece of legislation or wants to contact their congressperson, why can't they just log online, go into a secure website and tell their legislator how to vote?"
According to Piegza, eDemocracy is designed to match constituents with their representatives, contain every piece of legislation coming up for a vote, provide a place to petition representatives on any topic, and allow representatives to explain themselves to the voters. The site is also designed to contain a reservoir of fact-based information to help voters better understand issues so they can provide more informed advice to elected officials.
Piegza has a lot of faith that such a system would temper the partisan divide and get representatives to actually do what their constituents want them to do rather than legislate based on sound bites.
"If we can get the entire United States onto a system like this that it would be really, really exciting because you'd be able to break down each district, what their residents feel," Piegza said.
"This would take all of the politics out of it," he added later, "because you would actually know what the people in the United States want. It's an exciting concept and I really believe it can revolutionize policymaking in the United States."
If elected, Piegza said he will use the system and will vote according to how voters on eDemocracy tell him to vote. If 60 percent of those who log on and express their opinion tell him to vote a certain way, that's how he will vote.
We grilled him on this idea a lot.
For example, as far-fetched, as it sounds, what if the district flipped on Trump and 60 percent of the voters told him to vote to impeach the president? He ran as a pro-Trump candidate. Would he really betray that campaign promise because a poll told him to change his mind?
"That's a great question," Piegza said. "I think most people, given the fact that it's one of the few parts of my platform that I say 'this is what I'm standing for,' I would follow my conscience, most likely," Piegza said. "Obviously, if 80, 90 percent of people said yes, absolutely. We need to oppose this particular Trump policy, yeah I consider it."
Piegza thinks eDemocracy can help untangle complicated topics such as immigration. If eDemocracy were widely used, he said, the country would be less divided over the issue.
"Take something like immigration," Piegza said. "Everyone wants legal immigration, but that means different things to different people. They have different tolerances for various things. So since nobody really has a great handle on what the people want, the parties are fighting. There's all the chaos that's currently going on.
"What would happen if you could administer a survey across the United States and everybody who cares about immigration logs in and completes this 50-question survey? It asks questions like: Do you want a border wall? How much are you willing to pay for a border wall? Do you support DACA? You administer this across the entire United States and you find those places where it's extraordinarily calm, like 80 percent of the people agree that on whatever, like we should have a border wall, and then we craft legislation that's custom tailored to what you know 80 percent of the people want."
That, Piegza said, would make policymaking easier and less political.
However, immigration is also a good example of a policy conflict where facts don't matter to popular opinion. For example, we pointed out, it's well documented that farmers need immigrant labor to help bring the crops in, yet much of the opposition to immigration comes from residents in those same rural counties.
Piegza said he believes if people are given good facts through eDemocracy they will come to the right decisions.
Which brought us to a discussion of climate change, a topic where the data is clear yet some people hold steadfast to the belief that climate change is a hoax.
Piegza said he would approach legislation related to climate change like any other issue that might pop up on eDemocracy. We would want the facts presented, the policy issues fully vetted, and he would vote the way his constituents said he should vote.
"I would consider a carbon tax," Piegza said. "We'd have to figure out how to pull it off so it doesn't damage any businesses or limit small business growth. I believe that we as the United States should be encouraging small businesses in research and development to make sure that we can have businesses that are running more effectively.
We also asked about confirmation bias and the tendency of people to put the belief of their political cohort ahead of what the data says -- people defend their beliefs no matter how wrong on the facts might be presented to them that contradict their beliefs.
It turns out Piegza is well acquainted with confirmation bias. He has a degree in Psychology. He believes eDemocracy can overcome confirmation bias.
"If there's one thing that I could add to our culture or to the United States, it's that there has to be an attempt at getting Democrats and Republicans to see eye to eye," Piegza said. "It is eDemocracy? I'm not saying that's a complete solution or anything like that. What I am saying is that it can't hurt knowing exactly what the Americans feel exactly and what each district feels."
For a guy who believes political harmony can be achieved in the United States, it might be surprising he supports Trump, who calls Democrats "evil" and has a tendency to come up with derogatory nicknames for his opponents ("Lying Ted," "Little Marco," "Low-energy Jeb"). He does wish Trump wouldn't go there.
"He's got he's got a bombastic personality," Piegza said. "He likes charging events and charging words and using explosive phrases. As a leader, I think he should step back from that. I'm a big believer in getting consensus. I'm a big believer that we can make better decisions together. So I'm not a big fan of the explosive language. You know to be perfectly honest, if there's one thing I could do it could be to grab the President's phone and throw it in the toilet."