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Candidate would welcome working immigrants, revise tax code

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 July 2014 at 12:00 am

Jim O’Donnell faces uphill fight against Collins

Photo by Tom Rivers – Jim O’Donnell, a candidate for Congress, poses for a picture with Jeanne Crane, chairwoman of the Orleans County Democratic Party, during the party’s annual summer picnic at Bullard Park on Sunday.

ALBION – He has little money to spend on his campaign, and no staff to help get out his message in a near iron-clad Republican District.

But Jim O’Donnell likes his chances to pull off a big upset victory against Chris Collins, the Republican congressman in the 27th Congressional District, which covers eight counties, including Orleans.

O’Donnell, 29, is a police officer in Buffalo. He’s also an attorney with a master’s in economics.

“I’m tired of this mentality that Washington is this impossible minefield that you can’t get through unless you play to every little interest,” O’Donnell said in Albion on Sunday. “I want to be the guy that proves you can go to Washington with a purpose and you can get those purposes done.”

O’Donnell was in town for the Orleans County Democratic Party picnic at Bullard Park. He is juggling the demands of a full-time job as a police officer with the campaign. As a police officer, he can’t solicit campaign donations, according to the state election law. Some have encouraged him to quit his job to focus on the campaign, but O’Donnell has declined.

“That is one of the strengths of my campaign, that I have a full-time job working in the community with the people,” he said.

O’Donnell lives in Orchard Park. He said there is a strong anti-Chris Collins sentiment in the Congressional district. In the last election, Collins won a close race against Kathy Hochul, a Democrat. The district was reconfigured about two years ago to make it even more Republican friendly.

The gerrymandered district stretches through rural areas of Western New York. O’Donnell said agriculture is big in the district, and many of the farms rely on foreign workers to milk cows, and plant and harvest crops.

However, many of their workers are not in country legally, making the farms vulnerable to losing their workers.

“I don’t think it should ever be a crime for someone to want to come here and work,” O’Donnell said. “If someone is willing to cross the desert, to cross the cartels, to cross oceans to get here, in order to work an be productive members of society, those are the people who we want. We want to figure out a system to make those people legal citizens and start adding them to our tax base. It’s something everyone should be trying to do.”

Immigration reform is needed in our region, and not only for agriculture, O’Donnell said. Welcoming hard-working young adults would add vitality to communities suffering from population losses, he said.

“We need to be fostering a very strong immigration policy that grows our population, that does so in a way that promotes the success of our country,” he said. “If you’re coming across for the right reasons we should want you here.”

Efforts to reform immigration laws have stalled in the past 20 years. O’Donnell thinks Congress sometimes tries to do too much with a proposal, leading to the legislation’s demise.

“It’s a complex issue because there are a whole bunch of different side issues that go along with it,” he said about immigration. “Whenever you try to do these big wide scope legislative things it ends up either not getting passed at all or it misses a lot of the important things should have been handled on an individual basis.”

He said he agreed with Collins that the U.S. shouldn’t house migrant children in our region who have recently crossed the southern U.S. border illegally, fleeing violence and poverty. Many of those children came across without their parents.

“It sends the wrong message to those parents,” he said. “I don’t want them sending their kids here alone, risking dying in a desert. That isn’t good policy. The border should be secured. It doesn’t make sense to allow just anyone to come in.”

O’Donnell said simplifying the tax code, which totals more than 70,000 pages, would also be a goal in Congress. A streamlined tax code would foster business growth and boost the economy, he said.

“The tax code is one of the few things government can do to help the economy,” he said.

O’Donnell urged Democrats in Orleans to rally behind his campaign, and not let the odds discourage them.

“He’s not a popular Republican,” O’Donnell said about Collins. “He’s not out there doing things for the community. Hopefully people will recognize that and the vote will go my way.”