The Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce hosted newly elected U.S. Rep. Joe Sempolinski for its annual “Congressional Breakfast” event Friday at Moonbrook Country Club.
Dan Heitzenrater, president and CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce, expressed the organization’s gratitude for the the newly elected representative speaking at the event. Heitzenrater had previously expressed concerns that the chamber might not be able to host the annual event this year, due to the vacant congressional seat prior to Sempolinski’s special election Aug. 23.
Sempolinski was officially sworn into office Sept. 13, just in time for the Chamber’s annual event.
In addition to Sempolinski, state Sen. George Borrello, state Assemblyman Andrew Goodell and Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel attended the event, along with county legislators and other county officials.
Sempolinski said the event is unique because it provides the opportunity for dialogue and interaction between the district’s representative in the House of Representatives, local and state elected officials and the business community.
Before answering questions from local business leaders and county officials, Sempolinski expressed his commitment to accurately representing his constituents.
“For me, the first priority of any elected official is to be responsive to the people you represent,” he said. “When you cast a vote, you’re speaking for the people. I work for the people of the 23rd district. It’s a profound honor to speak for you on the floor of the House of Representatives. It’s the honor of a lifetime.”
Heitzenrater introduced Sempolinski as a lifelong resident of the Southern Tier who previously served as the district director for the 23rd district before his recent election.
After being elected, Sempolinski was appointed to the Education and Labor Committee, the Budget Committee, and the Early Childhood Elementary and Secondary Education Sub-Committee in Washington.
Despite being newly elected to the House of Representatives, Sempolinski said he has already had the opportunity to vote on a couple dozen legislative matters and speak on behalf of the people of the 23rd district.
Sempolinski explained he is in a unique position because his term expires Jan. 3, following the election of either Republican nominee Nick Langworthy or Democrat nominee Max Della Pia in the November midterm elections.
“There’s a song that says you should live like you were dying,” he said. “With my situation legislatively, I am legislating as if I was dying. We have very limited time, and everyone in the office is taking it extremely seriously that we need to do the best we can with the time the people of this district have given us to work for them.”
Sempolinski told local business leaders and county officials that serving on the sub-committee responsible for overseeing the education of America’s students is a “profound responsibility,” given the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic caused for education and the development of the next generation. One of Sempolinski’s top priorities in the House of Representatives is to promote legislation and policies that could help students receive the education they need to prepare them for their future.
Along the same lines, Sempolinski stressed the importance of preparing people to join the workforce by encouraging trade skills and alternative educational experiences.
Sempolinski addressed business leaders’ concerns about the declining population, the lack of workers, supply-chain shortages, state policies regarding businesses and a wide range of additional topics.
While Sempolinski said there are steps the federal government can take to help local businesses in Chautauqua County, he said the policies endorsed by the state have made it difficult for businesses in Western New York to compete with bordering businesses in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Sempolinski said businesses are essential to the community and play a crucial role in the local economy.
“I appreciate what you do as business people in the community,” he said, “making sure that the community functions and runs and people have jobs.”
Sempolinski suggested that businesses in the region would benefit from a change in state leadership, but explained that regardless of the outcome of the midterm elections, he would advocate for pro-business policies in the House of Representatives during his time in office and would continue to connect with constituents in order to better represent the people.
“If you’re an elected official, the people of your district are who you work for, so when you’re out talking to your constituents, you’re out talking to your employers.” he said. “They deserve to know what you’re doing in Washington D.C. You need to be out and about in your district as often as possible, listening and taking the ideas from your district to Washington D.C., as opposed to taking silly ideas from Washington D.C. and trying to inflict them on your district.”
Sempolinski told The Post-Journal his current focus is finding ways to work on economic development projects in the 23rd district, as well as improve the education system.
“We have a particular focus on education, especially special education,” he said, “making sure that people with disabilities have the resources they need to be educated and productive and working in society.”
Heitzenrater said the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce was pleased with the event and excited to continue providing the business community with opportunities to interact with elected officials. While he acknowledged that businesses are currently facing many challenges, he said the Chamber of Commerce plans to continue to provide ways for businesses to connect with the individuals responsible for guiding policy and legislation that can impact the business community.