Friday, May 3, 2013

Town Hall Meeting with Senator Grassley (2013)

It was snowing as I bundled into my coat, grabbed a notebook and pen, and bit into a slice of bread.  Papa and I climbed into our car and were greeted by slippery, muddy gravel roads guarded by ditches faintly reminiscent of the grand canyon--or at least the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Pilgrim's Progress. We finally reached the blacktop, which though slushy, was not nearly as slippery.

We arrived at the Eldora city hall with a few minutes to spare.  When Senator Grassley arrived, there were about 6 people.  We were warmly greeted, and in the last few minutes a stream of people poured in; including late-comers, there were over 30 people.  

Senator Grassley opened the question and answer session.

The first remarks came from a man who thanked the senator for voting against the Manchin-Toomey Amendment (Firearms Bill).  

His concern was illegal immigration.  His daughter-in-law immigrated to the country legally--though the process was difficult--and he wanted illegal immigrants to be deported.  The senator replied that he also had a daughter-in-law who immigrated to the United States from Korea, and he believed the border should be protected.

Someone asked why Senator Grassley voted against the Firearms Bill.  Senator Grassley explained it was because he didn't like the idea of gun registration because registration often leads to confiscation. There were questions about background checks and about information in the databases.  Grassley explained they were looking for balance between security (ensuring guns don't get into the wrong hands) and privacy.  The senator was adamant on protecting Second Amendment rights.

The next topic was road infrastructure.  Our road conditions, it was stated, rate from C to F.  The city of Eldora needs funds to help their roads, and they cannot get all the money they need.  Senator Grassley replied that infrastructure would most likely not come up until the next highway bill.  For a funding increase, there would have to be a consensus on increasing the gas tax.  As a result of the 2010 election, earmarks are "out."  Before then, the senator stated, he could have submitted the request to the appropriations committee, but now the money goes to the states to appropriate.

A Meals-on-Wheels delivery man was next.  He heard that funds for the program would be cut because of the sequester, and he didn't like that. 

 Then there was a man who was concerned about voter fraud.

Next, someone asked why the debt is so high.  He said he balanced his own budget and thought the government should do the same.  Senator Grassley told the man he advocated the Balanced Budget Amendment.  
The next speaker remarked that he liked how Grassley is always on time, and suggested the senator should give a seminar on timeliness to other politicians.  There was laughter across the room; most politicians are late.  Then, admitting he wasn't sure it was safe to say this so far from the door, he related that when a NBA player announced his homosexuality, President Obama called to congratulate him.  This could be expected from Democrats, but now Republicans are starting to embrace homosexuality, with former Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan most recently advocating the "right" of homosexuals to adopt children.  Why are Republicans moving left now, and if they continue, how should conservatives vote?  I could hear an "Amen" and general agreement throughout the small group.  The senator responded with a caution to those who took the stand against homosexuality to be careful to love everyone, and said people with these beliefs may be forced to form a third party if the Republicans continue in this direction.

Another man stated that he recently read an editorial saying that an official in the armed forces has said evangelical Christians in the armed forces could be dishonorably discharged.  He asked the senator to read the editorial and check its veracity.  He also asked why there seems to be no toleration for Christians.  His daughter is homosexual, he said.  But if he says anything against that lifestyle, he is criticized as a homophobe, etc.  "Why is the government trying to zip our mouths shut?" he asked.  Senator Grassley said he has heard many anecdotes about intolerance against Christians, and sometimes there seems to be more intolerance against Christianity than against other religions.  He said that in accordance with the Constitution, Congress shouldn't make any laws establishing religion, but he also noted that it seems Christians often don't stand up enough for what they believe.

The next member of the audience to speak was an elderly man who wished to comment on religion in this country.  He said he was in the Navy in 1945.  On Sunday mornings, he said, everyone went to church. When it was mealtime, everyone ate.  He remembered one time when he didn't feel like eating.  He was found in the barracks and ordered to go eat or go to the sickbay.  He went to the sickbay.  Just like everyone had to eat meals, everyone had to go to church.  After the story, the man asked about the changes to Medicare with Obamacare.

Then there was someone wanting more money from the government for small towns and small businesses.

Healthcare was the next topic.  A lady who works at a clinic told how the new mandatory electronic records are expensive.  She said that insurance premiums are skyrocketing, especially for independent people who buy their own insurance.  Deductibles are often so high that people don't want to go to the doctor even if they have insurance.  The senator explained how all insurance plans will have to fit into Obamacare.
My notes
A teacher spoke next.  He said he was planning to bring his students, but school was cancelled because of the storm.  He said that the most common sentiment his students expressed was frustration because Congress is often in deadlock and the two sides have trouble compromising.  The senator offered to Skype with the class later, and said the solution to this would be a "long answer."  Congress represents the people, he explained, and the grassroots are very polarized.  Years ago, he said, 80% of the people got their news from the 3 major networks.  Now only 20% do.  The rest of the people listen to extreme conservative talk shows or extreme liberal talk shows, Fox or MSNBC, or the internet, so they are very divided on their opinions.  Congress reflects this.

There was more discussion about immigration.  Senator Grassley held up an 844 page book; it was the senate bill about immigration that he had to read that week.  He also said there were 23 more pages of amendments which added another zero to the cost, raising the price from an hundred million to a billion.  He again emphasized the need to secure the border.  A member of the audience said the border should have been secured a long time ago, and how would the border be judged as secure?  The senator replied that if 90% of those who tried to cross the border turned back or were apprehended, it would be considered secure. There was discussion on drones and fences.  Someone commented that we are all descendants of immigrants if our ancestors hadn’t crossed the Bering Strait; the legal immigration process was much too hard now and should be easier.

A chance was given for the press to ask questions.  Laura Smith of the Times Citizen asked the senator to comment on the situation with North Korea.  Senator Grassley said what we needed to know was if the young dictator was trying to act tough to impress his military leaders or if he really wanted to start a war.  North Korea's  nuclear capability is improving, he said.  "What precautions should the government take?" Ms. Smith asked.  The senator responded that precautions had already been taken by sending reinforcements to that area.  

Senator Grassley had to leave for meetings in other towns.  He shook hands with various supporters and made his way for the door.  We left, driving through treacherous roads toward home.  

It was interesting to listen to my neighbors' concerns and Senator Grassley's responses.  The problems today are quite troubling. 

 I left with the impression that Grassley firmly supports the second amendment and a balanced budget and even if I don't agree with him on everything, he genuinely wants to represent his constituents--and does a good job at it.  

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