I spent an hour today, March 18th, at a Townhall Meeting hosted by one of my two U.S. Senators, Senator Claire McCaskill. The meeting was held in the St. Patrick’s Room at the Havener Center at University of Missouri Science and Technology, or MS&T, to us locals.
I had written an email to both of my Senators in 2013 and promptly heard back from Senator McCaskill’s office. I received a politely written reply to my concern, but the Senator and I failed to convince one another of the rightness of each other’s views. Several weeks ago, I was a bit surprised to receive a personal invitation via email to attend this Townhall Meeting, so I decided to attend. I would estimate that there were 100 people in attendance and we had to check in at a registration table. Since I had rsvp’d, my name was on a check-off list and I quickly entered the room and found a seat. A student to my left had his laptop open so he could take notes during the Senator’s talk…probably writing something for the MS&T Student newspaper, I surmised. A gentleman in front of me was an Army veteran, served his country for 20 years. Senior Citizens, college-students, and me among the middle aged attendees, along with the Senator and her staffers, we were the population of this Townhall.
Rev. Timothy Lee, pastor at First United Methodist Church, opened the Townhall Meeting with prayer. It was nice to see no one stomping off in anger or objecting to a prayer being said. Senator McCaskill then asked us all to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which all in the audience did. Then, Senator McCaskill warmly greeted us all and said she was glad we could attend. She asked how many of us in the room probably wouldn’t vote for her and a good number raised their hands. She smiled and said that she was glad those of us who don’t agree with her politically are still willing to attend her Townhalls, which she has been conducting around the state the past few weeks.
She had two charts on the dais behind her, “Energizing America’s Economic Recovery” was emblazoned across the top of one chart. “Boosting Job and Business Opportunities” was the title of the other chart. She began by boosting some good news: Missouri’s unemployment level is the lowest its been since 2008, public sector jobs-aka government jobs-have been cut the most and private sector jobs have risen, the deficit was $1.4 trillion in 2012 and now it’s down to $500 billion, still needs to get a lot lower she said. She announced that she would begin a question and answer session and that when she did her first Townhall a couple years ago, she was accused of taking “planted” questions in the audience. To combat that critique, we were given a paper to fill out with our contact info and a space to write a question. These papers were put into a basket and the Senator chose a gentleman in the front row to hand one of her assistants a question and then the Senator would answer them.
Sixteen questions were pulled from the basket before the Senator’s time was up(this Townhall was only set for one hour.) One question was confidential and the Senator agreed to meet with that gentleman after the meeting was over to discuss his concern. Four questions were about the Military: What more can be done to help veterans in finding jobs within their skills set that they learned while serving? How can Missouri keep veterans in Missouri instead of seeing them leave the state for jobs elsewhere? Corruption at Fort Leonard Wood, was the Senator aware of that? PAL’s (Private Army Lodging) has problems and was the Senator aware of that issue? Since Fort Leonard Wood, a large Army base, is only half an hour away and employs a lot of folks in the Rolla, MO area, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the questions pertaining to Military interests. There was a question about the unfairness of educational statistics of other countries(who don’t educate all of their children)in comparing those stats to public education in the U.S. The Senator agreed that organized labor has done great things in this country and she credited it with the rise of the Middle Class. Why can’t gas prices be lower? The Senator and I agreed on this issue, as she is in favor of the Keystone Pipeline and wants it to go forward as it will provide jobs and it would better for our country to benefit from it and we’ll be more careful about the environmental impacts of it than China would be. I started to raise my hand and then decided not to. I was going to ask the good Senator then why oh why can’t she convince the President to approve this project? We hear how he wants to create jobs and energize the economy and when Canada is continually put on hold over this project, when we have this project that will do what the President “claims” he wants, he does nothing! On January 31, 2014, the State Department even released the results of their study that said the Pipeline wouldn’t harm greenhouse gases and still, nada is happening! Here is the link to that article from the Washington Post. Another question about the EPA and the Senator and I found another topic to agree upon. She stated that some regulations are necessary but that when she gets wind of ridiculous ones, she is quick to pounce on them and has succeeded in getting them dropped. Two examples of the ridiculous: stricter regulations on the scaffoldings to be used in home construction which would have added higher costs to the prices of new homes for a specific, expensive scaffold that the EPA insisted construction businesses had to use, and the EPA wanted to punish farmers for putting too much “dust” back into the air when they ran their farm machinary in the fields or drove their trucks down dirt roads. She urged anyone to contact her about any EPA regulation that we felt was detrimental to the way a business or livelihood was operating.
Obamacare came up, of course, and she admitted that she is frustrated by it, that the roll out was done horribly. One gentleman challenged her as to why she voted for it when 60% if Missourians didn’t support it and many still don’t. That question got a lot of loud applause. Senator McCaskill didn’t really answer his question and danced around it with some commentary about how when she first ran for the Senate that the number one item she was asked about was from uninsured farmers, and how could they afford health insurance? From her commentary, I began to wonder if all the farmers in the state are uninsured and if farmers were all she talked to, because I found myself skeptical that that was the number one issue in the state when she was running for the Senate for the first time. A lady asked her why has so much of the ACA(Obamacare) mandates been pushed further back from starting, and why were some industries exempted? Again, the Senator nimbly danced around those questions and really didn’t answer them.
In closing out this Townhall Meeting, Senator McCaskill stated that,”Local solutions are better in solving problems than relying on DC.” She thanked us all for coming, and as she began to talk one on one with constituents who lined up to approach the dais, I thought back to all I had heard. Senator McCaskill is a skilled speaker. She is good at eye contact and talking to her audience in a familial way, not as a stranger, not as one too high up in the stratosphere of the political world to speak to citizens. She pointed out that in the ranking of the 100 U.S. Senators, from liberal to conservative, she is right in the middle, at #50. As nice as she was, I still don’t see eye-to-eye with her on many issues and find her comment about local issues better solved by local folks, to ring hollow, as she obviously thinks the government forcing Americans to buy a product is the way to “save” healthcare in America.