Concerned citizens participated in a Virginia 1st District Mock Town Hall, Tuesday, at Patriot High School in Nokesville, to discuss Rob Wittman’s voting record.
Aimed at sending a strong message that they wish to be heard, citizens organized a town hall without him; Wittman has not held in person town halls but hosted several “tele-town halls” over the phone.
Wittman said he was unable to attend. Instead he attended a Stafford Supervisor’s meeting he answered questions on the federal budget, health care and taxes.
Mindy Diepenbrock, primary organizer of the town hall, and her group tried to accommodate Wittman’s schedule, but his office did not provide his availability.
A six-person citizen panel proved information on Wittman’s record, addressing health care, national security, budget, environment, education and immigration. Panelists researched Wittman voting record and comments to the media.
Residents were cordial while expressing their disagreement with the congressman, and displeasure with the President’s actions and agenda.
Though advertised as a bipartisan event, attendees were almost entirely progressive. Only Democratic lawmakers attended although Republicans had been invited.
One man expressed his frustration with partisan politics, asking why the media labels and divides citizens and moderates are ignored.
“We’re all working against each other,” said teacher Rob Dulin. “We let people label us. At the end of the day, we’re all Americans; we’re all Virginians. It’s always point- counterpoint.”
He suggested Americans work cooperatively to come up with an answer to the problems. The moderator explained that they hoped the town hall would provide such a discussion.
On heath care, the panelist said Wittman opposed the health care bill put forth by Republicans in Congress. He stated that he would only approve a plan that reduced costs for consumers, provided choice and access, was available to all Virginians, protected Medicare and Medicaid and not grow the government.
“I’m very concerned that none of the bills in the House of Representatives meet your criteria, or frankly mine,” said Chris Bates of Bristow. “What are you doing to help bills with preexisting conditions or those age 50 or older?”
A Dumfries man noted Republicans voted over 50 times to repeal Obama Care, but could not offer a workable alternative. A Gainesville man said American businesses must assume healthcare costs for their employees. “How can we compete with Europe?”
Dan Durante said Wittman wants a defense budget that is four percent of GDP, which is double President’s Trump defense budget. The congressman advocated building more ships two more aircraft carriers as well.
“Keeping a strong military is a gimmick,” said a Catlett woman. “Our defense is already well funded.”
“How do you justify one billion stealth destroyer that continues to malfunction when the VA has problems just trying to take care of Veterans?” a military veteran asked.
Residents requested Congress investigate Trump’s ties to the Kremlin.
On the environment, Linda Daubert noted Wittman is a biologist by training and a strong advocate for protecting the Chesapeake Bay. His record is otherwise less environmentally friendly.
“Why did you vote to shoot bears in their sleep in Alaska? I mean: that’s just heartless. Yogi Bear is very disappointed in you,” one resident said.
“His record is abysmal!” said one woman. “Why is he hiding behind the Chesapeake Bay thing? The environment is global. Do your job and protect the world.”
On education, Wittman supports using public money for credits for charter schools, saying it would help public schools as well since they would receive half the money for students not attending.
Although a scientist, he voted against funding for science and technology research He voted to provide $110 million per year to teach abstinence-only education in public schools.
Citizens asked that he not support Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ agenda.
“Why do you support the Betsy DeVos’ voucher program?” asked a Marsteller Middle School student. “I’m starting to value (education) more and more. I am asking you: please don’t take away our education.”
Wittman wanted stronger immigration enforcement and agreed that a wall at the Mexican board is worth the cost if it deters even one terrorist.
But, citizens were in opposition, defending undocumented immigrants who contribute to society and want to build a better life for themselves and their families especially those who have lived in the country for decades.
Diepenbrock was happy with the turnout of the forum, approximately 250 attendees and 3000 additional residents who watched online. She and other volunteers plan to hand deliver questions citizens wrote to Wittman’s office and meet with an aide to discuss them.
Despite the absence of the congressman, organizer Mindy Diepenbrock felt the event went well.
“We got lots of positive feedback from people in the audience as well as feedback from those watching on facebook live stream. People seemed to appreciate the panelists providing well researched information on Rep. Wittman’s views,” Diepenbrock said.
She also felt the town hall was successful in building connections among people from across the 1st District, which crosses three counties.
She believes Wittman missed out on a “wonderful opportunity,” saying that democracy works when lawmakers listen to their constituents and they should be able to address them face to face.
Before the panel began, Virginia 2021 presented information on the threat Gerrymandering posed to the democratic process.
© 2017, Stacy Shaw. All rights reserved.