DeSaulnier’s town hall drumbeat: civic engagement
By Lou Fancher
Tears and tough talk about President Donald Trump’s first 80 days in office prevailed at a town hall with Rep. Mark DeSaulnier.
The congressman’s update April 3 in Lafayette attracted approximately 300 people to Stanley Middle School’s multipurpose room. Although attended by mostly adults, the 90-minute conversation largely focused on youths and democracy’s future in the United States.
Most moving and substantive was a question from an 11-year-old girl whose bedtime prevented her from attending. Worried about President Trump deporting her classmates, among other concerns, she asked: “Should I be worried about my future? As a kid, what can I do about it?” The questions read by Deputy Press Secretary Michael McRae drew impassioned response from the Congressman.
DeSaulnier, D-Concord, encouraged people to read, be thoughtful, stay engaged and avoid becoming what he said the ancient Greek’s called “an idiot” — a person qualified to vote who doesn’t exercise that right.
DeSaulnier said democracy “is not some trite thing” and “it’s the epitome of human evolution.”
Instead of vilifying people because they appear dissimilar, participation as a citizen he said is about “engaging, empathy, and understanding you’re going to have differences of opinion.”
When he suggested that people had died for democracy and that the principles therein were worth fighting for, an extended standing ovation interrupted him before he repeated his mantra for the evening: be and stay engaged.
Lafayette Mayor Mike Anderson said one sign that local residents are engaged is that “suddenly, now, everyday, D.C. is in my face.”
DeSaulnier took that comment as a springboard for a review of initiatives and bills mostly related to environment, housing and economic issues that he has supported.
He said the 23 bills, amendments and resolutions he had authored or enacted during his first two years in Congress had all taken bipartisan efforts to create. Reaching consensus on the Affordable Care Act and federal budget have been the hardest topics on which to make progress due to partisan divides in Congress.
DeSaulnier painted a grim profile for life under the Trump Administration. “Zeroing-out” or partial cuts to the EPA, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, State Department, Chemical Safety Board, education, and a Labor Department that he said is “basically being eviscerated” were only the tip of the iceberg.
Singling out National Institutes of Health, he said that any reduction in its $30 billion budget is “just crazy” in light of the strides made in cancer research alone.
DeSaulnier in 2016 made known that he had been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. A direct beneficiary of scientific progress that changed his condition from life-ending to manageable, he said, “We don’t want to cut back on NIH.”
The statistic on the National Institutes of Health, since 1970, indicate our investment has contributed $77 trillion to the economy by extending people’s lives, he said.
What is called for, he said, is increased oversight of the Department of Defense and military spending. An Oversight Reform Committee on which he serves has held a hearing to review a report about waste in the DOD’s $700 billion budget.
DeSaulnier then and later during a Q&A said that if even $50 billion of wasteful expenditures from the Department of Defense can be redirected to the NIH, Meals on Wheels or many other entities, it would have significant benefit to hard-impacted social service, health and education programs.
Protection was a significant topic of discussion and applied to people’s privacy concerns, Medicare, sanctuary cities, transportation and whether or not taxpayers’ investments are properly applied.
Questions on accountability underscored Trump’s potential conflicts of interest in the business world, transparency of funding in federal elections and more.
DeSaulnier said the world has changed, but if government “did our job, you wouldn’t need sanctuary cities.”
He has co-authored legislation to override what his PowerPoint called “the Muslim Ban” and the Mexico wall and to demand full tax record disclosure from candidates.
The refugee situation in Syria, he said is “a disaster for our lifetime.” He predicted that if only force is used to resolve the situation it is “a recipe for disaster” and “people’s sons and daughters will be over there fighting for a long time” if the country follows a military path.
About voter engagement, DeSaulnier issued a message that was an indictment and a challenge. He said the largest block of voters in the 2016 presidential election were not supporters of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. They were people who chose not to vote at all.