By George Reed, for Clean Up On Aisle Four

So we are doing something a little different at Cleanup on Aisle Four this week with a segment called, “You ask, I answer”

My wife Kathryn and I attended a very friendly, engaged, safe, and energized town hall meeting.  Attending were 70 or more concerned citizens, 3 prospective candidates for the Indiana 4th Congressional seat, and the campaign chairman for Senator Joe Donnelly.  During the session I promised to publish answers to the questions submitted on cards to the event organizers. Meganne Masko turned around the question list as efficiently as her team organized the event. Thanks again!

Please note:  US Representative Todd Rokita was invited to the town hall meeting as well, but elected to not attend because such a venue and event was inherently unsafe.  Not sure how a friendly gathering next to a police station is dangerous, but then there is a legion of matters upon which Mr. Rokita and I have vastly differing opinions.

Questions from the Avon Town Hall -April 17, 2017

These have been organized into like groups.

Constitution:

  • Do you believe the Constitution establishes the separation of Church and State? The United States Constitution absolutely establishes and requires that the state stay out of religion and vice versa. We must have freedom to worship, but the state cannot be allowed to require any particular religious activity.

Gun violence:

  • What are you going to do about gun violence? We need to follow and enforce the laws in place. I like guns. I have fired many.  I have serviced them and trained others. I have ducked down behind a rock to dodge tracer rounds from an enemy machine gun.  I have had the privilege of firing the 120 millimeter smoothbore main gun of the M1-A2 battle tank. (Pretty sweet weapon).  That said, I think we need to manage weapons of mass destruction (which includes machine guns) a bit more consistently than we do.
  • Do you agree that we need universal background checks? We should not be selling guns and ammunition to convicted felons and people currently under care for psychotic episodes. Our Congress repealed this requirement in late January and I was astonished.  We might not agree on how to do background checks, et cetera, but I would have thought we could all get behind taking a second look if the buyer is having a psychotic episode.
  • Do you support common sense gun regulations? What do you include under that umbrella? We have common sense gun regulations—or we did have them before the current Congress to a knife to them. Second Amendment says we have the right to bear arms.  Period.  Our Laws should say we have the right to bear arms responsibly, and  we need to enforce them.

Healthcare:

  • Will you support Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for all proposal? You bet I will. The cost of healthcare in America would plummet under a single payer system. One of the nice things about working as an Information Technology Leader is you talk to others in the field.  Some I talk to work in healthcare, right here in our district.  They tell me that 70% of their budget is blown because they have to deal with 12-15 different payers and their set of rules.  Imagine if the money going into healthcare actually improved health instead of the slot-machine that is the current system?  Imagine if we fled the Anthems of the world who spend 37% of your premiums on administration and CEO salaries, and moved to Medicare which spends 5.1% of the premiums on administrative costs.  Math does not lie.  Look at the data and the single payer is the only way to go.  We are about the last developed nation to figure this out.
  • Will you support the ACA? The ACA is the law of the land and has helped 20 million Americans have better health care than before it passed. Does it have flaws?  It does.  Should we remedy those flaws?  We must.  There are many opportunities to include more people, more problems, and more improvements.  We.Must.Do.This.  As a Congressman, I will be wildly vocal in support of this path.
  • Will you support changing the ACA only if it results in positive changes like expanding care even more? You bet your mailbox I will. I will be opposed to any action or inaction that degrades our healthcare.  At. All.  It is a human right and should never be reserved to the privileged.  I will support any measure that forwards this ideal, suggest ideas to my colleagues, and seek guidance from experts.   I will weigh in constantly on these topics as it is clearly essential to our collective futures.  I will never support a government action that asks a 28 year old mother to choose between the electric bill and an urgent oncology matter.
  • Can my fellow constituents and I count on you to vigorously oppose any cuts to Medicare, including privatization which could threaten my ability to retire? We must not cut Medicare. We should double it.  We should all be on it.  It is efficient, fair, and does not care what your income is, your politics, or your problems.  It just delivers efficient healthcare for those that need it.  I can promise that no one will ever witness me being silent on this issue!

Activism/Voter Engagement:

  • The mean age of this group appears to be approximately 55. What will you do to draw younger voters and other demographic groups? Those involved in politics need to go to where our teenagers, college age, and young adults are. We need to inspire and engage our younger folks and invite them to greatness.  I have said many times Leadership is the act of inviting and inspiring others to greatness.  I intend to lead.  I’ll do that by teaching civics classes in middle schools and high schools free of charge, and inviting younger folks to come and ask me hard questions in town halls.  I can tell you my 14 year old has already accepted the challenge to participate.  I will get out to our colleges and universities and teach civics classes to our undergrads.  Decisions and progress gets made by those who show up.  I will be showing up.
  • A recent poll found that 84% of Americans feel money has too much influence on politics. What will you do to support election reform and oppose Citizens United? I am aware that some folks think we should be careful to avoid a harsh, whip-snap response to campaign reform and financing issues. We have been wisely cautioned to avoid jumping on easy solutions that sound great and might be a lot more complicated and that is a fair point.  That said, I am going to state that the sheer volume of cash private ventures can pour into targeted campaigns is outlandish and inappropriate..  We need to reel in the campaign financing to avoid the obvious, prevalent, horrific corruption that is prevalent today.  Why should we allow a sitting Congressman to accept $867,000 from political operatives and committees pushing legislation their committee is judging?  Why should we allow our elected officials to sell away our internet activity in exchange for lavish donations?  This needs to stop and it needs to stop yesterday.  If a young minority candidate needs money, the money can be obtained by getting out and sharing their message.  Of the $2,100 I have donated to campaigns since November, it has all gone to candidates who do not have massive finances behind them.  Now.  Citizens United.  We get rid of that by attaining the right counsel and suing to block their influence.  Same goes with Gerrymandering.  We have to use our courts to resolve these issues.  No member of Congress can do it alone.
  • What would you say to disaffected Republicans who do not support the positions of Mr. Rokita and Mr. Trump? How are you different? What are your positions on fiscal responsibility? Are there really no Republicans to run against Rokita in a primary? To my republican friends who are feeling a bit disaffected, well, I am very sorry this has gone this way. Your men (Trump, Pence, and Rokita) made some promises that sounded great.  They excited you and motivated you.  But now you are watching jobs leave the state, healthcare come under assault, and executive leadership humiliating our country on the global stage.  It really sucks and I welcome you to our side.  I am a different sort of candidate than those guys.  I would include you and invite you to seek excellence with the rest of us.  I am not about excluding.  I am about a safe, secure, financially sound, healthy America.  I, like you, am finding this does not seem a likely outcome of the current people staying in office.  Now I do not know why more of our sensible republicans are not opposing Mr. Rokita.  I really don’t.  But I think we need to find a bipartisan solution to many of our collective problems or no progress will ever be made.  We need to understand and address our need to pay for the government we need and the programs we know to be essential.

Social issues:

  • What have you done to show that you are pro-life? I have been privileged to volunteer at numerous Riley Children’s Hospital programs. I worked to protect young lives.  I will do that now and for always.  I wonder at the motives of people who are pro birth (no abortions allowed) but think it is ok to starve kids and take away their healthcare and education.  I coordinate volunteer programs from my company to go and spend time helping out at Gleaner’s Food Bank.  Pro-life means supporting healthy and supported lives with equal opportunity for all.  It is not about Planned Parenthood.  It is about how we treat human life. Am I pro-choice?  I am in favor of a woman’s right to make—and own—medical decisions about her own health.
  • Did the Sandy Hook Massacre actually happen? I have to say I wish it had been a hoax, I really do. Unfortunately, I had a West Point Classmate who lost family there.  That horrific event was what it was.  It, sadly, was not a hoax.  It is profoundly unfortunate that the event happened and that people perpetrate fake conspiracies.  The thing about false conspiracy theory and fake news or alternative facts is that shouting them loud from a shiny podium can make them sound and feel real.  It turns out that it prevents progress and insults folks like those impacted by Sandy Hook.

Immigration:

  • What is your position on US immigration reform? I have yet to hear a comprehensive statement of the problem here. If we are worried about undocumented immigrants, then bring them into the process.  Enforce the laws of the land.  If we are worried about terrorists then be vigilant.  But.  Please notice that of the 168,349 homicides in America since January 1st 2000, less than 1 percent were inflicted by foreign terrorists.  Lest than .001% were inflicted by people from Countries the current President has written orders against.  Mr. Trump, either your aim is lousy, or you never intended to help.  Certain levels of incompetence are difficult to accept as coincidence.

Climate Change/Environment:

  • Do you believe that global warming/climate change are real? Can humans take action against it? We are doing a fantastic job of ruining our planet. Make no mistake, the plant will—and is starting to—fight back.  We are ruining our oceans, our lakes, our rivers, and our atmosphere.  These facts are beyond contest.  Our President and his republican congress are eliminating protections that will preserve our water and air.  Ladies and Gentleman, I have to tell you that we all need air and water.  There is no planet B.  If we destroy this one we are screwed, because President Trump has cut all funding from NASA that might find a new planet
  • What would you propose to do to help get Indiana out of the dark ages on clean energy, all of the jobs that clean energy creates, and the business they attract? I want to see legislation that subsidizes and rewards clean energy programs. I expect that would be one of the first bills I would author.  We could put 25,000 Hoosiers to work in scant months if we funded clean energy.  This is scientific fact, not science fiction. Innovators like Elon Musk have shown us that renewable energy exists and is attainable.
  • What about retraining coal workers? We need to shut down the coal mines and enable the miners to seek new fields of endeavor. In Kentucky and West Virginia the public sentiment is largely anti coal.  And it should be.  Let us spend time, energy, and thought towards effectively creating new endeavors for these workers so that they may support our families without destroying our environment.
  • What is your position on climate change legislation? The actions against the environment by President Trump and his Lackeys (aka congress) are horrific. We need to put all those regulations right back in place.  Do not.  Do not.  DO NOT allow your congress to open the doors to coal sludge in our rivers and fracking filth killing our children. When we are out of air and water it is game over.

Education:

  • What are you doing to improve public schools rather than depleting public school funding through voucher programs? I may have startled some people when I expressed my direct opinion here, but I will do it again. Don’t cut Indiana public school funding by 157 million, triple it.  Make our schools palaces of learning.  Give every public school teacher a 20% raise so that they do not need a second job.  Fund out athletics and arts programs.  We will find that the result is teachers who are energized and engaged.  We will see our children come home educated, inspired, and uplifted.  We need the best of us teaching the rest of us.
  • What would you do to address the outrageous student debt problem? Many young people have crushing student debt, but are having trouble finding jobs that pay well enough to pay for those loans. Todd Rokita and his fellow members of the Republican Congress voted to remove safeguards to our graduates paying off student loans. They are moving in a terrible direction that will worsen the problem.  I see a multi-pronged approach to relieving these issues.
    • New York recently voted to make tuition free at publicly funded Universities. Let’s take that to a national level and vote to have the US Department of Education support and subsidize these efforts in any state willing to establish this sort of program
    • Put back in place the protections that require borrowers to be informed of the least expensive way to pay of extant loans.
    • Subsidize the students pursing and achieving degrees and certifications we need more of. Commerce and Education need to work together on this and our congressional committees need to effect legislation the furthers this end.
    • What will you do to address the skills gap in the US Economy? What role does public education play? The US Departments of Education and Commerce should use their visibility into their respective domains to identify skills gaps and propose budget numbers that accomplish the analysis and a subsequent increase in grants and scholarships for those working to achieve these skills. Public education should be funded in a fashion that helps close the skills gaps and makes our state an attractive landing spot for businesses that need these skills.
  • What would you do to get Congress to quit attaching voucher funding programs ad hoc concerns about public schools? I will speak out against (and vote no) on any budget that re-directs federal funding away from public schools and into private schools that only a tiny fraction of our students may even access. Public funding should also avoid running afoul of the separation of Church and State mandated in the Constitution of the United States of America.
  • (State level) We need an elected superintendent of schools in Indiana, what would you do about that? A member of the US Congress has limited impact upon how the state selects a superintendent of schools, but as a member of Congress I would lobby the state to elect this critical official, and vocally support those campaigning for the State house where these decisions are made.
  • (State level) Why should the state spend money on virtual pre-K? The earlier we socialize and engage our new students in the learning process, the more effective and successful they will be as students all their lives. This is especially true in math and languages, in which areas the capacity to learn is incredibly high at age 3-5.  I may sound (OK read)  like a broken record but we need more education not less.  More teachers not less.  More funding to educate more people not less.  As my son says, “We need to have the Best of us teaching the rest of us,” and this needs to start in pre-K.

Economy:

  • Mechanization and automation are the two largest threats to US job security. What would you propose to do to get the country ready to address these issues? It is high time we understood this challenge as a country and began to respond accordingly. If we want to get away from coal (and black lung and all the environmental issues) then let’s build factories in Kentucky and West Virginia that produce components that are used to produce clean, renewable energy.  A coal miner (at high health risk) making 50K a year would certainly be better off working in a clean energy factory and making 60K.  Congress can influence this outcome through legislation and budget mandates.  Influence needs to be used to improve our country—not for things like trading our internet privacy away for campaign contributions)
  • What role do you think education play in addressing this problem?  Education plays a vital role.  Teach courses that reflect our reality, not a political spin.  Climate change and limited fossil fuels are aspects of our reality.  They are true and there is no PLANet-B waiting for us.  Teach the science and the skills to effect clean energy and high efficient factories that use human minds and labor to get the work done. This comes back to driving budget mandates that have Commerce, Energy, and Education influencing these outcomes.  Congress is a very important check in the system of checks and balances.  Without the check, we have no balance.  Without the balance and we citizens are at the mercy of the guys with the largest check.
  • President Trump wants to limit access to HB1 visas, but we have a lack of qualified and educated American citizens to fill many of those jobs. What are your plans to address those skills gaps in the US, as well as managing our need for skilled workers? This direction of the President is very symptomatic of the Republican habit of “Ready-Fire-Aim” A more-measured—and hence successful—approach would be to evaluate what skills we have plenty of and limit *those* H1B Visas. Allow in foreign workers where we lack the skills, *but* get Commerce and Education to work closing the skills gap. Let’s have the rules in place be followed.

 

Questions not asked but inferred:

  • Dude! How will we pay for all that government?!  That is a very fair point and has been central to arguments across the aisles of Congress for decades.  Some approaches to this would be:
    • I am a proud veteran who has dodged the tracers fired by angry enemies in defense of our freedom, and yet I have to wonder why we want to add 60 billion to the defense budget. We out-spend every nation on earth ~combined~ in this area already.  Increase diplomacy and reduce defense spending.
    • A Healthier America is a more profitable America. Let’s not just say it, let’s do it. Finish the job the Affordable Care Act started and make our nation healthy.
  • Should our elected officials perform their duties on behalf of all constituents and do so with an inclusive, dignified demeanor? Yes.  We should not have an elected President who routinely makes me hope the Nuclear Launch codes are more than 140 characters.  Our Representatives in Congress are there to represent.  It would be excellent if they made that include all of us.  I know I certainly will.

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