By MARGARET BURNS/Staff writer
John Garamendi, former Peace Corps member, former Insurance Commissioner for the State of California, former Assistant Secretary of the Interior for the United States, former Lieutenant Governor of California, and now Representative of California’s Third District to the United States House of Representatives, held a question-and-answer session for two hours at St. Anthony Parish Hall in Winters on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 19.
The event attracted more than 100 people from the region — Woodland, Fairfield, Colusa, Dixon, Davis, Vacaville, Esparto and Winters, as self-identified by the questioners. The Town Hall was hosted by the Winters Senior Foundation. According to Wally Pearce, president of the Winters Senior Foundation, it happened this way:
“It took me the better part of a year to get Garamendi to come to Winters. Finally, after many calls without a response, Sharon and I drove to Garamendi’s barbecue at his ranch outside Valley Springs, and when I met him and shook his hand, I told him I would not let go until he agreed to do a Town Hall in Winters. He said he would. Three weeks later, I received a call from his Davis office and we agreed upon a time. I told them I wanted a Saturday that way more people could attend.
“This is what he and I were laughing about when I gave him the ball cap after his speech. He said he remembered me and the handshake.”
Democracy Winters, a local group, was active in helping set up and publicizing the meeting.
Garamendi started by saying that we, as a nation, are in a rough spot right now, but that this nation will be stronger when all this is over. He said he had come upon words from Franklin Delano Roosevelt that he used to evaluate what he was doing in the house: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
Garamendi said the healthcare debate was defeated because the American public said, “No, that’s wrong.” He said that repeal of Obamacare will not happen, but we need to make changes. Bills are in place to prevent the president from changing either subsidies or equalizations for insurers without congressional approval. He said those provisions are necessary to make Obamacare work better. Also, the availability of healthcare needs to be better advertised in the media. President Trump pulled advertising out of the last version of the bill.
Michael Russell, a retired scientist from Davis, asked about climate change. Garamendi said that predictions show that most of the conflicts in the future will be related to climate change. Of particular concern is climate change in the Himalayas that influences the two biggest populations in the world: China and India.
Garamendi said that he fights to keep the Department of Defense funded to engage in activities to understand and promote climate change, but it gets more difficult every year.
George Carter, a Vacaville resident, identified himself as an Air Force sentry dog handler in Vietnam. He asked, “What can congress do to protect the nation from rash, crazy, decisions?”
Garamendi responded that in the last weeks, that thought had become of deep, deep concern to everyone. More recently, he said, the “lack of temperament” by the president of the United States has even been noted on Fox News.
He told the audience that more than 100 members of Congress are authoring legislation to prohibit the first nuclear strike by the United States. Garamendi said we are being “whiplashed by this president.”
Irene Goya-Tweedt, with the Winter Healthcare Foundation, identified herself as a fellow Basque to Garamendi. She said, “We are an agricultural community. We have fear among our population that they could be deported and they don’t participate in government programs that would be helpful. What can you give them to tell them that we are fighting for their rights?”
Garamendi responded that we know what to do: Comprehensive Immigration Reform. He said they had a bill during the Obama administration, but House Speaker Boehner sat on it.
“Until Reform happens, this administration is trying to deport everyone who is here illegally,” said Garamendi. He suggested working with the agriculture industry lobby on this issue because it is in their interests, and agriculture is important to the Republicans. He said that agriculture in his district is a $4.5 billion industry.
Jen Roberts of Colusa asked what Garamendi is doing to bring jobs to this area. Garamendi responded that the Central Valley (with the exception of the greater Sacramento region) has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, higher even than Appalachia. He said he has an initiative to bring infrastructure construction to the Williams area.
Cecelia Wimberly of Woodland asked, “What can the Democrats do to win in 2018?” Garamendi responded that “The president has abandoned America.” He pointed out that California has more hate groups than any other state with more than 80 identified. He said pushing back on hate groups in the most peaceful, nonviolent way possible was necessary.
A veteran asked if he should be worried about his Social Security and military benefits. Garamendi said, “No. Social Security will not run out. Its funding is reworked every 20 years or so, and changes are made in its structure. Within the next decade we must look at this.”
Charles Pearce, a disabled veteran, told how his benefits got lost and how difficult it was to try to get a hearing from the Veteran’s Administration. Garamendi told him to talk to two of his staff members and they would work on it.
A pejorative speaker in the audience said, “I am a value voter. You don’t talk to me about values.”
Garamendi countered by saying, “I’ve been talking about values for the past hour and a half. I started with a value statement — the quotation from FDR.”
Cathy Glenn of Vacaville said, “Republicans don’t want to work with the Democrats on anything. Where is bipartisanship?” Garamendi said that is not quite true. The Republicans are willing to work together on small issues, but on large issues, the Republicans are trying to do it all themselves. He pointed out that when Congress reconvenes on Sept. 5, there are only three weeks to pass a budget to fund the government. He wondered if the Republicans have learned that they cannot do it all themselves.
After two hours, Garamendi stopped and introduced his staff and the organizations invited to have information tables in the hall. Wally Pearce presented Garamendi with a ball cap to wear on his ranch. Then it was time for photo-ops.