Huffman hears concerns from large Cotton Auditorium crowd
Several hundred people gathered at Cotton Auditorium April 19 for a Town Hall meeting with Congressman Jared Huffman.
Huffman, facing a nearly unanimous friendly audience, called citizen involvement the key to
“The silver lining to all this is right here ... Everywhere I go, I’m seeing turnouts like we have here in Fort Bragg today,” he said.
Huffman said he had recently held meetings with 200 people in Weaverville, 1,200 in Arcata and nearly 2,000 in Santa Rosa, showing, he said, the broad base of interest in a new level of political involvement.
“Something’s going on,” he said, before fielding questions from the audience.
On investigations into connections between President Donald Trump’s campaign and administration, and Russian efforts to influence U.S. politics, Huffman said he favors a special commission over House or Senate investigations that he characterized as too vulnerable to political influence.
Fort Bragg Mayor Lindy Peters asked Huffman what protections there are for cities that adopt policies that conflict with, or at least do not aid, federal efforts at increased deportations of undocumented immigrants.
Huffman, noting that Trump’s budget proposal already calls for eliminating the Community Development Block Grant program which is a main source of federal funds to cities, said he believes the federal courts will protect local communities from financial retribution by the administration.
Many of those in the audience displayed pink paper hearts to show support for House Resolution 676, which supports a single-payer healthcare plan for the country.
Responding to a question on the resolution, Huffman said of single-payer healthcare, “to be realistic, it’s a long-term prospect.” He added that many seniors and veterans are already in effect part of a single-payer plan, and a way forward might be to expand eligibility to those existing programs, perhaps lowering the age to qualify for Medicare to 60 or younger, as a way to progress toward universal coverage. He said a proposal for California to adopt a single-payer plan on its own would face challenges, and that a nationwide solution is more reliable.
Local Democratic activist Rachel Binah asked Huffman about renewed efforts to allow offshore oil drilling.
Huffman replied, “I think the game has changed when you’ve handed the keys of government to the fossil fuel industry.” He added that the Senate will be the arena for offshore drilling debates and that “we probably are going to have to fight against some proposals.”
But overall, he said, at least as far as the California coast is concerned, “we’ve got some tools in our favor and I think we’re going to be able to stop it.”
Asked whether he favored reform or removal of the Electoral College, given the divergence between the popular vote and the Electoral College result in 2016, Huffman focused on citizen involvement and the curbing of political contributions as the main avenues for reform. He said he is co-sponsoring legislation based on the Move to Amend, a response to the Citizens United court decision that equates money with free speech in political campaigns, calling money in politics “the key issue, though there is no immediate fix.”
Asked about immigration issues, Huffman said he was assured by Director of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson that people who are part of the “Dreamer” program would not be targeted, nor would enforcement be carried out in churches or courts. However, he said, all those kinds of actions have occurred since that conversation. He recommended that people and groups concerned with immigration network with one another and build alliances for legal challenges against potential future actions, which are hard to predict.
One person asked Huffman about concerns over radiation from the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan spreading radioactivity to California shores and the food supply.
Huffman acknowledged the concern, but said, “I feel comfortable from having talked to leading scientists that, for anyone living in or near Japan, we’d have to be worried, but on the coast of California, we don’t.”
He said he does support continued monitoring of ocean radiation levels. A bigger concern for coastal communities, he said, is the “180-degree reversal on our climate policies.” He recommended a focus on supporting scientific institutions generally as a way to continue to improve understanding of climate challenges.
Asked about a recent instance in which veteran Harry Swets was dropped off from a Veterans Administration hospital in a Fort Bragg parking lot in nothing but his hospital gown, Huffman said he had “let his displeasure be known” about the incident. He gave the VA credit for good medical care, but said “it’s the bureaucracy that makes the headaches.” He said that is also true of the Veterans Choice program, which allows veterans who live far from VA hospitals to have covered medical visits closer to home. The program itself is sound, he said, but plagued by complications and slowdowns in the payment of claims, a part of the program that needs to be fixed.