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Health care, DACA headline congressional town hall in Northampton

(Daily Collegian Archive)

Health care, DACA and progressive Democrats’ strategy for the 2018 election highlighted a town hall meeting with Congressmen Jim McGovern (MA-02) and Mark Pocan (WI-02) in Northampton Tuesday night.

Several hundred residents from throughout Central and Western Massachusetts filled the main chamber of the First Churches of Northampton, both to listen and participate in the discussion sponsored by the Progressive Democrats of America for almost two hours.

Pocan, a congressman from Madison, WI, said he came at the request of McGovern. The two hope to set a new trend of representatives learning from American experiences outside of their own districts. Both are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, with Pocan being the co-chair.

“I’ve got to admit, I’m from Wisconsin, and I want to explain a few things,” started Pocan with a slight chuckle, in reference to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, both prominent Republicans hailing from his state.

The night then jumped into discussion of the efforts of progressive and Democrat representatives to resist the efforts of congressional republicans and President Donald Trump on key issues such as health care, DACA and tax cuts.

“It is a real difficult time,” McGovern said in his opening remarks. “We have a president who is so divisive, so polarizing, who is so nasty, that it’s hard to believe that this is happening.”

Both McGovern and Pocan spoke to the issues they struggle to come to terms with nine months into the Trump presidency.

“You get the 140-character Tweet, then we do,” said Pocan.

The majority of the evening was spent with members of the audience asking the congressmen questions about policy and strategy. Though, some took the chance to thank their representatives for their positions on matters such as refugee and human rights in Latin America, Tibet and Palestine.

Coincidentally, a discussion on Palestinian refugees was being held in the church’s basement simultaneously.

Though the majority of the crowd members who spoke voiced similar views to the congressmen, some did question the feasibility of some progressive policies.

In light of an increased call by progressives for government programs in health care and other social programs, one audience member asked if the extra government spending would place an undue burden on the country’s youth, seeing as the United States national debt just surpassed $20 trillion for the first time.

In response, McGovern said that investing in programs such as health care and education now will pay dividends in terms of defraying future spending needs.

“There is an investment, but in the long term there are [benefits],” McGovern said. He cited the post-World War II GI Bill as an example of national investment later contributing to economic and societal growth.

One Northampton resident voiced his concern of the implications of a potential full repeal of DACA. Another asked what Democrats are doing to resist the latest Republican health care bill, while others voiced their concern of the electability of Democrats following widespread defeat in the 2016 elections.

One by one, the congressmen addressed the crowd, with smatterings of applause at the mention of opposing a border wall, improving access to health and education. The loudest applause of the night came following McGovern’s announcement of “I hope to hell that sooner or later we get rid of the Electoral College.”

“I think Congressman McGovern is very well supported by his constituents,” Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz said, who provided introductions for the evening, following the event. “I think it was a great conversation…[especially] to have the chair of the progressive caucus.”

Reverend Todd Weir, the pastor for First Churches, said he was happy to be able to host the town hall, one of several the church has hosted recently.

“Northampton is a very political town. People are very engaged,” he said, adding that the church has been a site of political assembly since 1660.

“[The town hall] was great, I was happy to be here,” McGovern said following the meeting. In keeping with his mission for representatives to travel outside of their own districts, McGovern plans to attend a similar town hall meeting in Portsmouth, NH, on Friday.

Will Soltero can be reached at wsoltero@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @WillSoltero.

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