Fear and frustration were the main sentiments expressed Tuesday at a town hall meeting held by U.S. Rep. David Rouzer at Johnston Community College in Smithfield.
About 50 people turned out to bend the ear of their representative in Washington, and they expressed concerns over illegal immigration, Islamic extremism, the economy, education and President Barack Obama’s leadership. Rouzer also heard from a number of veterans who have had trouble collecting the benefits they earned while serving in the military.
When it was her turn to speak, Sonja Bustos, 56, of Smithfield fought back tears as she detailed her struggle to make a living in today’s economy. Bustos graduated from JCC last fall with a degree in paralegal technology, but she still cannot find work, she said. She thought going to school would give her an edge in the workforce, she said, and now she has student loan debt to worry about.
“You find people who have master’s and bachelor’s (degrees) working at McDonald’s and working through temp agencies,” Bustos said. “What’s going to happen to us? How much education am I supposed to get?
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“I am so discouraged with America because nobody seems to care. You guys are up there in office, you’re supposed to hear us people, but nobody seems to.”
America has the potential to grow, particularly in the energy sector, Rouzer said, but the country needs to cut corporate taxes and reduce regulations in order to compete for jobs in a global economy. The unpredictable nature of governmental intervention in the economy is another drag on job creation, he said.
“There’s a lot of businesses that are sitting on a lot of money, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty out there, so they’re not hiring,” he said.
Michael Callam, 59, of Four Oaks was one of several retired or medically-discharged veterans who expressed frustration with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Since this year began, Callam said, he had been trying to get an appointment to see someone about his back. Eventually, the pain escalated to the point that he could not wait any longer, Callam said, so he paid a co-pay and deductible to have back surgery through Medicare.
“The orthopedic and neurosurgeon asked me, ‘Why did I wait so long?’ when I finally got help,” he said. “Why are the disabled veterans treated like less than third-class citizens?”
Rouzer said veterans should be able to go outside the VA system for health care, and he has cosponsored a bill to make that happen. He quickly tempered any optimism, however, by adding that it’s a high hurdle to get anything through Congress these days. He suggested veterans having issues with their benefits contact his office.
“This is why you don’t want the government running health care … What happens is, you’re no longer a person, you become a number; you become a sheet of paper in that stack,” Rouzer said. “I think the only way to handle this long term is to give the veterans access to any hospital, VA or otherwise. That’s the only way you’re going to create the competition that’s needed.”
Another speaker raised concerns about Islamic terrorists infiltrating our country and attempting to institute Sharia law, and she went on to complain about the work her daughter is assigned under the Common Core Standards in the public schools. One woman questioned why children are being forced to learn Spanish in school, and others expressed doubt about Obama’s approach to foreign policy and national security.
The politics of most speakers aligned with the stances of the GOP, and Rouzer said more than once that their best bet would be to make sure a Republican takes the White House in 2016.
Rouzer hosted a similar event the night before in Wilmington, near the southern end of his 7th Congressional District. That meeting drew about 70 people who expressed many of the same concerns residents raised in Smithfield, he said.
It’s good to hear from his constituents, Rouzer said, but he asks they remember that he has just one of 435 votes in the House of Representatives. A lot of what he heard reenforced what he already knew, Rouzer said, and he will use that guidance to shape the debate in Washington as best he can.
“Basically, we need a lot less government, and what government we do have in place should be doing a much better job of protecting and defending the country,” he said. “And we need a foreign policy that’s aggressive and that promotes American ideals around the world.”