Jumping from topic to topic, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield spent more than an hour taking questions from constituents Saturday at Hillside High School.
Called “Forward Together – A Community Discussion,” the Democrat who represents North Carolina’s 1st District, a population of more than 700,000, including most of Durham County and all or parts of 24 counties from the Bull City to Elizabeth City, spoke to more than 600 people during the town hall and called it the first of many to come.
“Part of my job description, as your congressman, is to have open and regular dialogue with you,” he said. “Not by a telephone town hall. They have their place at times but there is no substitute for an in-person town hall meeting. There is no substitute. So I have come to talk with you, but I’ve also come here to listen to you. And that is what this is all about. I think I know your frustrations and your fears for our country, because I hear them every day.”
Town hall meetings in conservative districts have been flooded with liberal demonstrators recently asking pointed questions about U.S. President Donald Trump and the state of the federal government, prompting some congressional leaders – mostly Republicans – to cancel meetings or call for virtual town hall events. Throughout North Carolina, liberal-leaning groups have been organizing mock town halls to pose questions to empty chairs or caricatures of U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr.
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The questions lobbed at Butterfield ranged widely and he spent some time explaining the political processes to those on hand.
Here’s some of the issues Butterfield addressed:
▪ He repeated the call for Trump to release his tax returns.
▪ He said schools, churches and hospitals should be off limits for immigration checkpoints and that local law enforcement has no business trying to enforce immigration law.
▪ He said he would co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler’s (D-N.Y.) “resolution of inquiry” into Trump and his team’s connections with the Russian government if any.
▪ He supports a woman’s “right to choose” and supports Planned Parenthood.
▪ He said he would help a woman’s son who was injured while detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
▪ He encouraged attendees to consume all sorts of media – “even Breitbart” – to get varying points of view and to educate themselves on issues.
Durham resident Amanda Goggins said she had a list of concerns about the Trump administration.
“With the issues that this White House administration is initiating, the policies and procedures, I strongly feel that we are losing our liberties,” she said, citing recent immigration changes, the ban on travel from seven mostly Muslim countries and change in stance on the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Susan Lombardo of Chapel Hill, said she felt a “level of responsibility to inform (her) legislators” about her concerns.
“I want to stay in close touch with our elected officials about our concerns,” she said. “I think right now there is, from our current administration, there is a promotion of fear and divisiveness.”
Jane Wagstaff carried a handmade sign that read “How much debt is OK with you?” and that was the question she was hoping to ask Butterfield.
“At what point does the congressman say, ‘$25 trillion would be my cutoff,’” she said. “I don’t think we can have that much debt in the GDP and be sustainable in the economy. So just a ballpark. Is it infinite? Do you consider debt to go on forever and do everything you want to and spend whatever you want to? At what point do you say, ‘I am a little concerned now.’”
The event featured representatives from three local and state organizations – the North Carolina Justice Center, El Centro Hispano and Durham CAN (Congregations Associations & Neighborhoods) – to talk about what residents can do to help their respective causes.
Follow Anna Johnson on Twitter at @anna_m_johnson