Saturday, November 05, 2005

Report from Jean Schmidt's Town Hall Meeting

Congresswoman Schmidt held a Town Hall Meeting for a standing room only audience in Madeira today. Here's a report from the meeting:

Ms. Schmidt started the meeting providing an overview of her work in Congress to date:
  • Schmidt discussed her recent vote on the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005.

  • Her next priority has been working on sexual offender legislation at the federal level.

  • Representative Schmidt then gave an quick synopsis of her work on the Agriculture, Transportation and Government Reform Committees.

    She went into a bit of detail explaining a recent vote that cut $3.9 billion from the Agriculture Department which includes changes in the eligibility rules for legal immigrants applying for Food Stamps. The change would require that legal immigrants wait 7 years before they could "get on the public dole" (direct quote).

  • Two other provisions Ms. Schmidt voted for recently include the Cheeseburger Protection Bill and the Gun Manufacturer Protection Bill; both bills deal with frivolous lawsuits. She was very strong in promoting a philosophy of personal responsibility.

  • Before opening it up to questions from the audience, Ms. Schmidt discussed her philosophy on the federal government's role in the Hurricane Katrina of her more passionate moments.

    Schmidt noted that she has introduced a 'Sense of Congress' (H.Con.Res 285) that would urge the states in the disaster area to adopt modern building codes much like Florida did in the wake of Hurricane Andrew.

    Congresswoman Schmidt shared a story about a recent committee hearing in which New Orleans Mayor Nagin and Louisiana Governor Blanco provided testimony. Ms. Schmidt noted that she was incredulous when Mayor Nagin requested funds for a light rail system so that the city could evacuate more effectively "next time".

    Schmidt was also very critical of Governor Blanco (more later in the audience question section) who, according to Schmidt, was in Washington asking for relief funds but has yet to tap into her own $1 billion rainy day fund at the state level.

    Overall grade for the overview: B-. (Schmidt did not address one of the first votes she cast: H.R. 3673.)
After about 30 minutes of her overview, Congresswoman Schmidt opened the meeting to questions from the audience.

  • The first question (it was more a speech than a question) was from a gentleman that chided Ms. Schmidt for not mentioning that, in his opinion, FEMA screwed up the hurricane response. He also went into a short tirade on the lack of universal healthcare comparing the U.S. to Canada and Scandinavian countries; basically asking why we can't have universal healthcare.

    Ms. Schmidt at that point showed herself to be an A-level conservative politician on these two issues. Porkopolis could not have responded any better. It didn't hurt that most of the crowd was also fairly conservative as judged by the moans and groans to the gentleman's question/tirade.

    She first addressed the gentleman's claim about FEMA. Schmidt noted that for whatever problems FEMA may or may not have had, Louisiana's wounds were predominantly self inflicted. Her response to the gentleman was very respectful but in a 'here are the real facts of the matter' authoritative tone.

    Schmidt went on to recount a personal conversation with freshman Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal from Louisiana. According to Schmidt, Representative Jindal was personally involved in facilitating a meeting between President Bush and Governor Blanco. This is the now infamous meeting where Bush asks Blanco to allow him to utilize federal troops in the state. (For some background see: NBC News: How much blame does Gov. Blanco deserve? , Kudos to CNN for asking Gov. Blanco some tough questions and This CNN Videolink of Soledad O'Brien interviewing Mayor Nagin.)

    According to Schmidt, Congressman Jindal, an individual who had been personally affected by the Hurricane, also attested to the ineptitude of Governor Blanco in turning down help from the President.

    Schmidt basically told the gentleman that in the whole scheme of things, whatever FEMA may have done wrong pales in comparison to what Louisiana did and that the whole episode is making her very critical as she goes about reviewing disaster relief. Her philosophy was one of 'we will help those affected help themselves responsibly' with "our money"; which got a strong round of applause.

    Representative Schmidt then responded to the question of universal healthcare. Here again, she did right (pun intended) by the conservative philosophy. She noted that one of the reasons the countries the gentleman referred to can have universal healthcare is that those governments run systems that ration healthcare. She gave a specific example of arterial stents being limited to individuals after they reach a certain age in the Netherlands.

    As Ms. Schmidt was responding, someone from the audience also interjected, "If the healthcare in Canada is so great, why are they coming here for their operations?" or something very close to that; which got another positive response from the audience. Ms. Schmidt left no doubt in anyone's mind that she was strongly against government run universal healthcare. (Update: See fellow Southern Ohio Blogger Nixguy's personal comments on U.S. vs Canada surgery availability. He has a great link to a Canadian site with stats on surgery wait times.).

    Another audience member brought up an excellent point, which shows why town halls are excellent forums for two-way communications between constituents and representatives. A senior and wise lady brought up an excellent economic argument against universal healthcare. She noted that such a system would eventually discourage good students from pursuing a career in medicine because of the eventual economic disincentives from government dictated salary levels. That woman should have a blog! Ms. Schmidt took this insight to heart.

    Overall Grade: A++ (Slam dunk, hit it out of the park...pick your metaphor for excellence. Her response would have made Jell-O out of Harball's Chris was that good.)

  • Ms. Schmidt fielded a question from a self-described Madiera resident concerned that while "No Child Left Behind" is a federal program, providing money for certain children in schools, nothing is being done for gifted children. Ms. Schmidt did a good job of responding that money for gifted children programs is a state/local issue.

    She should have gone further, using the same argument of state/local responsibility for education, and made the case that "No Child Left Behind" was itself federal meddling. Schmidt did not see the hypocrisy of the situation where on the one hand she tells the woman that gifted children programs should be left up to the states, but on the other hand "No Child Left Behind" is a federal program that represents an expensive round trip of money: States funds to Washington just to have it sent back to the states; with a lot taken of the top of course. "No Child Left Behind" is an example of the over-reaching she was cautioning against.

    Overall Grade: C-

  • A question came up about Plamegate and the $200 billion spent on the War in Iraq so far. The question was succinctly and respectfully asked, but no one would mistake the gentleman asking it as being pro-Iraq war. A few individuals in the audience moaned and groaned again, but the gentleman rightfully held his ground and asserted his right to address the question to Ms. Schmidt.

    Schmidt told the audience that when you hear about the 'scandals' like the indictments of Scooter Libby and Tom DeLay, on should also look at them in the context of the motivations of people assailing the people caught up in the 'scandal'.

    She explained that Libby's indictment is about the truthfulness of Libby's statement to the Special Counsel and not about 'outing' Valerie Plame. In her opinion, Libby's statement may have resulted from his eagerness to be 'helpful' in the investigation; often responding with incomplete memory to Fitzgerald's questions.

    In providing her explanation of the possible sequence of events that led to Libby's indictment, she made a strange assertion. She noted that Libby's story, that he learned about Valerie Plame from the press, may be explained by the fact that he first got it from the Vice-President, who himself got it from the press.

    A few people in the audience shared a collective "Uh?!?" when Schmidt said that. Strangely enough, the gentleman that asked the original question, who seemed fairly familiar with Plamegate, did not challenge her on that.

    A bit of context is in order here. Ms. Schmidt had already been speaking for about fifty minutes and responding to some pretty tough political questions. She probably just misspoke. She deserves the benefit of the doubt that she was attempting to explain that the inidctment was about a complex legality and not the original 'crime' the investigation was set out for.

    Schmidt came back really strong when she discussed her support for the War in Iraq. She noted that when she was a student at the University of Cincinnati she had a class from a professor in Middle East studies that influenced her philosophy on that part of the world.

    Representative Schmidt is a strong supporter of the efforts to build a democracy in Iraq. She backed up her support by noting that she has spoken with servicemen and women who strongly believe in their mission. Schmidt noted that these same inidviduals caution against pulling out of Iraq now, giving the terrorists a victory. Schmidt left no doubt in anyone's mind that she's strongly pro-democracy and pro-military mission.

    Overall Grade: A- (She over-reached a bit on the Plamgate issue but was very strong in her support for the war and providing a rationale for her beliefs.)

  • Near the end of the audience participation section, Schmidt addressed a question on the status of Matt Maupin. She felt the press was irresponsible in their recent reporting of the search for Matt Maupin; creating false hope for the parents.

    Ms. Schmidt concluded the meeting with a 'setup question' from State Representative Michelle Schneider on the State Ballot issues. Schmidt was well prepared to address this 'question' with charts and graphs provided by Schneider supporting Schmidt's (and Schneider's) opposition to issues 2, 3, 4 and 5.

    Overall Grade: B (Very strong and passionate on the Matt Maupin question but should have been a bit more respectful of the constituent question and answer period and left more time for true questions from the audience.)

Kudos to Schmidt for her Town Hall meeting. At the rate she's going, she will probably outpace former Congressman Rob Portman in Town Hall meetings in just her first short term.

Here's a picture of Schmidt talking with constituents after the formal meeting.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice report, and it sounds like she did a very nice job.

You had lots more people than the Montgomery meeting a few weeks ago, and you had lots more meaty stuff to report than I could have reported if I had chosen to do one. I'm going to have to make sure to go to her next town hall that's reasonably close.

She also struck me as extremely good on her feet and a pretty good presenter, which makes me wonder all the more how she and her people could have run such a lousy campaign against Hackett.

Tom Blumer

November 5, 2005 at 7:32 PM  
Anonymous Eric Kephas said...

Glad you made it to the meeting, and your report of it is great.

I agree that she can be good on her feet, especially when you get to a subject she's passionate about.

November 8, 2005 at 12:46 AM  

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