Attended U.S. Representative Brian Baird Town Hall Meeting in South Bend, Pacific County, Washington on July 1, 2008. I had very personal reasons for wanting to talk to Congressman Baird this year based on our experience talking with him at his Town Hall meeting last summer.
You may recall that last year Congressman Baird made national news in his support of the 'Surge' (of U.S. troops deployed to Iraq. We were in great opposition and wanted him to know as his constituents living in his district our views as a military family, with 2 returning Iraq veterans.
Congressman Brian Baird talking with Lietta Ruger, Town Hall Meeting, South Bend, July 1, 2008
(photo courtesy of Steven Friederich of the Daily World)
This year, at his Town Hall meeting, which covered a range of issues, I had opportunity to discuss the Surge one year later with him.
On Monday, June 30, I received an email from Congressman Baird’s office advising he was holding a Town Hall meeting in South Bend, on July 1 (the next day). He holds Town Hall meetings annually in towns and cities across his district. I wanted to attend, for a couple of reasons.
Some background: Last summer, Congressman Brian Baird held a Town Hall Meeting in Raymond, and this was at the time that Congressman Brian Baird who had voted against the invasion into Iraq, decided that he wanted to come out approving President Bush’s ‘Surge’ of U.S. troops in Iraq. Congressman Baird had made a trip to Iraq last year, to assess the situation of war in Iraq and had conversation with General Petreaus, coming home to believe in the value of proceeding with a Surge in U.S. troops deployed to Iraq. The deaths of U.S. troops was at an increasing frequency, and violence was rampant in Iraq, IED’s and suicide bombings - killing civilians, Iraqi police and soldiers, and U.S. troops. Last year, Congressman Baird made national news in his support for President Bush’s call for a ‘Surge’ (of troops) in Iraq.
My husband and I, being a military family with 2 returning Iraq veterans (both from Washington state), attended that Town Hall meeting in Raymond, WA last summer primarily to challenge the Congressman on his support of the ‘Surge’ and it was a contentious exchange with the Congressman. Please refer to the article ‘Baird faces his constituents in Raymond’ in Daily World last September.
The article features photo of my husband, Arthur Ruger, and the pointed question he put to Congressman Baird man to man -”was the war worth our son’s blood.”, to which the Congressman responded yes, he believed it was. That was a slap in the face to us, as we do not believe, have never believed this war was worth any son or daughter’s blood. It was important to me then, last night, a year later at the Town Hall Meeting in South Bend, for me to connect to the Congressman based on our exchange from last year. That same year, in December 2007 our son-in-law deployed to Iraq in his second 15 month stop-loss, extended deployment, where he is now.
I wanted very much to attend Congressman Baird’s Town Hall meeting last night, even though I seem to have run out of things to say about the wrongness of the Iraq war. We attended, and after Congressman Baird gave his presentations, he opened it to audience questions. I listened through all of the questions, intending to ask my two questions at the end of the proceedings.
Issues discussed during course of the meeting:
Gas Prices; Astonishingly - well to us anyway - when the question of gas prices came up, as we knew it would, and someone asked about off shore oil drilling and leased land not being used for oil drilling, Brian Baird started to discuss it and then asked the audience for a show of hands as to who was in favor of off-shore oil drilling. And almost all the hands went up. Then Brian Baird asked who was not in favor, with my husband, mine and probably 3-4 other hands going up.
I was stunned. And in somewhat confused language pointed out peak oil and global warming and then gave up, saying never mind. I could not believe what I had just witnesssed. An expectation that enough information is out there now about the growing oil crisis, that I had thought more would be appreciative of our need to change our lifestyle to become less oil dependent and the urgency in finding alternative energy lifestyles.
Acidic Ocean; Congressman Baird acknowledged Al Gore’s documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, and then explained to the audience about acidic ocean, disappearing coral reefs, and how as a coastal community we should be concerned about our oceans. Then he answered other questions, and while I was listening attentively, I had already recognized that once again, our views on oil dependency (my husband and mine) were indeed the minority opinions amongst the community we live in. We’ve encountered this before along the course of our speaking out against the Iraq war as military family with loved ones deployed in Iraq.
Funding Iraq War vs Domestic Needs; Later when a young reporter from the Aberdeen Daily World newspaper tossed out a comment about trading off the $$ being spent in Iraq against using for homeland needs, Congressman Baird explained that we were not using current funds, rather creating a deficit that would be paid in our children and grandchildren’s time. As Congressman Baird explained it that were we to withdraw the troops now (which he then went on to explain was a time consuming process and needed to be done responsibly so as not to leave troops exposed and at-risk), there would still be no funds available to be used for domestic concerns. Rather that it would reduce somewhat the future deficit which would be paid for by our children and grandchildren.
Copper Roof Replacement at Pacific County Courthouse; would cost considerably more than was originally estimated with rising costs of copper. Inquiry if the Congressman could get the county some $$ help to replace the copper roof. It being a historic building, must comply with regulations pertinent to historic buildings. (Read more about it at this Daily World article, ‘Costs of New Roof Skyrockets’)
The discussions flowed covering various issues:
Historic Post Office in Raymond lacking accessibility for disabled; seems because the Raymond Post Office is considered a historic building, and it lacks accessibility for disabled, changes cannot be made to the building to be more facilitative without regard to the regulations governing historic buildings. At this time, disabled citizens (wheelchair bound, or unable to manage the stairs) are unable to make access to the Post Office. (Read more about this at Daily World article, ‘Baird Hears of Acces Woes’)
Illegal Immigration: Someone asked the Congressman about illegal immigrants, and he responded by breaking it out into three categories;
a) illegal immigrants who are hardened criminals should be sent back to countries of origins, but how to do that - ask the country ‘hey will you take back so and so who is a hardened criminal?’;
b) illegal immigrants who are hired by employers knowingly as illegal and paid under the table should not be permitted to remain; and
c) illegal immigrants who are hired by employers who have verified social security number and background and taxes are being paid out of wages - those illegal immigrants have likely been here number of years, working all of those years and some provision should be provided that permits them to remain on worker permit. Congressman cited responsive employers like Coast Seafood who work to comply with current laws and have large number of immigrants employed.
Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Area Study: Included was a concern expressed by owner of Rose Ranch regarding our area (Willapa region) becoming a National Heritage region. She identified probably 10 coalitions that have concerns should we become designated a National Heritage site. I have tried to blog some about this at Washblog, but am too underinformed to articulate the concerns well.As the meeting wrapped up, I was at last able to ask my two questions;
1) Senator Cantwell obtaining $2 million towards Doppler Radar for SW Washington due to the December 07 storm (read more here) , and what was his position on that? He said fully in support. Then I pointed out that while the $2 million was great it was going to take a lot more $$ to build the Doppler, and where would that money come from, would he work towards that end. He said something about $2 million being a big drop, and likely the rest of the money might have to come from the State.
2) Last year, in your Town Hall, we talked with you about our son in Iraq because you had just gone national in your approval of the Surge, and I guess I wanted to have you inquire how he is doing. Before I could finish the sentence though, it seemed that Congressman Baird did remember and did ask how our son was doing. Which left me with a weak follow up, that really that was all I wanted was for him to inquire after our son’s well being. Then the Congressman went on to explain why he took the position that he did last year on the Surge and how it seemed to be working, violence was down. I actually did find myself saying that conditions did seem to be more favorable to our son’s (actually it is son-in-law) deployment this time, or at least I’m relieved that if he has to be there, it isn’t the year before, and that I hope he gets through this deployment and safely home.
After the meeting concluded, Congressman Baird, did come over to where I was sitting, and had some private words with me. He wanted me to know that he cares, that what I was doing as a mother was natural and he was glad that I was doing what I was doing; that what my son was doing was patriotic and what I was doing was patriotic; that when he is in DC the groups that hold vigils in DC showing the 4,000 killed, he looks at each and every face and feels it deeply.
For the most part the words he chose to use with me were agreeable, but I didn’t like the words about patriotic - and I wasn’t altogether sure he understood that I am among those military families opposed to the war in Iraq and have been speaking out against the war in Iraq. Personally, I wouldn’t say the ‘Surge’ (of troops) in Iraq is working, that would really be beyond my ability to discern. But it does seem the violence is down, and whatever strategies are being used, our son-in-law who is deployed in Iraq now in his second ’stop-loss’, extended 15 month deployment seems to be less at risk than had he been deployed in Iraq a year earlier.
As Congressman Baird was shaking my hand and done with his part of the conversation, and before I could correct any misperceptions, others were coming around, and reaching out to me, whereby I offered my smiles of appreciation. Right about then someone else said to us, wait, wait, I didn’t get the picture, and then snap went the camera. I remember saying is this a photo op and we shouldn’t be smiling then. It was a confusing moment, and then there were 2 reporters wanting me to spell my name, wanting my son (son-in-law, I corrected) name which I never give, and the moment to correct any misperceptions that the Congressman might have about my position had passed.
More details of this Town Hall Meeting reported in the Aberdeen Daily World articles here and here.