Meetings offer interaction

Published 3:31 pm Wednesday, August 20, 2003

By By JO BONNER, U.S. House of Representatives
Last week, several members of my staff and I began our most recent series of 12 town hall meetings throughout the First District. As most of you have heard me say many times previously, town meetings have been, both for me and for my predecessors in the House of Representatives, an excellent way of directly interacting with our constituents.
Moreover, it gives me a chance to hear what issues are on your mind and get your suggestions on how to fix many of the problems facing our state and country today.
My first three stops in Baldwin County brought out large crowds and a lot of insightful questions and comments. In terms of keeping up to date on the latest events in Washington and what's going on in the world of politics, I can say with great confidence that I would put the folks in south Alabama up against any other district in the country.
Naturally, some of the biggest topics of conversation were ones that have been major stories in the news recently, funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, an overhaul of the Medicare system and a prescription drug benefit, the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and the issue of gun ownership and gun rights.
I think nearly everyone in south Alabama will themselves be affected in some way by these four issues, whether it is over providing insurance for their families or having a relative who is serving overseas as a member of the armed forces.
However, what has been equally impressive is the number of other important issues that are being raised by constituents at these meetings.
For instance, a gentleman in attendance at my Elberta town meeting expressed his concern for and interest in the continued preservation of the Wolf Bay watershed.
At my Silverhill meeting, a group of concerned citizens and elected officials expressed their desire that more affordable housing be made available for deserving individuals and families living on the Eastern Shore of Baldwin County.
Many other people also raised concerns over the cost-of-living allowances for Social Security recipients, the need for protection for 401(k) and other individual retirement programs, the president's African AIDS initiative and legislation designed to support our armed forces and their dependents.
I would like to be able to say that everyone agreed with my positions on these and many other issues. In several cases, some people did not and offered their own views of how things are and what needs to be done to fix them.
This is one of the remarkable things about these town meetings and of our system of government, for that matter: the ability to disagree on a variety of issues and still at the end of the day remain unified.
When you look at the sometimes heated exchanges that occur on the floor of the House of Representatives, or the arguments that occasionally occur at local city council meetings and county commission sessions you have to wonder and be amazed that anything ever gets accomplished.
Things do get done, however, and often because of differences of opinion. Few laws have ever passed without first hearing from the opposing sides. Indeed, I could not effectively do my job as your representative in Washington without first hearing all the points of view from the folks in south Alabama.

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