It was a friendly crowd at Rep. Frank Pallone’s constituent town hall in Long Branch. It was sparsely attended, but with impassioned voters hoping to get the ear of a ranking Washington Democrat.
“I ended up voting against the omnibus appropriations bill, or spending bill, because it didn’t address DACA,” said Pallone.
“How much do you feel you may need to compromise in order to get adequate protection for the ‘Dreamers?’ And how much are you willing to compromise in order to get protection for the ‘Dreamers?’” asked one constituent.
“I’m an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform that would let anybody who’s here, not just kids, not just ‘Dreamers,’ but anybody who’s been here for a period of time, we usually use five years, hasn’t gotten in trouble with the law, has learned English, who’s paid their taxes, to have a pathway to citizenship,” said Pallone.
Health care was on the mind of many in the audience, particularly the fate of the Affordable Care Act, for better or worse.
“You call them ‘junk plans.’ What is wrong with being able to choose the coverage that you want,” asked Keyport resident Pat Kunz. “Why can’t I have catastrophic coverage?”
“Because if you do that, then you are not going to be paying for the other things, and therefore the pool won’t include you and everybody else is going to have to pay more, including the government,” replied Pallone.
“But that’s the whole point of insurance, that you get to pick,” rebutted Kunz.
“No, that’s the opposite,” said Pallone.
While many of the congressional town halls have become infamous for raucous crowds and heated exchanges, Pallone kept the mood tempered, soothing critics. It could prove a good litmus test for the 2018 midterms. Democrats have a slim voter edge in Monmouth County, yet Christie won in New Jersey twice and President Donald Trump took Monmouth by a nearly 10-point margin.
“I think liberals and conservatives have completely different ideals. I think the way I want to live my life is completely different from the way you want to live your life, and some of the way the people here want to live their lives. Is there any way we can both live our lives? I know the liberal mentality usually is government is the answer, and we don’t believe that,” said Piscataway resident Larry Kestenbaum.
“I think there is a middle road, and I try to strive for it. And don’t get me wrong, a lot of times I will articulate, as I will tonight in a liberal position, but that doesn’t mean we don’t come together to try to accomplish something,” said Pallone.
Long Branch resident Darlene Davido said her most important issues right now are, “gun control and property taxes, because I have my own home.”
In the wake of the March for Our Lives protests, many had concerns about action and inaction surrounding gun reform.
“The gun issues are a biggie. I’m a lifelong educator. I’ve worked in schools 40-plus years and the idea of teachers being armed is ludicrous,” said Long Branch resident Joe Clores.
“I’d bring back the assault weapons ban, which we had until 1994, I was in Congress. And then, the third, would be a limitation on the number of clips, the rounds of ammunition,” said Pallone.
The town halls have become an effective means for Congress members to communicate with constituents. Though one voter said the topics seemed boilerplate, but still an improvement over the gridlock in Washington.