4.17.17 – Town Hall Meeting at UCSB: Environmental Issues, Higher Education, and Immigration

Monday, April 17, 6-8:00pm, Corwin Pavilion, UCSB
Contributed by Indivisible SB Staff Writer

Congressman Salud Carbajal held a Town Hall meeting at UCSB designed to focus on three issues of great concern to students – the environment, the cost of higher education, and immigration – but the questions and discussion naturally veered from these topics into several other areas. The event was organized by the UCSB Environmental Affairs Board, a division of Associated Students, and moderated by EAB Co-Chair Rena Lahn.

The event was attended by about 150 people, mostly students. The Town Hall was competing with another event at 6:00: Trump’s Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke was holding his own Town Hall at the Reagan Ranch Center and a well-attended protest was held outside the Center to raise voices against the spectre of offshore oil drilling, the sale of national parks and public lands, and other issues likely to be covered.

The Town Hall began with Congressman Carbajal recalling his time as a UCSB student, and giving an overview of the more than 60 bills he has sponsored or co-sponsored during his first months in Congress (you can see a list of them here)
He was proud to state that over 25% of the bills are bi-partisan.

Most of the evening was dedicated to questions from the audience, and there was no shortage (the Q&A filled about 90 minutes). Some questions got very specific responses, in other cases we were simply encouraged to keep raising our voices in protest, and the Congressman assured us that he was using every means he could to fight back: delaying votes, fighting cuts, keeping issues at the forefront, and always trying to find bipartisan support. At times he admitted that being in the minority in Congress made it hard to get traction on some issues, but that he would continue to push and fight.

Environmental Issues

1. What are you doing to ensure protection of coastal preserves?
The Congressman (hereafter referred to as CC) noted that he is trying to find more advocacy in Congress for marine sanctuaries, as the latest budget presents great threats. He sponsored H.R. 731, the Clean Coast Act, as well as several other bills related to coastal protection.

2. Would you support a carbon tax?
CC prefers to call it a carbon fee rather than tax – he believes this will get more bipartisan support as it would be market driven. He remains open to exploring the options.

3. The EPA cuts will also affect education and research in environmental science – how can you protect them?
CC admitted that this is something that needs broad support, and this is where being in a minority party is a real challenge.

4. What can Congress do to ensure that marijuana growing, sales and use remain under the control of the state (re Prop 64)?
CC noted that Attorney General Sessions talks about increasing States’ rights and this is a case where State rights should be respected but this issue keeps getting pulled back into Federal oversight discussions. He said we once again need to make sure our voices are heard, loudly and frequently.

5. One audience member had questions about a very specific issue: the harmful chemicals dumped into the atmosphere through jet contrails (or “chemtrails”). She related several specific dates where she recorded unusual numbers of trails, and did her own water tests which revealed elevated aluminum levels from the chemtrails.
CC asked her to connect with his staff to deliver her findings. He noted his support for air pollution control measures.

6. What is your position on the Standing Rock oil pipeline?
CC stated he is against any increase in fossil fuel development. He admitted this is an area where he need more education, and asked the questioner to follow up with him and his staff.

7. Are you against fracking, and how do you fight it? Do you know any Democrat congressmen who support it, and how can you flip them?
CC noted he was part of the anti-fracking initiative 3-4 years ago and remains very concerned about how it’s carried out and the risks involved. He said he uses science, fact, and examples of the risks in discussions with pro-fracking colleagues.

8. How can we prevent future oil leases on the coast?
You can’t take away purchases rights, but leases expire and this is what his bill H.R. 731 directly addresses.

The Rising Cost of Higher Education

1. Two questions focused on “food insecurity,” a by-product of the high cost of education, and apparently something that affects a high percentage of UCSB students.
CC agreed that access to food needs to be increased, and that this should be addressed through funding support at the State level.

2. What can you do about the problem of crippling student loans and loan repayment?
CC noted the irony of a President who has declared bankruptcy several times, but that students with loans don’t have that option. He is working on a package of bills and appropriations to provide funding relief, such as year round Pell grants. He feels we need to make higher education more affordable. He is also addressing interest rates and bank profiteering via proposed legislation, and looking at ways to build a loan forgiveness program, e.g. pay-off through future work.

3. How can we build a skilled workforce without college degrees?
CC said he wants to see increased investment in City Colleges and vocational and trade schools.

4. How can you bring attention to sexual assault on campuses and improve how it’s addressed?
CC thinks university funding should be tied in some way to how universities deal with sexual assault-related issues – there should be a way to measure response and responsibility.

5. What are the best traits you gained from your time as a student at UCSB?
CC said he learned to socialize outside his comfort zone, and stated emphatically how important it is to not always be with people “like yourself.”

6. What are you doing to expand healthcare access to students?
CC reiterated his support for and belief in the ACA. The number of providers needs to increase, and there should be ways to incentivize them to participate. There need to be more opportunities to get providers into rural areas. He wants to get rid of the Cadillac tax. He also thinks the Government needs to work with the pharmaceutical industry to contain costs.

Other questions about protecting the EPA, public lands, etc. were met with encouragement to participate and resist – make your voices heard!

Other questions ranged from healthcare to immigration to the military:

1. What are you doing to protect and expand access to healthcare, specifically for students?
Do you support H.R. 676 (Expanded and Improved Medicare)? (This question was raised more than once.) CC is focused more on fighting the repeal of the Affordable Care Act through bills and legislature, but he is also considering backing 676. He doesn’t want to spread himself too across bills in the same category. He still strongly believes in the ACA.
[Several people asked about support for 676 – clearly they feel it is a priority. The argument was to back whatever has the best chance of succeeding. Someone also advised distancing the ACA from Obama, which carries a lot of resistance, and to be aggressive and get broader support.]

2. What can Congress do to support immigrants who are coming here for a better life?
CC noted his own family history of immigration, and acknowledged the immigration plan doesn’t work. It is broken and needs broad reform. It is not a humane system, and needs to begin by advocating for more humane oversight and enforcement.

3. Assuming many people who voted for Trump now have “buyers’ remorse”, how can we prevent a repeat of this election, and how can we prevent “dark money” from skewing it?
CC said he felt confident about the Citizens United loss in 2010, but the Neil Gorsuch appointment to the Supreme Court seems to return power to corporations. He sees opportunities to increase campaign fund transparency. He is a supporter of H.R. 1134, the Disclose 2017 Act, on campaign reform. He encouraged the audience to keep pushing on this issue, and to “keep his feet to the fire.”

4. What can Congress do to prevent nuclear war and military force? Recent actions have happened without warning and raise the threat of aggression, or worse.
CC said Congress must demand that the President come to them to defend use of force. He is co-sponsoring a bill that states the President cannot be the sole person with control of our nuclear arsenal. He also noted that the State Department’s budget has been reduced by 30% – he is fighting to retain their budget as he feels their role and mandate is so critical.

5. Do you oppose military intervention in Syria?
SCS is reluctant to support anything that can lead to an open-ended war. He pushes for exploration and exhaustion of other options before considering military intervention.

6. How can you help people of color feel safer, particularly in regard to hostile law enforcement?
CC is continuing to work with the Justice Department and with law enforcement with the goal of improving race relations. He is pushing for better education for law enforcers to change biases, get better training, and improve hiring practices, particularly to have more representation of the communities being served.

7. What would make you push to the point of a Government shutdown? ACA repeal? Lack of funding for sanctuary cities?
CC said he would not try to shut it down – “they would have to go there”.

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