Kim Applauded at First Ocean County Town Hall

New VA Clinic Top Priority for New Congressman
By RICK MELLERUP | Feb 20, 2019
Photo by: Rick Mellerup Andy Kim talks to a constituent at Saturday’s town hall in Toms River

Freshman Democratic Rep. Andy Kim of the 3rd Congressional District held his first post-election town hall meeting in Ocean County on Saturday. The atmosphere was very different from those held by former Rep. Tom MacArthur, the Republican whom Kim defeated in November.

In his second term, MacArthur’s town halls often brought out constituents angry about his critical roles in pushing the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare and to enact GOP tax changes that resulted in many New Jersey taxpayers losing state and local tax deductions. The town halls became so tense that police officers often had to walk around the room with MacArthur to ensure his safety, remaining just a few feet away when he approached a constituent.

There were police officers present at Kim’s town hall on Saturday, but they were able to stand at the edges of the crowd. The more relaxed atmosphere of Kim’s town hall meeting may have been the result of the fact he has been in office for just a month and a half, so hasn’t ticked off any constituents yet. It also probably helped that the congressman was talking to mostly elderly voters, as the meeting was held in a large clubhouse in the Holiday City West development in Toms River. Whatever, it was certainly a different experience.

Kim earned applause, though polite rather than loud, throughout the two-hour question and answer session. There was only one outbreak of derision or division: that was from a handful of spectators that was directed not at Kim, but toward a woman who pushed for Medicare for all, saying “70 percent of people” wanted it. “No, we don’t!” the group responded.

One speaker, identifying himself as a Republican who did not vote for Kim, admitted he was happy he came to see his new representative in action.

Kim, for his part, didn’t say anything too controversial. On the other hand, he, for the most part, stayed squarely in the Democratic lane.

Earns Seat on
Important Committee

The congressional rookie started the meeting by telling the crowd of some 300 people that he was going to keep his campaign promise of holding a town hall meeting in his district every single month.

“I have to say this is incredible,” Kim said of the size of the crowd. “This, to me, is the most fundamental part of my job as a congressman, when we can come together and talk to each other,” he said of the importance in hearing concerns of his constituents.

He had already held a town hall in January in Pemberton, Burlington County. Kim said he would alternate his town halls between that county, where he represents 36 municipalities, and Ocean County, where 17 towns are part of his district. He added to his promise, saying he would attempt to hold such meetings in as many different municipalities as possible.

He then told the crowd what he had been up to since his election.

“It was very unusual to come into Congress during a (governmental) shutdown,” said Kim. “I didn’t take a salary during the shutdown,” he said to applause. “I am pushing for legislation to prevent shutdowns in the future. I hope this is behind us now.”

Kim then told the audience about his committee assignments. House members are allowed to sit on two committees. He successfully lobbied for membership on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Small Business Committee.

The first, said Kim, was a no-brainer because Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is the largest employer in his district, which includes half of Stafford Township and all of Barnegat Township.

“I’m following in the footsteps of (popular long-time Republican) Congressman Jim Saxton.”

Kim said he had further earned a seat on the Readiness Subcommittee. It oversees military training, construction and, most importantly, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, the people responsible for recommending the closure of U.S. military bases.

It was no mistake that Kim paid tribute to Saxton. It was Saxton whom many people credit with saving McGuire Air Force Base in 1993 when the commission was deciding to shutter either McGuire or Plattsburgh (New York) Air Force Base. In the end it was Plattsburgh that was shut down, much to the chagrin of upstate New York residents and representatives.

Kim said he had much respect for the military. He has never been in the armed forces, but he had served as a civilian adviser to General – and, eventually, CIA director – David Petraeus in Afghanistan.

“They protected me; they saved my life,” Kim said of members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The Small Business Committee, he said, is also important for his district because although the Joint Base is the district’s largest employer, small businesses are the backbone of the district’s economy from the Atlantic coast to the suburbs of Philly. He was especially happy to announce he had been picked as chairman of the Economic Growth, Tax and Capital Access Subcommittee, on which he said he would have a particular interest in veteran-owned businesses.

The Key Issues,
According to Kim

Before opening the meeting to questions, Kim listed what he believes are key issues for his constituency and the nation.

“I don’t want families teetering on the edge of economic collapse,” he said, saying an estimated 40 percent of Americans don’t have the money available to handle a $400 emergency.

One of the reasons for Americans’ economic insecurity is the high cost of prescription drugs. He said he wants Medicare to be able to negotiate drug prices, and said he has co-sponsored legislation to move that forward. It made no sense, he said, that there is a law on the books that prohibits Medicare from negotiating drug prices while the Veterans Administration can.

Kim stayed away from controversial issues such as Medicare for all and the Green New Deal.

“I’m trying to find areas of common ground initially,” he said, adding that allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies appears to have bipartisan support.

Kim said he was also going to concentrate on the opioid crisis, which had been a major focus for MacArthur during his terms.

“I’ve seen some steps in a positive direction in the previous Congress,” said Kim, “but 70,000 Americans die every year because of overdoses.”

A particular local concern for Kim is the condition of the VA outpatient clinic in Brick Township. He said he talked long and hard with that center’s staff and veterans, and formed the conclusion “that facility does not meet the needs of the veterans of our community.”

“It was built in an era where the area had a few thousand veterans,” he said. “Now there are 40,000 to 50,000 vets in the 3rd District.”

He talked about one vet with a bad back who had to go to the VA in East Orange for medical assistance. The vet’s back is so bad he can’t drive, so he is forced to take a VA shuttle. The shuttle, Kim said to the crowd’s obvious disgust, has no shock absorbers, leaving that vet in more pain when he comes back from an appointment than before.

The facility has grossly inadequate parking, he remarked. His top priority in Congress is getting a new VA clinic for his district.

“I will do everything I can to have a location picked this year.”

Lost Tax Deductions,
‘Corporate Money Politics’

Another major concern for Kim is reversing the loss of the state and local tax deductions for New Jersey residents – a dig against MacArthur throughout the 2018 election campaign.

“We (New Jersey residents) pay more than our fair share to the federal government,” he said, provoking the loudest applause in agreement at the town hall.

Kim also said the governing system in the United States is “fundamentally flawed,” saying there is “way too much corporate money in politics.” That brought more applause in agreement, as did a complaint against gerrymandering.

“We must protect the power of the citizen, to make sure the government is working for you, not big corporations. Those big corporations have enough people down there (in Washington). What you need is somebody who is fighting for you.”

Kim made a related promise, saying he would not take a cent of corporate political action committee money. He also promised to support and protect Social Security.

“I introduced legislation to get poor people more money each month,” he told the crowd. “My mother is dependent on Social Security for 90 percent of her income. We shouldn’t have seniors who are afraid of living in poverty.”

He also promised constituent service.

“Whether you voted for me or not, I will do everything I can for you,” he said, ending his introductory remarks.

And with that, he opened the meeting to the audience.

Twenty Questions –
OK, At Least 17

One woman pushed the issue of prescription drug prices. What would Kim do about that?

“Right now a drug manufacturer can set prices and Medicare has to take it,” said Kim. The first necessary step, he said, was to “get rid of that law that prohibits Medicare from negotiating.”

Another thing that is needed, he said, is more price transparency. He used the notorious examples of companies suddenly and sharply raising the price for EpiPens and inhalers. The companies always use the excuse, he said, of the high cost of research and development for new drugs. “But we know companies pay more for advertising and marketing than R&D,” he said, earning another round of clapping.

A man pushed for Medicare for all. Kim didn’t jump on board the Democratic Medicare for all bandwagon, saying a “broader discourse on the health care issue is necessary.” He did say, “I believe health care is a right.”

That same man asked about the situation in Yemen. Kim said it was the biggest humanitarian catastrophe in the world right now and that he had voted for a bipartisan bill that would limit support for Saudi Arabia if that country didn’t stop its actions in Yemen.

“That is something we should not be involved in right now,” he said, “except for humanitarian help. Hopefully the Senate will pass the same legislation.”

Another man said he knew VA whistleblowers, and he wanted to meet with Kim personally. Kim sent a staff member to get the man’s contact information.

Yet another man, “Tom” (just about everybody used just their first name for identification), who had been shot as a youngster leaving him in a wheelchair, asked if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was looking into the public health cost of guns in America. Kim said legislation had prohibited the CDC from researching gun violence.

“Guns are a very sensitive issue,” he said. “We need facts and evidence-based ideas in this public health debate.”

One man complained that renewable energy could actually be harmful to the environment. He mentioned Great Adventure’s attempt to create a solar farm, which might sound great until you realized the number of trees that would have to be cut down. Plus, he said, used panels were creating tons of waste.

“Are you one of those people who thinks that man can control the temperature?”

“Every form of energy that we have has some sort of negative byproduct,” said Kim, who added, “I do believe in climate change, and I do believe people have been a cause of climate change, from the Industrial Revolution on.”

Maybe, said Kim, he would hold a special town hall dedicated to the issue of climate change. He added that green energy should be promoted.

“From an economic standpoint, it makes sense for America to be a (green energy) leader.”

An IRS worker who had been furloughed during the government shutdown said he would hold Kim to his proclaimed effort to outlaw future shutdowns. “We’re really tired of being political pawns.”

Kim stuck up for government employees, calling them “the steady hand at the wheel of the government.” That’s why, he said, he was supporting legislation to outlaw shutdowns.

A woman who said she was a veteran and a military spouse returned to the issue of the Brick VA facility. She said it has only three primary care providers when it was supposed to have 11.

Kim responded that part of the problem was doctors and other health professionals in his district were drawn to higher salaries in Philadelphia.

The meeting remained calm throughout. Kim earned another round of applause when he drew it to a close.

He hadn’t sounded like a socialist, and had said at one time that he wanted to deal with solving smaller problems rather than grand plans. On the other hand, he left no doubt he is a Democrat.

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