GILBERT — It’s time for American troops to come home from Afghanistan, Republican 8th District U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack said at a town hall meeting in Gilbert Saturday morning.
“On that, I agree with the president,” he later said to a follow-up query after the question/answer session with constituents had ended.
Cravaack also was asked by an audience member about the long-delayed copper/nickel/precious metals PolyMet project on the east Range.
“It’s frustrating,” he said, adding that he has heard “a state agency has some issues.” Cravaack said he hopes to know more about the project’s status and any problems during the next meeting with all stakeholders on March 12 in Duluth. It will be one of the roundtables on the issue Cravaack initiated last year.
At his 24th town hall since taking office in January 2011, the first-term congressman spent about 30 minutes on what he strongly believes is the biggest problems facing the country — debt and Washington spending, which he said piggyback on each other.
He then responded to more than a dozen questions from constituents, ranging from our troop presence in many areas overseas to PolyMet to signing of tax pledges to his dual residency in Minnesota and New Hampshire and even to recent offensive comments by conservative radio commentator/entertainer Rush Limbaugh.
About 100 people filled the City Hall chambers, with a strong majority seemingly Cravaack supporters based on applause given often during his comments and answers to questions and also a long line that awaited him for one-on-one discussions after the public session.
One constituent asked Cravaack, “Why do we have so many troops in so many countries?”
Cravaack said some of those commitments are for needed “strategic missions,” but agreed with her that the U.S. needs to cut back its foreign military presence, Afghanistan included.
When asked after the town hall meeting if his stand on what should be the position on U.S. troops in that now 10 year-plus conflict had solidified with the recent killings of several American military men by Afghan personnel, Cravaack said, “It goes deeper than that.”
The most recent bloody confrontation between two supposed allies was triggered when Qurans and other Islamic texts being removed from a library at a detention facility and then burned in improper fashion U.S. military officials. Extremist inscriptions were found inside the texts, prompting them to be destroyed. Since then, six U.S. soldiers were shot and killed by Afghan security forces.
Regarding PolyMet, Cravaack said he believes all federal officials and agencies are pulling in the same direction, but a state agency “has some issues.” After the town hall, Cravaack filled out that comment when asked if the agency was the Department of Natural Resources? “Yes, that’s what I’ve heard,” he said.
Cravaack said the nonferrous project is vital to the future economic health of the Range and Minnesota. It would create 350 permanent jobs, hundreds more spin-off jobs and a projected 1.5 million hours of construction work. He said plans now call for an Environmental Impact Statement to be ready by summer. There has already been more than eight years of environmental review.
The congressman said he was also “really excited” about the Twin Metals copper/nickel/precious metals project near Ely and Babbitt. “That project will create 1,500 to 2,000 full-time jobs,” he said.
Cravaack said seeing the mining projects through to completion would be a jobs bonanza for the area. “The only people who won’t be working in northern Minnesota is if they didn’t want to work.”
The congressman had a captive audience from the outset as he talked in detail about the nation’s growing debt and what it could mean for future generations.
He said that there is a common thread through all the town hall meetings he has held.
“All love and care about our country and all are concerned about what will happen to our kids,” he said.
On a personal note, Cravaack said he has not deviated from his campaign promise of communication with constituents.
“Politicians tell us what we want to hear. I don’t do that. You told me to engage and report back to you. So let’s have a truthful, factual discussion ... a respectful and civil conversation,” he said.
Cravaack cited statistics to back up his words of concern about the debt and federal spending — numbers from nonpartisan groups.
• The government is borrowing 42 cents for every $1 it spends.
• At the end of this year the federal debt is projected to be 100 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.
• In 1950 there were 16.5 workers for each Social Security beneficiary. In 2009 that ration was 3-to-1. In 2040 it will be 2.1-to-1.
• In 2010, 47 percent of our debt was foreign owned, with 30 percent of that by China. That should be of particular concern to Americans, he said, because China is growing its military. “China is not our friend,” Cravaack said. And Cravaack quoted Admiral Michael Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, to emphasize the danger of the debt. “He said the greatest national security threat is (our) debt,” he said.
The congressman said that unless the trend of debt and spending is reversed, “We are heading to a European-style government and taxation. We can do it, but we must do it now.”
Here are Cravaack’s responses to other questions by constituents at the town hall gathering.
• Q. Did you sign a pledge by conservative activist Grover Norquist?
* A. Cravaack said he did during the 2010 campaign — a pledge not to raise taxes. Even though he has been a strong supporter of spending cuts rather than tax increases, Cravaack said signing it was a mistake. “I have learned, never sign a damn pledge.”
• Q. Where do you live?
* A. “North Branch,” Cravaack said, while also explaining the family’s dual residency in Minnesota and New Hampshire. His wife, Traci, works for a pharmaceutical company in Boston and the couple purchased a home in New Hampshire so she would be with the children during the week, while Cravaack is in Washington D.C.. Otherwise, neither of them would then be in Minnesota, he said. Cravaack pointed out that when people were recently protesting his dual residency they gave out his North Branch address. Even his opponents know where he lives, Cravaack said.
• Q. What about a proposal for a mileage tax?
• A. “Not on my watch.”
• Q. What about tax policy changes?
• A. Tax code reform needs to be “simpler, flatter and fairer.”
• Q. Why did you support a bill that allows the Border Patrol to have authority 100 miles from the borders? Isn’t that an unwarranted intrusion?
• A. Law enforcement must be able to “get criminals,” and if they know the Border Patrol can only go so far then they will feel safe at a certain point. It was also “mostly about drug smuggling” and officials are finding that is becoming the route and work of terrorists, too.
• Q. What about the most recent comments of Rush Limbaugh about a Georgetown college student who testified in support of the federal government paying for contraception through the new health care law? Limbaugh called her a “slut” and “prostitute” in one of his radio monologues. After five advertisers dropped from his Monday-Friday three-hour radio show, Limbaugh issued a sort-of apology on his website Saturday evening.
* A. “I don’t respond to what Rush Limbaugh says,” Cravaack said, whether he agrees or disagrees with the comments.