Tough queries greet Congressman in Oak Harbor

 Congressman Rick Larsen shares a laugh with his audience in Oak Harbor last Saturday. It wasn’t all fun-and-games, as Larsen was grilled on the economy and bailout of large corporations.  - Liz Burlingame / Whidbey News-Times
Congressman Rick Larsen shares a laugh with his audience in Oak Harbor last Saturday. It wasn’t all fun-and-games, as Larsen was grilled on the economy and bailout of large corporations.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame / Whidbey News-Times

Congressmen Rick Larsen was grilled during a “town talk” at the Oak Harbor Senior Center, with everything from the economy, the stimulus bill and even the newly Republican-turned-Democrat, Sen. Arlen Specter.

The crowd last Saturday listened as Larsen outlined President Barack Obama’s plans to address economic recovery and the nation’s priorities.

“People will have their views about the president, both good and bad. I will say this though, every day he wakes up I see how far he runs and I have to decide how I’m going to catch up. There is no rest for this person,” Larsen said.

Before opening the talk up to questions, Larsen explained how stimulus money will be used in Island County.

Funding is set aside for widening Ault Field Road, he said, and $360,000 will be used for road work. Oak Harbor schools will have access to a piece of the $100 million in federal Impact Aid, for districts with high military populations.

Spikes in the state’s unemployment rate, and across the nation, underscored why Congress acted quickly, Larsen said.

“Most of the pieces are in place to help with economic recovery. It’s unlikely we’ll do another large-scale package.”

An audience member commented that she was fearful of political “group-think” and the government’s $10 trillion dollar debt.

“Did you read the stimulus bill that you passed? All 1,100 pages of it?” she asked.

“Yes,” Larsen said. “I’m doing my dead level best to hear what people have to say, speak to the experts and put it in a gumbo pot and make it taste like gumbo. In other words, come up with the best decision.”

Despite strong criticism of the government’s bailout of AIG, banks and the auto industry, Larsen steered the forum to laughter after a question about congressional earmarks. He forwarded 51 earmark requests to the appropriations committee this year, out of 153 requests.

“Sometimes you have to say no, which is difficult. What do public officials want most?” Larsen asked.

The audience suggested “re-election and “campaign contributions.”

“No. They want to be loved,” Larsen said.

One audience member asked about Larsen’s opinion of term-limits for Congress, citing the 79-year-old Arlen Specter. The Pennsylvania senator recently came under fire for switching parties, in favor of the Democratic party.

Larsen said he’s against term limits, explaining that Congress is the voice of the people. As framers envisioned the Senate and House, the Senate serves six years for stability and the House serves two years, to reflect how people feel over time.

“But aren’t you our voice if we don’t want Arlen?” a man quipped.

“I assure you, no one in Pennsylvania will listen to me about Arlen,” Larsen said.

With regards to the economic crisis, Larsen said he has heard the anger, communicated the anger and shared the anger.

“Much like dealing with the N1H1 virus, where we need effective action, we need to do the same with the economy,” Larsen said. “We need the right oversight of your dollars.”

Many audience members replied “amen” after one man asked why the government was bailing out the irresponsible, when he had paid off his debts.

“The president said that with regards to the automotive industry, we have to do this but when we’re done, we’re out,” Larsen said. “The federal government doesn’t want to build cars. They want to stabilize the economy and keep jobs.”

Larsen spoke about 30 minutes beyond his scheduled end-time, calling on some audience members twice.

By getting feedback, Larsen said he will take local concerns back to Congress where it can be used to help solve the nation’s current challenges. Following his lunch, the congressman also walked door-to-door in Oak Harbor neighborhoods to collect more input.

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