A week after he took the oath of office. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, held his first congressional town hall.
More than 100 people packed the Livermore City Council chambers through the lunch hour today. It was, for the most part, a friendly crowd although opponents of his favorable vote on the House’s health care legislation on Saturday made themselves heard.
Garamendi initially listened to an unconventional welcome from the always unconventional Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena. (Kamena joking offered to get Garamendi tickets to a football game at UC-Berkeley, the college where the congressman played football. Garamendi remined the mayor of the $10 gift limit. “Given the Bears’ record, I don’t think the tickets will be worth $10!” Kamena retorted.)
The congressman then heard presentations about the Livermore Valley Open Campus, a city collaborative with the national laboratories to foster the creation of high-tech jobs in the area.
But the audience was there to ask questions. Members of Congress have increasingly turned to the use of telephone-based town halls, ostensibly to reach a wider audience but also to avoid confrontational voters angry about Democratic policies.
Garamendi answered queries about his desire to see an increase in federal funding for education and his outlook on the future of the national laboratories.
He told them he opposed an increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan and said he had read the vast majority of the 2,000-page health care bill including all the summaries of key sections.
He declined to state a preferred location of the planned BART extension into Livermore — on the freeway or downtown — and said it was the community’s decision.
The tensest moments, as expected, during the questions about health care legislation as residents decried the move as a government take-over of medical care that will hurt the national economy and contribute to unemployment rates.
Garamendi vigorously and unapologetically defended his support of the bill and the public option as a few audience members shouted “Shame on you!” He called medical insurance companies “sharks” whose sole purpose is to hike profits through the denial of coverage to sick people.
He may be a new congressman but the former lieutenant governor of California and 35-year veteran of public office easily handled his outspoken critics. He mildly admonished both sides and urged them to refrain from clapping and yelling in the interests of avoiding a deterioration of civil discourse.
Garamendi will hold several more town halls in District 10 before the end of the year. The dates and places have not been finalized.
I recorded Garamendi’s opening statements and portions of his comments on health care, which you will find linked below.