By Toni Henle
You won’t fall asleep at one of Representative Mark DeSaulnier’s Town Halls! He’s done 75 of them since 2015, when he was first elected to represent CA-11, and it’s clear he loves this way of connecting with his constituents. I attended my third town hall in Lafayette on Saturday, January 19, 2019 – yes, it was the same day as the Women’s Marches, and in fact the audience cheered loudly when DeSaulnier mentioned that he’d come from the Walnut Creek Women’s March!
DeSaulnier’s town halls are always informative, but also entertaining and a chance for 500 or so constituents to express their opinions to their representative, which they did, resoundingly approving his stance that there should be no negotiations on the border wall until the government is reopened. “Democrats and Republicans should not shut down the government because they don’t get what they want through the legislative process, that’s not how democracy works,” he said. “The process should be open and public and you have to hold votes” to reach a resolution.
The Emergency Town Hall on the Trump Shutdown was serious indeed – outside, a dozen tables were set up to connect furloughed or working-without-pay federal employees with services, including food banks, a credit union offering interest-free loans for Coast Guard employees, the National Treasury Employees Union (its members work across many parts of government), CoCo Kids, Monument Crisis Center and the Contra Costa County Veterans Office, among others.
Rep. DeSaulnier began with a slide show, Special Edition: The Trump Shutdown, including these facts:
- 37,000 California workers are furloughed due to the partial government shutdown
- $5.7 billion won’t build the wall that Trump wants – independent and congressional studies estimate it could cost up to $40 or even $70 billion in all.
- Illegal border crossings have been declining for nearly two decades; in 2017, border-crossing apprehensions were at their lowest point since 1971.
- Two-thirds of the “illegal” immigrant population in the U.S. is due to people overstaying their visas, so building a wall will not address that part of the situation.
How would he address the border situation?
- First, end the shutdown now and put people back to paid work.
- Then the GAO needs to do a cost-benefit analysis by convening experts to address the best way to both secure the border and alleviate the humanitarian crisis. “Democrats continue to support strong, smart, effective border security solutions” like smart technology and more personnel.
- Congress needs to hold hearings and we need to have a public debate.
- In the long run, “I’d like to spend more money in the countries that asylum-seekers are coming from…to help them restore the rule of law, so that they can live in the country that they want to live.”
- We need permanent legislation to address the Dreamers, not a temporary solution.
Rep. DeSaulnier serves on the Education and Labor Committee, which is preparing legislation on ways to help American workers, and Transportation and Infrastructure. He may also be able to “waive onto” a third committee, Government Oversight, on which he’d want hearings on the child separation policy and reunification of families as well as, of course, Michael Cohen and others.
DeSaulnier answered audience questions for the last 45 minutes, including:
- How to end the shutdown (see above)
- Concern about the potential for aviation accidents if the shutdown continues, voiced by an airline pilot
- Concern about family separation policy and reuniting children with families
- Restoring “regular order” so that we don’t go from one continuing resolution to another in funding the government
- 7,500+ in Contra Costa County losing their Section 8 housing subsidy at the end of February
- What is to be expected after the Mueller report is released?
- What can be done to protect the rights of LGBTQ people in our military?
On Tuesday, January 22, the CA-11 representative will be back in Washington after having heard important input from his district. Want to contact him? Here’s how: (email): (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
Did you miss the Town Hall? Watch the video recording here.
Toni Henle is retired after a career in policy work at non-profits focused on workforce development. She is a member of the IEB Governance Committee, co-lead of Outreach to Organizations and a member of the Indivisible CA-11 team.
Photographs by Toni Henle