OCEAN COUNTY – At Rep. Tom MacArthur’s (R-3rd) Town Hall meeting last night, he attempted to defuse partisan arguments and reinforce that not everyone is going to get along, but they have to in order to get things done.
Nationwide, some Democrats have accused Republicans of not holding Town Halls. Some Republicans have accused Democrats of taking over Town Halls and not letting people speak. The Town Hall was held at the Waretown Fire Department. Signs were not allowed at the Town Hall. There were occasional shouts from outside that could be heard, as people were not allowed in the building due to fire codes. As the evening wore on, and some people left, others were allowed in. MacArthur made it a point to make sure at least one person who had been waiting outside had a chance to ask a question.
MacArthur asked that the crowd not shout each other down, and let everyone speak. He also asked that people hold their comments to 5 minutes, but did not enforce it. He also asked that only people from his district ask questions.
The first person MacArthur called on for a question was a leader of Barnegat Democrats, Marianne Clemente. In fact, many of the people asking questions seemed like they were not necessarily supporters, but were not hostile.
“I can assure you in Ocean County, we don’t have paid protestors and there’s no one here who is going to hijack you,” Clemente said. She asked if he would support any of the bills floating around Congress that would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, or defund Planned Parenthood.
“I’m not going to support those (bills),” he answered. “That’s not to say (the departments) couldn’t use some work. That’s not to say they don’t overreach. There are enough of us that you don’t have to worry about whole departments.” He had mentioned the EPA and DOE before he said this, but did not mention Planned Parenthood specifically, but said that he is old enough to remember Roe v. Wade.
“I know there are not paid protestors here. That doesn’t mean there are not paid organizers,” he said later in the night.
Many of his statements elicited some kind of reaction. Some were met with applause. Some were met with applause and boos. Nothing he said was booed by the entire crowd. It seemed that every person asked at least one question, and he did not answer every single one. Sometimes, the answer was “I don’t know.”
“I am not Donald Trump. I am not Paul Ryan. You might have guessed I am not Hillary Clinton,” he said at the opener. He painted a picture of himself as a businessman, whom friends call “T Mac,” who rides a black pick-up truck from Ocean County to Washington, D.C.
He told listeners of his family, about a mother who died when he was 4, and a daughter who died when she was 11. The mother who raised him was a progressive Democrat, and his father was a conservative Republican. This led him to value the exchange of ideas.
“This is like dinner time back home,” he said of people arguing their beliefs.
MacArthur on Trump
One Toms River resident asked if he would support an independent investigation into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia and the president’s claims that Trump Tower was under surveillance from the Obama administration.
MacArthur said he had visited several countries that bordered Russia, meeting with high ranking officials. “All were concerned with Russia. Vladimir Putin is a thug. We all know that. We should be very wary in all our dealings with Russia. It would appear to be credible that Russia interfered in the election – not in the ballot box but in the media, trying to influence voters.”
The day may come when an independent investigation is needed, but not yet, he said. There are Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and the most prudent thing to do is wait for their investigation.
“I want to give them a chance to do their job,” he said.
A Pine Beach resident said that “we don’t have time” to wait for the bureaucracy to finish an investigation. He then asked why MacArthur voted not to force Trump to make his taxes public.
“President Trump should release his taxes because he said multiple times that he would,” he said. However, it was not Congress’ job to force that.
When a Stafford resident asked if Trump was making money off his job as president, MacArthur said he did not know if it was breaking the law.
“I didn’t go to Congress to attack or defend everything the president does,” he said. To this, some people shouted out “We’re asking you to,” and “If not you, then who?”
“When I disagree and I think I can make a difference, I will,” he said. “I am going to give this administration a chance, but I’m not going to jump on everything he does.”
He compared the criticism of Trump to the criticism of Obama when he was in office. “This is one of the mistakes we made. Some people did not want him to succeed,” he said.
The Environment and the Economy
A resident asked if he would support a carbon tax that would require businesses that pollute more would pay more. He did not comment specifically on a carbon tax, but said he supports a balance between protecting the environment and letting businesses grow.
For example, he would never support drilling off the New Jersey shore due to the effects it would have on the tourism and fishing industries.
“There’s no nation on Earth that has reduced carbon fuels more than us,” he said. Environmental protections, however, should not destroy the economy while countries across the world have their economies growing because they have less environmental protections.
MacArthur said of climate change that there is “ample evidence of that, and politicians shouldn’t pretend that scientists don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Another resident asked about rollbacks to the EPA, and other restrictions, like the Paris Agreement on climate change.
He admitted he had not looked at the Paris Agreement enough to answer the question.
A resident from Pine Beach later said MacArthur’s statement about reduced carbon fuels is only a half-truth. “We did more environmental damage over the last 150 years than any other nation,” he said, to a mix of boos and cheering.
While discussing clean energy jobs, he said he supports all of the above, but also “all of the below,” which would include natural gas as well as wind power, for example. Going back to the discussion on Russia, he said that countries that did not rely on Russia for their energy were a lot more likely to be critical of the nation. “Energy security is national security.”
MacArthur on Education
Several residents had concerns about education, and did not want to see public schools or specific programs defunded. One asked about H.R. 610, which dealt with voucher systems in education.
MacArthur said there are thousands of bills that have been introduced, and he has not read this one. A bill has a long way to go before it gets through committee and has a valid chance.
Generally, he felt there needed to be a difference drawn between voucher programs and charter schools. “I think there’s a place for (charter schools). I like the experimentation. In fact, I’d like to see charter schools inside public schools,” he said. However, they should be kept to the same standards as public schools.
Vouchers, however, are “a concern.” When a school is struggling, parents take their children, and money, out of the struggling school and put it into another school. This makes the struggling school have even more difficulties.
He said he has had two grandparents that were school superintendents, and would have been a teacher himself. “Then, when I was a senior (in college), a group of 5th graders convinced me I should have been a business major.”
On the Wall
A Brick resident asked if he supported Trump’s plan of building a wall across the Mexican border.
MacArthur said that a wall is impractical in some spots because the border is too mountainous. The issue is deeper than that.
“It’s not just people that are coming over, it’s drugs,” he said, mentioning the opiate epidemic. He said a majority of the heroin in the country is coming through the Mexican border, and the majority of fentanyl and other chemicals that worsen the issue is coming from China.
“The president has proposed a wall. I’m glad he proposed something, because no one else has suggested anything,” he said.