Monday, August 23, 2010

Lentz Economic Townhall in Haverford

This past Saturday, 8/21, State Rep. Bryan Lentz, Democratic candidate for the 7th Congressional district, held an economic townhall meeting at the Haverford Library in Havertown.

About 40 people attended on a nice weekend afternoon. These are my notes from the meeting. It is not intended as a transcript and, as always, I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

I came in a few minutes after it started and so missed the very beginning. When I arrived Lentz was talking about a container company he toured. All the welders had white hair and the owner wasn't sure where he would hire new welders when the older ones retired. The number one thing for the workforce is to invest in education. We also need to compete with workers and companies overseas. We can't compete on wages but we can compete by making better products. One way to do this is to provide research and development tax credits. We should remove incentives to move job overseas. Our economic policy has been too focused on the Dow. It should be a focus but not the only focus, we also need to think of people.

Lentz then took questions from the audience. I have to say I was very impressed with the group in attendance. People referenced books they were reading or had read. They were familiar with issues but in a well-rounded way. The questions didn't sound like canned questions prepared and sent out by organizations, but items of personal interest.

Q: How much of your job is focus on our district versus the entire country?

BL: My primary job would be to represent the district and our interests may be different from those of a district in another part of the country, but you ultimately have to cooperate to get things done.

Q: There is a lot of information and misinformation in the media [references a book on the history of regulation]:

BL: The bad news with mass media and television is that we have lost our commonality. When I was a kid everyone watched Happy Days and Walter Cronkite and talked about it the next day. Now everyone watches different shows, and not always on the night it is broadcast. Fox news as 4 million viewers, which is not a large percentage of the population. Everyone has their own version of the truth. The Internet has had a democratizing effect. You can get more viewers on You Tube than on a tv commercial. Less and less people are watching tv. In politics a lot of money goes to television. I have raised more than $1 million and most will go for television. The Internet removes the influence of money. [follow up question on how the debate to be televised on 8/22 went] I give myself a B for the debate.

Q: environmental policies and initiatives

BL: The tea party has demonized environmental legislation. At a townhall meeting in Goshen about 80 people attended, some of whom were very opposed to environmental legislation. One woman said if God didn't want us to burn oil he wouldn't have put it under the Earth. I think we need green jobs. It would be good for the economy, national security -- 60% of Iran's GDP is oil, and the environment and global warming.

Q: raise the tax on cigarettes and gas?

BL: Yes on cigarettes. That is the only tax that has gone up since I've been in Harrisburg and I'm very proud to have voted for it. We also need to tax oil profits.

Q: In Haverford Township lawn signs get more votes than tv commercials! Main Street vs Wall Street. How will you withstand stampeding mentality. How courageous are you?

BL: Well, I used to jump out of airplanes. You have to lead on principle, and act of facts not fear or false urgency. I welcome tough challenges. I stood on the State House floor and spoke against the extension of gambling even though I was told it was politically risky.

Q: What is the best thing the federal government can do to alleviate poverty?

BL: Social security and medicare are the best anti-poverty measures in the history of the country. Food stamps are also a good anti-poverty measure. We also need job opportunities and education.

Q: Corporations have cash on the books right now but aren't spending it on people.

BL: We need to give them an incentive to hire people. We also need to incentivize giving employees more training. In some areas we could hold competitions in research and development, and give the winner a rebate for r&d. Companies are worried about 2011 and want to hang on to their cash.

Q: FDR style WPA or CCC? [referencing job programs that put a lot of people to work on public works projects in the 1930's.]

BL: The Job Corps is still an existing program.

Q: How to counteract what Republican friends say.

BL: Bring it home. Most people are not partisan. People care about their families and communities. Spending in Harrisburg increased because we began funding education as it should be. One school in the Upper Darby district has students that speak a large number of languages [70?]. Increased funding won't help solve all the problems but it does help. If the state does less the locals do more. In transportation we have structurally deficit bridges. That means if you drive over it the bridge might fall down. We need to fix those. Nobody is for wasting money. Major contributor to the deficit were the war and tax credits.

Q: favor extending Bush tax cuts?

BL: Extend them for those earning less than $250,000. [blogger's note: He said something about capital gains tax and real estate but I missed it.] If you want to extend them for the wealthiest we should find $199 billion to cut to make up the cost.

Q: What about obsolete military stuff that we still build?

BL: We need to look at the military budget.

Q: Two questions: nuclear energy and net neutrality

BL: In the near term we will still be using fossil fuels. We need to begin to reduce our use of them. We don't want to be like France and get 90% of our energy from nuclear energy because of the waste problems. Probably most of Havertown is powered by nuclear energy produced at the Limerick power plant. On net neutrality, we should keep it as open and free as possible.

Q: How do I vocalize pride in Democratic accomplishments?

BL: The problem is the bad economy. Like a lack of sleep, where the economy is bad nothing makes you happy. The economy puts a cloud on things like health care. A constituent was denied health care because he had had polio in 1952. It was considered a pre-existing condition. That isn't legal under the new health care reform legislation. When people label something a job killer people stop listening. It is also hard to get credit for preventing something from happening.

At this point the formal meeting broke up and people were talking with Lentz individually. I went next door to Cenzo's Pizza for a late lunch. The pizza was good and, according to signs in the window, they are looking for two employees, one delivery and one working on the grill. Driving away I passed the library again and could see Lentz's people standing outside the library. I don't know if Lentz himself was still inside talking to people; if so he was taking a lot of questions.

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