Part 1 of 2
WINDSOR – He jumped from topic to topic in a 45-minute speech, and then took over a dozen questions from his audience in the auditorium at Bertie High School.
1st District U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield didn’t want to call it a Town Hall Meeting, and probably for very good reason: Town hall meetings in more conservative districts have been flooded with demonstrators peppering representatives with pointed questions about President Trump and the state of the federal government, prompting some congressional leaders – mostly Republicans – to cancel meetings. Not this night and not Butterfield.
Surrounded by a partisan, and one would assume, largely Democrat audience, the Wilson native instead called the night “Forward Together – A Community Discussion”. Representing 14 counties that – for now – stretch from Durham north to the Virginia line, then eastward to Gates County, down the Chowan River and ending in Tyrell County, Butterfield faced a crowd of more than 300 at the venue. It was a cross-section of the population of more than 700,000 that he represents.
This marked the third community discussion Butterfield has held, the others were in Durham in February and Greenville in April.
Former Bertie County Commissioner Patricia Ferguson, now president of the Bertie County African American Caucus, moderated the evening’s proceedings.
“We’re at a point now where I believe all this partisan bickering has to end,” Ferguson stated. “That’s why we’re calling it ‘Forward Together’, because it’s not just Democrats, or Republicans, Independents, or anyone else. It’s a cool way to describe not having opposition to things that stall progress.”
Following welcome remarks delivered by Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Stephen Hill, Bertie County Commissioners vice-chair Ernestine Byrd Bazemore, Windsor Mayor Jim Hoggard, and a stirring introduction of the speaker by 14-year-old Taylor Tucker, a sophomore at Lawrence Academy, Butterfield began his remarks for the evening.
“Part of my job description, as your congressman, is to have open and regular dialogue with you,” he said. “There is no substitute. So I have come to talk with you, but I’ve also come here to listen to you. And that is what this is all about. I think I know your frustrations and your fears for our country, because I hear them every day.”
He then used humor to enlighten his audience on the duties he performs in Washington.
“The 535 of us (Representatives and Senators) are basically the Board of Directors of the country,” he said. “We must first pay attention to the world; secondly, to make sure you and your families are safe; third, that we have the sufficient resources for safety and services to the American people; and, lastly, that we spend those resources responsibly.”
Not missing a chance to take a swipe at ‘the loyal opposition’, Butterfield said congressional discord is threatening passage of the new federal budget, whose deadline is Sept. 30. He said when Congress re-convenes after Labor Day they’ll have just 21 legislative days to get a budget passed.
“The problem is my Republican friends don’t have the political will to reach across the aisle and negotiate and reach some type of deal with the Democrats,” he maintained. “If they try to enter into bipartisan discussion they would be ridiculed by their base at home and probably defeated in the next election; so they’re trying to do everything on their own, and they don’t have the votes.”
Butterfield warned that the national debt limit of $19.8 trillion must be raised by the end of August, or the country may not be able to meet its obligations. He said the limit would probably not be raised in Congress without concessions, and he named some that hit more to the heart of his audience.
“Concessions are about you,” he stated. “They’re about rural communities, about Medicare, Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps, and Title-One funds for education. Those are the concessions they want to make.
“We depend on Medicaid in Bertie County,” Butterfield said. “We’d be a Third World Country in Bertie, Hertford, and the surrounding counties if we didn’t have Medicaid. North Carolina is one of those states that did not expand Medicaid to include single folks. Now they’re coming after Medicaid because they see that as a way to cut the deficit and to reduce spending and reduce taxes. They’re coming after Medicaid, and they want to significantly cut it.”
“Right now the state is struggling to balance its budget and the first thing they’re going to have to do is to cut back on who is entitled to Medicaid, or they have to cut back on how much they reimburse the hospitals, and the doctors, and the prescription drugs, and all; so there’s danger on the horizon and I want to pay attention to that.”
Butterfield admitted not everything in Congress is contentious. He is very much on board with the President when it comes to infrastructure.
“If we can pass an infrastructure bill for the remainder of this year, I want President Trump to know that I will vote for it,” the congressman declared. “If we can invest $1-trillion in infrastructure in this country rebuilding schools, water and sewer systems, highways, high-speed internet and all the other things we need in rural America then I will vote for it. But (they) say we’ve got to find a way to pay for it, so I know it won’t happen.”
Butterfield concluded his remarks by thanking his staffers that work in the District’s regional offices.
“I’m one person with 14 counties who works 260 miles from home, and they are the ones who keep the fires burning and the trains running,” he said. “I have to publicly thank them.”
A one-hour question and answer session then followed.
NOTE: Part 2 in Tuesday’s (Aug. 15) edition will feature the Q&A portion of Butterfield’s talk during the Town Hall/Community Discussion.