Forward Together

Published 10:35 am Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Part 2 of 2

WINDSOR – 1ST District U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield continued his whirlwind summer tour of stops in his district with the first of two planned visits to Bertie County last Tuesday when he addressed a crowd of nearly 300 persons at the Bertie High School Auditorium.

Though it resembled what many federal legislators have dubbed ‘Town Hall’ meeting, Butterfield instead called the night “Forward Together – A Community Discussion”.

The Congressman gave a 45-minute speech on topics from North Korea to health care, to the economy, to infrastructure. He said holding discussions like this one allows the community to ask him the tough questions.

The questions lobbed at Butterfield ranged widely and he spent some time with his answers explaining the political processes to those on hand.

First District US Congressman G.K. Butterfield spoke to a crowd of more than 300 persons at Bertie High School Auditorium Tuesday night in a town-hall meeting setting, at the end of which he took questions from the audience. | Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Some of the queries Butterfield discussed:

On the Affordable Care Act – which he helped write – he called it a godsend, with 200 million insured, cutting the uninsured rate from 40 million to 20 million. He said there has to be a bipartisan effort to change the law; and said he’s aware conservatives believe the government has no business in health care. He acknowledged the TrumpCare bill came within one vote (John McCain) of passing, but admits the GOP fight to “replace and repeal” is not over.

On help for communities still feeling the effects of Hurricane Matthew:  he said there needs to be ‘resources on demand’, FEMA must be saved from those who consider maintaining it ‘discretionary spending’, and something needs to be passed that will allow resources to ‘trickle down’ to places like Hertford and Bertie counties.

On threats to U.S. national security:  he said we must reach common ground to de-escalate the tension. North Korea now has a nuclear warhead they boast can hit the U.S. mainland, and that rhetoric needs to be toned down. He said America has the power to take down the enemy, but keep an eye on North Korea and Iran more than Russia.

▪ On Net-Neutrality and an open Internet:  Butterfield admits it’s a complicated and divisive issue, but he says all the services on the internet need to come to consumers at the same speed, and it needs to be completely open and equal to everybody who uses it; and he opposes anything that takes away from the neutral platform of the internet.

On the dangers of coal-ash storage in Northampton County: he said while it is a “serious substance”, it is useful if managed properly, but if mishandled and contaminates it presents a danger. He admitted he needed to know more; but he opposes a coal ash facility in a “community that is defenseless”, but has not made up his mind on the subject.

On protection of veterans and veteran’s affairs: A veteran himself, Butterfield said investment in veteran’s benefits were increased by 40 percent under the Democratic administration, but there are still issues to be addressed, and “we have to do more”.

On voting rights and re-districting: when district lines were drawn based on computer models, they were done so to maximize GOP influence. His district now has been carved out for higher African-American communities. Despite higher voter registration among Democrats, Butterfield says there are only three Democratic representatives in Congress versus 10 GOP. He feels it was the strategic way the lines were drawn.  When challenged, the federal court ruled minority voters had been ‘packed’ into these districts. By Sept. 1, new General Assembly lines have to be drawn affecting the state’s Senate and House districts; or by Sept. 15, they must show in good-faith they are working to get it done.

On three goals to improve education (in Bertie County): the most important way is with money. “We have to build the schools, we have to hire the teachers, pay the salaries, reduce class size, increase the technology, and empower our kids with high-speed internet so they can compete,” he said.  His three-pronged solution was (1) change public opinion, (2) raise awareness, and (3) increase voter turnout in all six counties.  “We don’t need to give up, we need to stand up and fight”, Butterfield declared.

On the minimum wage: he opposes $15 per hour, but a raise to $10-$12 would be a big improvement over $7.25.

On the future of HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities):  the Congressman said he feels the 105 HBCU’s are underfunded and both public and private institutions are close to collapse. He said their alumni need to do more and keep those in the federal level informed because there are appropriations that could be used.

On State Lottery funds for education: it brings in a lot of money, millions of dollars; but the more that comes in lottery money, the less the state can appropriate for education; a bold investment in rural education all across the state is needed.

On campaign financing: corporations now give millions of dollars not to candidates, but to Super-Pacs (political action committees); lobbyists are becoming spokespersons for causes and sometimes they can sway votes on legislation. “We must find middle ground, not just ‘go along to get along’; political factions must realize they are accountable and put differences aside,” he said.

While Butterfield was not able to answer all the questions, the response from the audience was positive on his approachability and care about their concerns.

“We’ve had an opportunity to hear and discuss what’s coming this year and next year,” said moderator and former Bertie County Commissioner Patricia Ferguson. “This is what will bring us together and make progress and change in our communities.”

On Wednesday, Congressman Butterfield will attend a closed meeting at Telamon Corporation in Ahoskie before returning to Bertie County for a tour and Q&A at the Bertie County Rural Health Center in Windsor.  That event is open to the public.