BREMERTON — Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Bremerton, held a mid-week town hall meeting Feb. 22 at the Admiral Theatre in downtown Bremerton. As recent congressional town hall meetings go, it was more love fest than protest.
By 5:30 p.m., the downstairs and the balcony were packed with standing-room-only crowds. The official count was 960 people, according to Chad Haight, Admiral Theatre’s director of operations.
Before taking questions, Kilmer opened his remarks with a short PowerPoint presentation highlighting what he saw as one of the greatest challenges: trying to restore faith in government.
He started with bills intended to promote ethical conduct, including the Presidential Tax Transparency Act, requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax records; the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act, making the President and Vice-President of the United States subject to the same laws as all federal employees; and the Protecting our Democracy Act, which would address foreign influence in the last election.
He said he would ask that Congress include voter disenfranchisement when it investigates voter fraud.
With regard to bi-partisan bills he felt “had a fair chance of passage,” he will be co-sponsoring a campaign finance reform bill that will repeal Citizens United.
A new voting rights act, if passed, would address gerrymandering.
“Voters should choose elected officials, not elected officials choose voters,” he said, referring to the current policy of structuring congressional districts so as to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group.
He is also co-sponsoring a bipartisan Federal Ethics Committee reform bill.
Kilmer spoke about efforts to end budget gimmicks and pass a budget that eliminates sequestration. Some of the strongest applause of the evening came when he said that, to encourage budget passage, he is sponsoring a No Budget, No Pay Bill.
He was particularly hard on President Trump’s executive order calling for a hiring freeze on federal employees, calling it “a gimmick that hurts the economy.” To counter that, he said next week he would be introducing a bill to waive the 180 day rule for veterans.
The rule, implemented during the 1960s, has been waived since 911 until Trump recently reinstated it. Kilmer said the bill was bi-partisan “and had a good chance of passing.”
He had met with PSNS employees prior to the Town Hall meeting and he gave several examples of how the hiring freeze and accounting gimmicks used to avoid reimbursing employees when they have to temporarily relocate to another city or country, are damaging the shipyard’s ability to keep ships at sea.
When asked, he admitted non-defense discretionary spending is in jeopardy.
“Programs have funding until the end of April,” he said. After that he didn’t know if there would be a path forward for non-defense items.
“I am here, I am queer and I am not going back in the closet,” stated one questioner. “Will you take a stand … on behalf of the LGBT community by joining in local LGBT events?
“Yes,” Kilmer said. “I haven’t missed a Kitsap Pride event since 2004 … I have your back; the state has your back.”
On immigrants: “I absolutely oppose withholding funds from cities that refuse to work with ICE.”
With regard for the need for skilled trade workers, he spoke to the need for more education in the trades while reminding the audience that education has a direct impact on wages in today’s market.
In response to a question on trade agreements, he called for a litmus test for trade agreements.
“They need to export products, not jobs,” he said and called for protections for people, worker standards, and jobs that are enforceable.
The future of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Social Security was of great concern to the largely older audience. Aspects of the ACA that Kilmer said were critical included: coverage for pre-existing conditions; preventative care without co-pay; the ability of young people to stay on their parents’ insurance; no lifetime caps; no discrimination against women; focusing more on patient wellness; addressing the need for more care providers; and parity for mental health issues.
He said he was co-sponsoring a bill to for mental health services that stood a good chance of passing. “(Right now) the largest mental health care provider in Pierce County is the county jail,” he said.
He is also co-sponsoring a bill that focuses on a more just formula for figuring cost of living increases for Social Security recipients.
He expressed concern for the future of Medicare. “I am very concerned about the Republicans turning Medicare into a voucher system,” he said.
One of the final questions was, “Where do we spend our time if we want to make a change?
“Public sentiment is everything,” said Kilmer, quoting Abraham Lincoln. “Contacting your elected officials really matters.”
Calling a representative outside your district is less effective, Kilmer said. Rather, reach out to friends in other districts and encourage them to reach out to their elected officials.