From the economy, to the national debt, to gun control, immigration and climate control, U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent on Tuesday covered a broad swath of issues as he met with scores of new constituents from his newly carved 15th congressional district.
For many of the audience members, the town hall meeting held at the Hershey Public Library was the first chance to meet the Republican who became their congressman in January when new redistricting lines went into effect. The district now includes Derry, Hummelstown and Middletown and Londonderry and had been previously been represented by former U.S. Rep. Tim Holden.
One of the first topics tackled was gun control, an issue that has stirred fiery debate in central Pennsylvania with last week’s cancellation of the Eastern Outdoor Sports Show. Asked by an audience member where he stood on the gun reform measures introduced by President Obama and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), both of which call for reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons, Dent said he supported stricter background checks.
“We have rights and responsibilities,” he said. “People who own firearms have to be responsible that they adequately secure firearms and keep them out of the hands of family members who are mentally ill or have criminal problems.”
Dent said he supports overhauling mental health services to prevent people with mental health problems from acquiring firearms.
“We have to clean up the system so we can make it easier to get people committed,” said Dent, who shared a story of a family whose mentally ill son killed his parents. “It is a huge problem. We have to make sure we keep firearms out of the hands of violent felons and people who are seriously mentally ill.”
He said he did not think Feinstein’s bill would win approval in the Senate.
Dent, who voted against healthcare reform, said entitlement programs, particularly those that pertain to healthcare, must be made sustainable in the long term. A member of the appropriations committee, Dent said some of that work would be daunting.
“He seems to be pretty moderate on most issues and I like that.” – Dennis Darling, a Democrat from South Hanover Township
“Social Security is far more manageable,” he said. “Healthcare is the greater challenge.”
He said his goal was to ensure people already receiving benefits would see no disruption to their benefits.
The end product, he said, would likely look vastly different than the system in place.
“If anybody here believes a 12-year-old today is going to have the same benefits as an 85-year-old, raise your hand .. we know what is happening,” Dent said. “The sooner we deal with these challenges, the better it’ll be for all of us. The longer we wait, the options become fewer and the choices become much more painful.”
Dennis Darling, a Democrat from South Hanover Twp. who said he came out to the town hall meeting to get acquainted with his new representative in Congress, said he liked what he had heard.
“He seems to be pretty moderate on most issues and I like that,” he said. “I find myself agreeing with what he says. On some energy issues he has ways to go. I like what I heard today. I like the fact that he showed up and he didn’t take stands that are outside the political mainstream. I may well vote for him in the next election.”
Michael Mark, of Derry Twp., walked away with a similar impression.
“I really liked him,” he said. “I think he seemed opened to ideas and interested in what his constituents are thinking.”
Mark had questioned Dent on the need for a carbon tax as a way to lower carbon emissions in this country.
“The carbon tax idea is to make oil, gas and coal less competitive than renewal alternative sources,” Dent replied. “I think the federal government, if we are going to do anything, we ought to be spending dollars on research and development not trying to commercialize it ourselves. We don’t have a good track record.”
Mark said he needed to “influence” Dent’s thinking a little, particularly about the environment.
“I don’t think he’s being proactive enough about global warming and greenhouse gases,” Mark said. “I’d like to see him do more work on that. I think we need to work together.”