Hot-button issues, local concerns dominate Rep. Dean Phillips' town hall
Washington, DC, March 22, 2019 | Star Tribune
In her five decades as a voter, Terry Wise had never been to a town hall held by her elected representatives. But after last week's massacre at two New Zealand mosques, the 69-year-old retiree felt heartbroken and frustrated about the prospect of passing stricter gun regulations here in the United States.
"I feel helpless to get anything going in a meaningful way," she said.
So on Wednesday, she went with friends to a middle school auditorium in Maple Grove to see what Rep. Dean Phillips had to say about the issue.
It didn't take long. Within minutes of taking the stage, before any questions were asked, the freshman Democrat brought it up himself. He cited the House's passage of a bill on universal background checks as an early win.
"I am hopeful, I am optimistic," he said. "I want you to know to keep the faith."
Gun control was among the hot-button topics on the minds of the 200 or so constituents who turned out. Some shared stories about the impact that the health care and immigration systems have had on their lives and communities. Others wanted to advocate for major changes to electoral politics. Several expressed concerns about local Liberians set to lose their legal status to remain in the United States when the deferred enforced departure program ends March 31.
"I'm doing everything humanly possible, because there is no more important mission in the next two weeks than trying to protect the Liberian community," said Phillips, citing encouraging meetings with the White House and congressional colleagues.
On immigration, Eden Prairie resident Nikhil Joshi bemoaned his long path to permanent legal residency. Several questions later, Christopher Rouse, 17, of Plymouth pressed Phillips to support President Donald Trump's proposed border wall.
Phillips said he backs border security, including barriers in certain places, but wants to see a more comprehensive approach, including enhanced port security and changes to the immigration system.
Audience opinions were also mixed on guns. A number of constituents echoed Wise's call for more action.
Phillips' call to look at banning anything that causes "mass human carnage in a matter of moments," including AR-15s, was met with applause.
But Ahmad Saad of Eden Prairie said that while his heart is with the New Zealand victims, he found Phillips' remarks on gun control "deeply concerning" as someone who uses an AR-15 to hunt.
"My fear is we're going to ban everything and ignore the real source of the problem, which is people, people who are being ignored, people who aren't getting the care they need," he said.
Phillips reiterated his support for stricter gun laws, but said he agrees that the solution doesn't end there.
"Every single one of us in this room has an obligation and responsibility to start improving our communities and reaching out to one another," he said.