Thursday, July 05, 2007

Nick Lampson Holds “Neighborhood Office Hours” in Richmond, Texas

I got the robo call, I got the email, and then my friend Ann called. Nick Lampson was having a “Neighborhood Office Hours” at the Richmond City Hall Annex on Tuesday, July 3rd, and we decided to go.

Neither of us knew where it was, but I knew where Morton Street was. It turns out we drove straight to it. The room was nearly empty except for 5 geezers who were sitting in the comfortable chairs lined up along one wall. One of them turned out to be Hilmar Moore, the mayor of Richmond.

The room filled. There were at least 25 people in the room when Nick arrived. Not a bad turn out, and my guess is that Ann and I were probably one of the few Democrats that attended. Well, Rodrigo was there, but Rodrigo is always there. His vigilant attendance of public meetings puts us all to shame.

Nick gave a brief speech . . . nice to be here . . . spent some time in the hospital . . . stuff like that. But his real reason for being there was to listen to what we were concerned about. I was doing research all day on the upcoming NCLB reauthorization vote, and had my question framed, but I also wanted to hear what people were thinking, so I held my question in case no one else had anything to ask.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t get to ask the question.

There was lots and lots of discussion on transportation issues. One question had to do with light rail to Houston. It opened up a can of worms. First, that the existing railroad line that runs right through Richmond was going to have increased traffic due to the purchase and construction of two container offloading sites in western Rosenberg. Railroad traffic, already around 60 trains per day, is expected to double and the truck traffic between Rosenberg and US 59 is expected to be heavy. Lots of infrastructure issues.

Nick also mentioned a proposal to reroute the rail line so that it bypassed populated areas, but that the railroad companies would probably need federal “inducement”.

Back to the light rail issue, if a new railroad line is built, that frees up the Highway 90 rail line that could then be converted to light rail.


Nick also mentioned the planned deepening and widening of the Panama Canal, and how that would mean that Houston and Galveston port channels would also need to be deepened and widened.

Probably the most interesting question came from a woman who identified herself as a “conservative Republican”. She offered that “No offense”, she didn’t consider herself represented in congress. She complained that congress didn’t listen to the people anymore, they listened to lobbyists. When I heard that I had to look at my notes and reverify that she indeed said that she was a conservative Republican. Her big concern was health care. She wanted to know what Nick thought about John Conyers’ HR 676. Nick didn’t know the specifics of the bill so she mentioned that it was about Universal Health Care, something that she thought we should have. I couldn’t believe my ears. A conservative Republican wanting Nick to vote for Universal Health Care.

Nick was all over this. He talked about the PHARMA lobby and what they did to Medicare/Medicaid. About the pharmaceutical industry having the biggest profit margin in the world, and about how Americans should be able to buy American-manufactured medication from other countries. He mentioned a proposal to allow people who are not old enough for the federal Medicare health plan to be able to buy in to the plan with premium payments based on number of years below 65.

So here’s the news: Republicans are ready for Universal Health Care. Democrats need to own this issue.

Another question from the back came from a woman, didn’t get her name, she said she worked at the Fort Bend Star. Her concern was about levees, that new FEMA maps indicate that current levees aren’t high enough, that levees being built by the county in low-lying areas are of questionable value, but mainly she wanted to see the map that told her insurance company that they needed to raise her homeowner’s insurance because she was now on a floodplain. No one would show her a map. She said that she was told that she should “just trust FEMA”.

Boy did that get a laugh.

She kept on him, wouldn’t let Nick off until he promised that he would look into getting her a map.

The conversation turned to science and Nick saw an opening to bring out his views on science. Funding for all science programs, he said, is down. Partial cuts are everywhere. Indeed, Nick pointed out that in its Apollo Program heyday, NASA’s funding constituted 6% of the entire federal budget (and remember, we had a nice little war going at the time). At the present, NASA’s budget is 0.6% of the federal budget. Nick pointed out that America is 39th in the world in terms of science education, bringing out a few gasps in the room.

More statistics. Nick pointed out that last year China graduated 60,000 science PhDs, while America graduated 6,000. At that, Ann leaned over and whispered “and 2/3 rds of them were Chinese.”

The point being that America is the place where scientific advancement has happened in the past, but that we are not very good at ensuring that will continue to be true in the future.

On immigration and border security, Nick echoed what he told us at the Richmond/Rosenberg Chamber of Commerce luncheon last month. Nothing is going to happen on this issue this year, and probably not next year. Not mentioning a fence, Nick did mention that if we are serious about border security, all we have to do is enforce the current laws and provide the manpower that has been requested: 50,000 more border patrol personnel rather than the 1100 that were delivered, more customs officials, more prosecutors to enforce the laws.

But all of that takes money, and Nick reiterated what he said earlier. To do this we cannot spend more and reduce the deficit at the same time. He didn’t go into the specifics of that, but you know what he was talking about. Rolling back Bush’s tax cuts for the well off.

And we all know how that will happen. It’ll happen when we have 60 Democrats in the US Senate.

Then Nick, Nick the staffer that is, started pointing at his watch and Nick, the Congressman, said that he had to wrap things up. People got up and crowded around him. Ann and I spoke briefly with Monica, who heads up Nick’s Clear Lake office, and left.

Ann announced a craving for chocolate and we were off in pursuit of that physical need.

Ironically, just as I got home later on, the phone rang and it was Nick’s voice in another robo call. This time for a “Keep Your Kids Safe” town hall meeting in Pearland.

I think I’ll pass.


muse said...

Glad you went to this Hal, and thanks for all of the details about what happened. Universal health care backed by a conservative Republican? It's July and hell just froze over.

John Coby said...

GREAT info! I am going to reference it on my reprt from Clear Lake.