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“At Least We’re Here Talking”: Rep. Susie Lee Holds First Town Hall, Hears from Constituents on a Wide Range of Issues

Last night, Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) held her first Congressional town hall at Silverado High School near Henderson. During a roughly 90 minute extended conversation, constituents asked questions on everything from to health care to immigration, and from veterans’ care to public education.

Lee listened as constituents explained, vented, and occasionally even challenged her position. As Lee summed it up, “I hope to do my little part to change the country. I know we won’t always agree, but at least we’re here talking.”

“I believe the way to solve problems is to first get together, then start talking [with each other].”
– Rep. Susie Lee
Photo by Andrew Davey

Rep. Susie Lee may have been one of several Democrats to ride “The Blue Wave” into office last November. But as she opened tonight’s town hall event, she reassured her intimate audience, “I didn’t take a pledge to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. I took a pledge to uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

Lee also pledged to listen to the audience and show them respect: “I believe the way to solve problems is to first get together, then start talking [with each other].”

However, a few folks in the audience weren’t interested in showing any respect in return. A small faction of Donald Trump supporters made multiple attempts to disrupt the town hall, culminating in shouting out the kinds of conspiracy theories about immigrants, the Federal Reserve, and “Wall Street” that one could easily find in a QAnon forum. Nevertheless, Lee persisted in keeping the conversation going with the rest of the audience.

“We’ve got to work together to find solutions.”
– Rep. Susie Lee

Early in the evening, constituent Jodi Tyson asked about the recent (partial) federal government shutdown and how to prevent future shutdowns. As she began to answer, Lee noted, “When I was sworn into Congress, we were the first freshman class sworn in during a shutdown. We’ve got to work together to find solutions.”

Lee then stated, “We have introduced bipartisan legislation to prevent future shutdowns. I believe it starts by working together. That’s why I joined the Problem Solvers Caucus.”

These themes of bipartisanship, collegiality, and practicality continued throughout the evening, notwithstanding the small clique of Trump supporters who were trying to derail the town hall program. Lee touted her office’s record thus far of scheduling 277 meetings with constituents, holding 58 public events, answering 8,158 letters, cosponsoring 47 bills, and introducing three bills with bipartisan support.

According to Lee, the motto that she and her staff live by is, “We are here to serve you. That’s what this job is about.”

“We are here to serve you. That’s what this job is about.”
– Rep. Susie Lee
Photo by Andrew Davey

In addition to talk about general principles and standard constituent service, Rep. Lee did get into some specifics on the big issues being debated in Congress and on the campaign trail.  When Judith Whitmer asked about the “Green New Deal”, Lee characterized the proposal as it’s currently written as “a first bargaining chip”, then pivoted to the importance of the issue that compelled activists to champion it: “It’s shining a light on climate change as an existential threat.”

Whitmer also asked about “Medicare for All” single-payer health care. Lee responded by pivoting back to the Affordable Care Act that’s law now, and what can be done to improve it, such as Senator Debbie Stabenow’s (D-Michigan) and Rep. Brian Higgins’ (D-New York) plan to allow Americans aged 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare. As Lee views it, “I believe all Americans should have access to high-quality, affordable health care. We are dealing with an administration that wants to take health care away from 20 million people.”

When Teresa Crawford asked about the ongoing controversy over the Trump administration’s (formerly) secret weapons-grade plutonium shipment to the Nevada National Security Site, Lee was blunt in her assessment: “I believe the Department of Energy has deceived us for some time.” Lee then explained how the federal government could have prevented this fiasco in the first place: “The reason why it was shipped here was [the federal government] did not build the required storage facility for the plutonium in South Carolina. Had they done that, [South Carolina’s] state government would have been willing to keep it there.”

“Infrastructure funding is one of the few bipartisan issues that we have the chance of passing through both the Senate and the House.”
– Rep. Susie Lee
Photo by Andrew Davey

After the town hall program concluded, I had the opportunity to speak with Rep. Lee for a few minutes on some of the issues that came up during the program, as well as some that did not. On Tuesday, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) touted the Rebuild America’s Schools Act as an important infrastructure and education bill.

Last night, Lee agreed: “Infrastructure funding is one of the few bipartisan issues that we have the chance of passing through both the Senate and the House. The Rebuild America’s Schools Act will be part of any infrastructure package, so I have good hopes for that.”

In addition to the bill as it’s currently written, Lee is also pursuing an amendment to study and address school overcrowding. And during the town hall program, Lee endorsed efforts here in Nevada to reform the public education weighted funding formula and ensure that tax revenue that was originally marked to fund schools actually makes it into the schools.

“We need to be focusing as a community on the future of water and how our development is having an impact.”
– Rep. Susie Lee

Pivoting back to matters of environmental justice, I also asked about Nevada and the six other Colorado River Basin states finally approving a drought contingency plan (DCP) to present to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. While Burman is pleased with the conversation deal, parts of it must still obtain final approval from Congress. Though Lee has not yet been briefed on all the specifics, she’s encouraged by the recent breakthrough: “If it’s agreed to by all the [Colorado River states], it’s something I can support.”

However, Lee also stated more must be done to ensure stable clean water supply for Nevada and the rest of the American Southwest. According to Lee, “The one issue I worry about […] is water usage in our community. It’s a huge threat to the future development of our economy and our state.” She also said, “This should be a first step in us having a regional strategy” for better conservation and water planning.

Finally, I asked about the ongoing issue of development that’s affecting everything from our struggle to improve water conservation to the ongoing battles over protecting public lands and open space. Lee replied, “When we look at land use, and land use planning, I feel a lot of times we rely on the water providers to tell us the projection for water use when their mission is to provide water. We need to be focusing as a community on the future of water and how our development is having an impact.”

We’ve yet to see what else Nevada’s state government and municipal authorities will do to improve water conservation and/or rethink our development plans, but at least we know someone in our Congressional delegation is keeping tabs on these and other critical issues affecting our communities.

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