If the intent was to find out what was on voters minds, Bob Casey heard plenty.
In his first town- hall in Pennsylvania in over five years, Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa., addressed about 700 people in the Harrison Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania Sunday night. He began the question and answer session saying he wanted to focus on Republican- led efforts to repeal Medicaid expansion. Yet, queries from across the Delaware valley covered a wide range of issues.
National security, climate change, privatization of Veterans Affairs and school vouchers were all on the minds of constituents. In their questions, several members of the crowd pointed to issues beyond the Senator’s control and toward the structure of the Democratic establishment. Ryan from Bucks County, wanted a comment on how the Democratic party establishment will incorporate independent voters in 2018. Casey responded that he believes economic programs like public investment into infrastructure will appeal to third party voters. He also admitted that smaller issues like access to broadband internet, declining wages, and overlooking rural constituents contributed to the Dem’s losses. Ryan wasn’t convinced, “I think that’s a micro way to look at it,” he said, “but this is a bigger picture here. How, moving forward, does the Democratic Party regain its integrity? Because in my view it has lost it,” he said to applause.
Casey also took the opportunity to recognize grass roots activism happening in the state and across the country, after a question asking how citizens can best reach their representatives. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” said Casey. “I have never seen the kind of engagement and serious commitment to issues and to hold elected officials accountable. But also, they’re sustaining it. It’s not slowing down- if anything it’s growing exponentially,” he said.
Holding up signs provided by staffers that said Agree and Disagree, the audience cheered as the Senator expressed reservations of the President’s recent appointees, such as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and Supreme court pick Neil Gorsuch.
Genevieve Malandra is a Republican from Philadelphia. She says she supports the Supreme Court appointee but has mixed feelings about the plans to replace Affordable Care Act. For her, these events are an opportunity to learn from the other side. “This polarization has to end,” said Malandra. “It should not be weird for a Republican to be at a Democratic senator Town Hall. What he votes on impacts me just as much as much as Senator Toomey.”
Jacqueline Wiggins, from North Central Philadelphia, came to highlight the issues posed by gentrification and development in Philadelphia. Specifically, she said, “The removal of long term residents, black folks in particular, out of their neighborhoods, for this new thing- whatever it may be.” Asked whether people in her circles have become more politically energized since the election, she said participation has varied. “People will come out for those things that effect them and impact them. This impacts me,” said Wiggins.
Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pa., recently announced he plans to hold a town hall in Philadelphia, but his office has yet to announce a date.