Let’s talk

Elections have consequences, but that doesn’t mean we can’t listen to each other.” — Congressman Patrick McHenry photo by Jake Frankel

At an Aug. 7 town hall held in Swannanoa and attended by more than 200, Congressman Patrick McHenry fielded pointed questions about his health care positions and a variety of other issues but called it an “honor to represent the jewel of Western North Carolina, the economic heart of the west.”

Residents packed the auditorium of Artspace Charter School, some attendees cheering, some booing as questioned were posed and the House Republican responded. McHenry is serving his fifth term as representative for North Carolina’s 10th District, but it’s only his first since the district was redrawn to pull in most of Asheville, a Democratic stronghold in an otherwise conservative region. This was his first town hall.

“We weren’t sure how this was going to go,” said McHenry. “We weren’t sure if this was going to be a ‘Moral Wednesday,” he joked.

Answering a torrent of questions about why he voted 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, McHenry called it a matter of principle. “I don’t think it will address the problems,” he said. “Even though it has some beneficial aspects, I’m not willing to accept bad policy.”

McHenry also explained that he supports some provisions of the law that keep insurance companies from denying coverage due to preexisting conditions, as well as those that allow children to stay on their parents insurance plans until the age of 26.

Asked what he’d recommend to replace Obamacare, McHenry said he favored expanding high-risk insurance pools and tax-free health savings accounts, as well as allowing insurance purchases across state lines and small businesses to band together on insurance plans. “It’s not a complete solution, but it’s dramatically better than what Obamacare offers,” he maintained.

Asked about immigration policy, McHenry said he’d vote against a bipartisan bill the Senate passed in June that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country. “I don’t believe in amnesty,” he stated. “When you willfully break the law, that should not give you an enhanced ability to get what you want.”

McHenry praised the approach favored by House leadership, which recommends a series of smaller steps rather than the more comprehensive Senate bill. Immigration policy “has to begin with border security,” he declared.

On another contentious security issue, McHenry said his views “are evolving” on the proper role of the National Security Agency and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in keeping Americans safe. “I’ve got a deep concern that this balance between liberty and security, is no longer balanced,” he said.

Asked about what he’s doing to help address a local shortage of affordable housing, McHenry said he’d like to do more.

“The lack of high quality affordable rentals here is a very unique situation,” he reported, urging local residents involved in the issue to get in touch with his staff. “I need to work with local officials to make sure we deliver on that,” he added.

In response to an attendee who accused him of being “highly partisan,” McHenry noted that he was the only Republican representative from North Carolina to vote in favor of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act this year. He also touted his leadership in crafting bipartisan legislation to expand crowd-funding opportunities for entrepreneurs.

A resident of Denver, N.C., in Lincoln County, northwest of Charlotte, McHenry maintains a constituent service office in Black Mountain, and his Swannanoa meeting was just one in a series planned in each of the counties he represents.

“We need to have an active and engaged citizenry, and that’s why I have town hall meetings every August,” he noted. “Elections have consequences, but that doesn’t mean we can’t listen to each other.”

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