They came. They questioned. They spoke. Some concurred.
The woman in a red shirt who railed against party partisanship “over American-ship” got the only ovation at U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway’s town hall meeting Thursday in Constitutional Hall at Howard Payne University’s Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom.
The cavernous hall, that could easily seat 60 was filled close to capacity, and the questioners and speakers went just past the allotted two-hour planned session.
As promised, Conaway opened the meeting with comments about the war in Iraq, and said again a citizen’s opinion for or against the war is not about patriotism or love of country.
“I cross-examine the reasons why I continue to support the war every day, and I hope other Americans do the same about what they think. To those who would have us get out of Iraq this afternoon, I ask that they would help us understand how we would handle the regional disaster that’s going to happen if we did,” he said.
“My first allegiance is to the men and women serving our country. I owe them that.”
Conaway said since next month Gen. David Patraeus is due to give his report and analysis to President Bush, he hesitates to respond to the questions he’s often asked.
“What do you anticipate he’s going to say?” And, “What do you anticipate we’re going to do?”
“That’s two anticipations too soon to be making a plan,” Conaway said. But, he added, he felt Patraeus would give an honest assessment to Bush, and formulate a plan, based on what was best for the men and women in the service, and what can realistically be accomplished.
The first questions and comments were focused almost completely on the war in Iraq, ranging from veterans benefits, post-deployment mental health care, to draft (Conaway is not in favor of it), to building and maintaining the military, to state department led teams that can teach Iraqis about agriculture, build and develop their infrastructure.
With a few stray questions and comments pertaining to health care and Social Security, Conaway said he was surprised — and this was the first of the seven town hall meetings he’d held where it had happened — that the first question about immigration didn’t come until the beginning of the second hour. But once introduced, the topic got its share of opinions.
Conaway said he advocates a three-level system for patrolling the border. First and foremost, he said, has to be the border security. Enforcement that will stop drug trafficking, gun running and people smuggling.
Second, he said, a system must be devised that will allow a worker program, that will allow for temporary licensing or permits for those who come across for work.
“If you’re working, fine, you stay and do the job. If you’re not, then you return to where you come from,” Conaway said. “I’m talking about a worker program that is citizenship neutral.”
The third consideration, he said, should be a “soup to nuts scrub on citizenship requirements.”