Duluth Town Hall: Rep. Cravaack meets critics, supporters

DULUTH -- U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack drew some praise, hearty shouts of anger and a packed house Wednesday afternoon at a hastily called "town hall" meeting at Duluth International Airport.

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack addresses a crowd of slightly more than 200 people during a town meeting, Wednesday at the Duluth International Airport in Duluth, Minn. Forum Communications Photo/Steve Kuchera

DULUTH -- U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack drew some praise, hearty shouts of anger and a packed house Wednesday afternoon at a hastily called "town hall" meeting at Duluth International Airport.

More than 200 people crammed into a room at Duluth International Airport, with more spilling into the hallway, to hear the freshman congressman talk for about 25 minutes on what he called a growing U.S. budget and debt crisis.

The meeting had been called just a day earlier after Cravaack opponents repeatedly chided the Republican from North Branch, Minn., for dodging DFL-dominated Duluth for more Republican friendly areas of the Eighth Congressional District.

Cravaack used a litany of slides and federal budget data projecting that Social Security, Medicare and interest on the national debt paid to foreign nations will bankrupt the country over the next three decades if government spending isn't curbed.

"This is what we're handing our kids," Cravaack said, adding that he viewed the problem as not too little taxes but too much spending, leaving a debt legacy for the nation's future.


"It's going to be tough, there's no question about that. But we can do it together," Cravaack said, at which point a woman in the audience blurted, "The wealthy, too?"

"Every body, ma'am," Cravaack responded.

The former Navy and Northwest Airlines pilot then fielded questions from about a dozen people for the final 35 minutes of the meeting that ended promptly one hour after it started. Most of the question-and-answer session was polite, but the discourse was occasionally interrupted by shouts from the crowd clearly weighted with Cravaack opponents.

Some people, like Sheila Lund of Deer River, wanted to thank Cravaack for holding town hall meetings and for answering questions from the audience. Lund also asked why more U.S. citizens weren't paying income taxes. Cravaack noted about 53 percent of Americans pay federal income taxes, while 47 percent do not.

But others were more interested in why wealthier Americans shouldn't be asked to pay more taxes, expressing support for President Obama's plan to raise taxes on incomes over $250,000.

"I am this future you keep talking about," said Fiona O'Halloran-Johnson, a UMD student. "This is your future asking why you aren't raising taxes on people who can afford it."

O'Halloran-Johnson and others pleaded with Cravaack to pump more federal money into making college education affordable for middle-income Americans, noting those college graduates would be more likely to be among the taxpaying portion of Americans.

When asked if he would support renewable energy jobs and tax credits, Cravaack gave a tepid yes.


"If it can pay for itself, I'm all for it," Cravaack said. "To be honest I'd like to see the oil fields opened up."

Cravaack was asked by a Duluth gay rights advocate if he would support repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act. But Cravaack said no, "this is one area where we are going to disagree," and said he believed marriage was only between a man and a woman.

Brady Nelson, president of Steelworkers Local 1163 in Cloquet, which includes mill workers at Sappi Fine Papers, said he found it "disturbing" that Cravaack would call Social Security and Medicare "entitlement programs" when the recipients, working Americans, had paid into them all their lives. Instead of cutting benefits or privatizing the programs, Nelson said, Congress should raise the income level under which people must contribute to bring in more revenue. But that would also require employers to pay more in taxes and could reduce jobs, Cravaack responded.

The meeting ended on a somewhat lighter note when Duluth college student Eric Meyer suggested Cravaack look into a little-known alternative energy source that compares with nuclear fission but with less environmental risk. Clearly impressed with the student's knowledge, Cravaack asked Meyer what his major was.

"Music education," Meyer shouted from his chair to roaring laughter in the room.

There was some drama a half-hour before Cravaack showed up when Darcie Rolfe of Duluth was asked by Duluth police officers to leave a poster she had made outside the room. The sign said "I miss Jim" on one side, a reference to former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, and "Cravaack is bad for Minnesota" on the other.

Cravaack staff had ordered that no signs be allowed, although several people were wearing T-shirts with political slogans, including Cravaack campaign t-shirts.

"How can they have signs on their shirts but I can't have this?" Rolfe asked before eventually complying with the police request.


Cravaack staff members also stopped people from passing out brochures that were not generated by Cravaack's office.

Critics, especially DFL-leaning labor and community leaders, had said Cravaack was dodging Duluth because he didn't want to face their charges that he has voted against labor and middle-class Minnesotans while siding with big business. They chided Cravaack for attending a $1,000 per person Republican fundraiser in the Minneapolis suburb of Wayzata last week.

Cravaack countered that this was 12th town hall meeting in eight months, including others in Deer River and Grand Portage, and that he also has held seven telephone conferences with the public and sent his district staff to 75 cities across the region to meet with people.

Critics on Tuesday picketed Cravaack's talk at Grandmas Saloon and Grill in Duluth where members of the National Federation of Independent Business had gathered for lunch. It was after that meeting when Cravaack addressed the protestors and invited them to the Wednesday town hall meeting.

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