On Wednesday morning in Sedalia, Senator Claire McCaskill (D) held a town hall meeting in the Parkhurst Commons, Stauffacher Building on the campus of State Fair Community College. Our previous coverage:
…Question: Senator, I would just like to, before I start my question, thank you for keeping your promise you wouldn’t vote for a bill that had nine thousand pork projects. At least you did your part of it, and the President didn’t. But, you know, I, I stand here and bet you that if I looked at the label in everything I have on except my shoes they’re all made in a foreign country. [applause] If we ever go to war with China we’re, we’re gonna be in big trouble. Big trouble. ‘Cause we don’t make anything anymore. But they makin’ ’em. My concern is I, I keep hearing, here in Sedalia, in Sedalia School District 200 we have floated, finally floated an immense bond issue for our schools. We’re in the process of building the brand new high school to the tune of around twenty-five million. And we’ve added on the classrooms here and there. But, I keep hearing from Washington and Congress and President we’ve gotta build better buildings. And, and the President made a point of calling out the school districts in, in Chicago, inner city school districts in Chicago and Detroit. You know, Senator, buildings don’t teach. Teachers teach. And I, I venture to say that, that this state alone was extremely hurt, not by Congress, but by a federal judge who said you have to spend more money in Kansas City and St. Louis, well over a billion dollars put in those two school districts. And they built buildings and did this they did that. They bought computers which I have no idea where they are now. And them districts aren’t any, any better off then, then they were before they started. My high school in northeast Kansas, northeast Kansas City was built in nineteen twenty-three. And it’s still a very fine building. And it’s, they’re teaching well. So, why do we have to have the federal government involved with our school systems? And what [crosstalk], if you do get involved, what strings are you gonna put on us?
Senator McCaskill: Well, I think, first of all, there’s an argument here about whether or not the federal government should be doing local education. This is one of those examples where you gotta find some place in the middle. I don’t want the federal government telling the Sedalia school district what they can build and when and how. The people of this community need to be deciding that. And No Child Left Behind has been a disaster because, you know, [applause] a lot of children have been left behind. We, we’ve taken the creativity out of the classroom, because it’s now about teaching to that test. We are making teachers hit a certain number rather than measuring progress. We’re thinking all students are created equal when they’re not. The problems in these urban school districts, if you went to Northeast you know that your school was, is, is a magnet now. It’s, it’s a magnet school and it was converted over, in fact I tried a criminal case there because it was law enforcement and, and public service magnet. And so I went over, we used to go try a case in front of those kids once a year. But it was, it became a magnet school with that money you’re talking about. That’s how it became that magnet school. And I agree, buildings aren’t the answer. A good environment where kids can learn is important. And in urban districts those kids have, I mean, the teachers in those districts, you talk about ones that should earn money. They should make a lot more money than I make. Because they are nutritionists, they’re parents, they are disciplinarians, they are, you know, trying to do so much because many of those kids do not have it at home…
…Now, I’m not, and that’s one thing the President talks about, you know, he gives speeches, he says, “Hey, turn off the TV. Sit down with your child a read a book. Do homework with them.” And he is trying to instill in everybody this notion that we all have to take responsibility. But, I think we’re gonna, if we re-up No Child Left Behind it’ll be much different than what we did in the first place. But it is, public education is a huge issue in this country.
And one of the things that’s great about public education is that we have done a much better job with colleges like this. Community colleges that can do specific training or specific jobs that are needed in this community. That has been a huge improvement. And they’re affordable now. And these community colleges are affordable. The tuition at this institution, if a kid, between a Pell Grant, if they’re poor, between a Pell Grant and the tax credit we passed in the stimulus, it will pay for their tuition at this college. At State Fair Community College. [applause] [garbled] So, we, we know there’s work to be done on education. And it isn’t just building buildings, you’re right, it isn’t just building buildings. That doesn’t get it done. It’s the people that are teaching in those buildings. And I will say this, how many teachers are in the room? This is when, this is when the President is not popular. But he stood up, first Democrat I remember in a long time at the presidential level, and said we have to talk about merit pay for teachers. And I think he knows, how many people here can name the best teachers they had? Raise your hand. Okay, we all know who they were, right? So why is this so hard? And, and why is it that we don’t have a better system to reward the really good teachers with more money and incentivize those teachers that aren’t getting’ it done to find another place to work? We need to face that in our public education system. And I love teachers. But teachers have fought hard ’cause they’re so worried they’ll be unfair. I get that. I think some of the things they say about me in campaigns are unfair. I just tough it through. And we figure out a way. And it, I think that, that getting to some kind of performance recognition for teacher is an important part of the equation. And believe me, the teachers unions were not happy with Barack Obama when he made that announcement. Many of you probably weren’t…
Question: Thank you for being here today. I work for an agency that, we help people in poverty. In the past year we have seen individuals come in who have never ever asked for any type of help. It’s a real issue for their pride. And, what my question is, is what’s gonna be done to help people get through this time where it’s reasonable, it takes a little bit of time, not a lot, and make sure the funding is there to help them through this time? We’ve run out of money. You know, we don’t just, you know, give it away. We’ve run out of money. People are coming in for energy assistance who’ve never ever done that. And, how long, how long are they gonna be able to sustain helping people out?
Senator McCaskill: Well, let me say a couple of things about that. First, there was some things in the stimulus as it related to the, the safety net. Extension of unemployment benefits, because of the spiking unemployment in the recession. And also, help on, on food stamps for those people who have, have, find themselves unemployed. And, then the state had to decide whether or not they were gonna accept those funds, under what conditions. And Missouri legislature ultimately decided to take the money or
to extend unemployment benefits, although we’ve got a glitch in the law they’re trying to get fixed now. And, they didn’t decide to do, with the money in terms of extending some of the health care.
Also having said that I need to be honest with you, the stimulus was not to fix the problem of poverty in America. The stimulus was to create jobs. And the best way to help poverty in America is to create jobs. [applause] That’s the [garbled]. Because, what we need to do is to get people to work. And we don’t want to create any dependency on the government. So the job creation, and I had to, you know, I had people yelling at me, “Why didn’t you do more for the homeless?” or, “Why didn’t you do more?” And I said, “Hey, creating jobs, that’s what that’s for, it’s to make sure people don’t become homeless.” But it wasn’t used and it wasn’t really a place for us to put a lot of funding in there for some of the poverty programs, because it was job creation, just job creation.
Question: And I, I totally agree with that. And I think everybody here, thirty years ago Sedalia was known for its manufacturing plants.
Senator McCaskill: Right.
Question: And, they’re dwindling. And they were good paying jobs. You know, they’re dwindling fast.
Senator McCaskill: That’s why that, the young man talked about the new sector of jobs in terms of green, the green economy. I think there really is gonna be job growth in that area. It’s gonna be a brand new area where we’re gonna be building wind turbines instead of some of the other things we used to build. We’re gonna build solar panels. Right now most of the solar panels we use in this country we buy from other countries. Well there’s no reason why we can’t make solar panels here. The batteries that are in the hybrid that they build in Ford, in, in Kansas City? I, I drive a Ford Escape hybrid and it has the battery that’s in there. It wasn’t made in America. There isn’t, they didn’t have the right battery in America when it was made. Now we’ve got a plant in Lee’s Summit that’s beginning to turn out some of those batteries that can be used for this alternative fuel technology that we’re gonna be embracing. So I think there’s a glimmer of hope, but I continue to worry about that, too.
Question: Thank you.
Senator McCaskill: Thank you…
Question: Thank you for coming today. And many people whine about taxes., but my family, we’re paying like over seven thousand dollars a year in health premiums. And I’d much rather trade that in for a national health care system. And I appreciate what my taxes buy. [applause]
Senator McCaskill: Well, thank, thank you for that. Does anybody mind if I read another. [laughter] You know, I, I do not think we’ll do a, the President doesn’t support, and I don’t support a single payer system. I think competition in the marketplace and choices is very, very important in health care. Now, if we enact these reforms and , but I have a feeling that this is gonna work, because I think we’re gonna have the kind of competition that will drive down costs. And, we gotta make sure that the government run health program is fair, because we don’t want it to be so overwhelming that it stamps out all the private insurance. ‘Cause we want that healthy friction in competition, between the two. We certainly have had competition as it’s related to the, the, some of my friends on the other side of the aisle want to do with health care what we did with Medicare D. Which is a government sponsored but completely private program. Well, you know, yeah, there’s competition there. Sometimes there’s so much competition it’s confusing, seniors don’t know whether they’re going or coming, whether drugs are covered or not, whether they’re getting a good deal or a bad deal. But the problem with that is, we built into that program six billion dollars worth of profit on taxpayers for the pharmaceutical industry. Well that doesn’t seem right to me. They actually put in the bill that we couldn’t buy bulk to get down prices. Well that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard of. So I don’t think we want to emulate Medicare D because I don’t think we can afford it. I don’t think we can afford to plus up certain silos of profit in the health care industry. I think we can figure out ways to provide competition and choices and to bring down costs. And that are the three goals. Competition, choices, and bring down costs. And I’m kind of excited. I think we’re actually gonna get a bill this year. I feel pretty good about it. [applause]…
…Has your question already been answered? Okay. I won’t make, I won’t go around the room and sweat you out, wherever you are. [laughter] Glad you were here…
Question: I’m a teacher. I also have a sister-in-law who’s very involved in the home schooling. And they had an emergency meeting, I think a week ago, with major changes that are occurring. And I was just wondering what’s the future for those kind of people.
Senator McCaskill: For home schoolers?
Question: Um hm.
Senator McCaskill: You know, that’s something that’s done at the state level. The regulation or lack thereof or, you know, I’m , you know it’s, that’s a state issue. And so this is one you would be, want to talk to Representative Aull about. Because whatever requirements are on the home schoolers are one that are placed there at the state level. And that’s the way it should be.
Question: Okay, thank you.
Senator McCaskill: Um hm…
Question: My question was about Internet for rural areas. I currently live in Kansas City but I’ve built a house near… Probably got everything the government wants, geothermal, and [crosstalk]…
Senator McCaskill: Good for you.
Question: …thermopane glass, and things can I get tax credits. ‘Cause I’m trying to move my job from Kansas City to…I can’t get Internet connection. I can’t apply to the government to get my tax credits. I can’t get a job because I can’t get Internet. Well, the local Internet company, you can fill the name out here…
Senator McCaskill: It’s okay, you can do it [crosstalk]
Question: …Communications, they told me a year ago, cable’s coming up the highway. I have to have Internet secure DSL cable, which is what they provide for my job to let me work from home. So, they said it’s coming. So we started building. So now my house is done. All’s I have to do is put up a mailbox and I can move in. Well they went in the other direction. They stopped and went north of…so now they, I’ve got Internet to the south of me, Internet to the north of me, but they won’t come between us ’cause there’s not enough people there for them to make a big profit. So [crosstalk]…
Senator McCaskill: We can help.
Question: Well I asked about the stimulus money from them.
Senator McCaskill: There’s a bunch.
Question: And there’s a bunch, and they [garbled] that money. So, a mutual friend of yours…gave me the document for the Internet companies. This money for them is for technology, buy technology to access the lines so they can hang our wires and buy equipment. But it’s not providing jobs. …Communications needs another crew so they can put my Internet in, or they need somebody to say, “Hey, they need a little boot in the behind. Say hey, here’s somebody that can…” [crosstalk]
Senator McCaskill: Well I’ll loan my boot. [laughter]
Question: I need [crosstalk] [garbled]…
Senator McCaskill: Seriously, you need to talk to my staff when this is over because I think we can help.
I’m on the Commerce committee and there’s two pots of money for rural Internet, both USDA and over in Commerce. And it’s ridiculous, you know why there’s two pots of money? This is embarrassing. There’s two pots of money because of the jurisdiction of commit
tees. [laughter] The Agriculture committee didn’t want to let go of it and so they wanted it under the Ag committee for USDA. So that’s where the RUS program started. But then the Commerce committee didn’t want to give it up, so they have another program over, under Commerce. You got two competing programs, and by the way, they are not the same, they’re different, and it’s a mess. And, and frankly, one of, one of those programs allowed people to use that money to put Internet in the suburbs of Dallas. As opposed to rural Internet. Okay? Because, of course, it was more, they’re gonna make more money in the suburbs of Dallas and the way they defined the area. So, we know a bunch about this and there is a bunch of money in the stimulus and it’s supposed to be for crews. And if they’re not using it for crews I want to know about it. So, let me get involved, we’ll find out about your particular situation. It might be a good case study for me to go, “Hey, what about this guy in…?” Okay? All right, we’ll do that. That’ll be fun. [applause]
Got time for one more. This is from…
Question: Thank you so much for coming. I, we have ninety-three sheltered workshops in the State of Missouri that provide employment for seventy-five hundred people with disabilities. And thirty of us, we have a sheltered workshop in…thirty of us do recycling. We started doing that five years ago because there just wasn’t any assembly work [garbled] for our workers. So we recycle, last year, one point eight million pounds of paper and cardboard. This year we’ll do two million. The bottom has dropped out of recycling. The paper, the cardboard, I, it’s less than a third what I could sell it for last year. We’re in trouble. I’ve called the kitty litter companies, I’ve called the insulation companies, I’ve called cities that use the pellets made out of paper. There’s just not a market there. Well, what can you do ’cause I keep hearing about green jobs?
Senator McCaskill: Yeah, that’s a good question.
Question: And there’ve got to be green jobs.
Senator McCaskill: We need to look into that.
Senator McCaskill: I’d be happy to look into that.
Question: Thank you.
Senator McCaskill: Absolutely. Thank you.
Well, I want to thank, we’ve got a bunch here still. And we will go through all of these. And we will get you, hopefully you got your e-mail on there or you got your address. And we will get in touch with you. I want to thank, first let me tell you how much it means to me that you took time to come. I know this is in the middle of the day, the middle of the week. And whatever you were doing, you decided to take time to come here today and have an opportunity to, for me to talk to you and listen to you and answer questions. It means a great deal to me. And it’s, makes our democracy so much healthier.
I especially want to thank all of you who came that didn’t vote for me and will never vote for me. [laughter] Seriously. Because, you know, if we don’t talk to each other, if we don’t listen to each other’s opinions, we got no shot. We got no shot. We can’t scream at each other from opposite sides of the Internet. We can’t do it on a keyboard. We have to look each other in the eye and we have to talk. And it’s really important. So, I know it’s weird, and here’s the neat thing about this, when I go out on campaigns and stuff, I don’t get to see you guys that don’t vote for me and that won’t vote for me. It’s only in this capacity as your elected senator that I have an opportunity to hear from people who think I’m just flat wrong about stuff. And that’s good for me. It’s good for me and makes me have to think things through and think about somebody else’s opinion. And, I, I’m pretty much getting chewed on by the right and left constantly. [laughter] I figure I’m about right for Missouri, maybe. Because the left is unhappy with me, my daughter is so liberal it’s embarrassing, and she’s so mad at me she won’t speak to me. [laughter] She’s nineteen and she lives in New York and she said “I’m never coming home.” I said, “That’s just fine.” [laughter] No, I didn’t really say that. But at times I feel that way. She chews on me all the time because she thinks I’m too moderate. And then obviously the right, folks on the right think I am completely wet, all wet about some of my positions.
So, but I really do try and make decisions, I vote against my party’s leadership probably more often than almost any other senator. And it’s not because I’m trying, it’s because I try to look at every issue based on the policy and not the politics. And it’s harder than it looks ’cause there’s a lot of pressure to do the politics. So, I try to do it on policy, that’s why I end up on the other side of the aisle sometimes, and, and it gets a little uncomfortable, but I think that’s what most Missourians want. They want somebody who’s independent, who’s gonna look at it on the policy and not necessarily on the party line. [applause]
So, bless you all for being here and thank you very, very much. [applause]
This is the final portion of the transcript for the hour long town hall.