Last night Anthony Fazzio, Frank Flynn, Gobb Williams, Richard Warren and I attended a town hall meeting hosted by Congressman Charles Boustany. To say the meeting was heated would be an understatement in my view. The most upset and angry I have seen a politician for some time was the congressman when pressed on Minimum Wage and a "livable wage".
The entire exchange started when a very concerned citizen spoke up and shared her problems with the current state of affairs for the working poor and middle class, stating that it was getting harder and harder to get by and asked what the congressman was doing to help. The congressman then went on to describe the help in ways of Mortgage help for Hurricane victims and the like. Portia Evans, local talk show host, asked him about "regular people" who do not have a mortgage they rented and there is little or no help for them after January 15th.
Anthony Fazzio peppered the congressman with questions regarding minimum wage and kept pressing the congressman on his stance on the minimum wage as it currently stands, and in between his answers Richard Warren stood up and made the point that the congressman just received a "cost of living" increase to his salary, but Anthony Fazzio would not let it go here. He pressed the congressman and first the congressman stated to us that he didn't know what the right "number" for minimum wage should be even pushing the question on to the Audience asking all of us - what should it be? But Fazzio shot back with "We know that $5.15 is not enough" - Noticeably angry the congressman tried yet again to change the subject and Fazzio was not having that. Finally backed into a wall, his face noticeably red the congressman stated he didn't support a minimum wage, that he believed in a free market and if given the chance he would vote to repeal the minimum wage statute. Well you could have heard a feather drop in the room.
It is worth noting that all during this exchange the majority of the room was clapping to Fazzio and Warren's points and there was only a small handful of folks who seemed to support the congressman's position on this.
Here is the exchange as reported by Jan Risher in The Daily Advertiser:
Anthony Fazzio and at least three other participants asked Boustany about the possibility of his supporting an increase in minimum wage, but Boustany avoided a commitment either way on the issue until Fazzio pressed the issue.
"Minimum wage is really a bad term. We need to call it a living wage," Fazzio said. "Would you vote to support an $8 minimum wage?"
"Will that be enough next week?" Boustany said.
"We know that $5.15 is not enough," Fazzio said.
Fazzio said that the working poor do not have a lobbyist in Washington looking out for their needs and asked again if Boustany would support an increase in minimum wage.
"I'm going to tell you right now, I won't support an increase in minimum wage," Boustany said. "If you want higher wages, you get rid of minimum wage. I'll vote to get rid of it if it comes up. I believe in the free market."
"What the free market has gotten us is CAFTA and NAFTA," Fazzio said.
"And shafta," someone exclaimed in the row behind Fazzio.
Boustany said companies go overseas because of corporate taxes.
"They're going over there for cheap wages," Fazzio said.
The small crowd broke into spontaneous applause several times during the exchange.
Lastly - we also pushed the congressman on Ethics. Frank Flynn pressed the Congressman with a direct question of "Will you return the money from Abramoff" and the congressman gleefully announced that he hasn't accepted any money from him and that he has a full time accountant trying to make sure he stays completely clean. (it is worth mentioning at this point that over half of the congressman's campaign war chest is made up of donations from "Special interest" PAC's). However, not wanting to let this go I stood up as Boustany seemed to be trying to tell the crowd that his campaign money was completely clean, I stood and specifically asked him of the $25,000 donation he received from ARMPAC (Americans for a Republican Majority lead by indicted Tom Delay). The congressman's answer was quite shocking, at least to me. He stated that "an indictment did not mean the person was guilty" and that that money was clearly in the last election process. I pointed out to him that the Bush Administration just yesterday announced that they have returned their money by ways of a donation to the American Heart Association. He claimed to know nothing about this, but held on to the "there has been no conviction, so there is no reason why he would return any moneys.
The above link is the article that appeared in today's Newspaper. It is my intention to not let these topics die, we must stand up and get answers and let the congressman know he is not above reproach and that his constituents are NOT happy with his voting record. We must also keep exposing these issues. The Minimum Wage issue is huge here, and this hits everyone's pocket book. Given that, we are going to insure that this message gets trumpeted.
The ground is right for a candidate now in the 7th... Who is going to step up? Either way we are going to insure the congressman does not have it easy. It is clear the crowd turned on him, as are the people of the 7th.