Minnesota Congressman Jason Lewis defended his positions on taxes, guns and the environment in a hour of questions, compliments and criticism in a wide-ranging town hall meeting in Jordan Saturday.
Saturday marked the first town halls for the U.S. representative. He held meetings in Lakeville and Wabasha, too. Tickets to the events were limited, with constituents required to register online for access to the town halls and winners selected by a lottery, Lewis said.
There were 75 seats set up at Carasim Coffee Shop in downtown Jordan, and about 25 seats remained empty throughout the event. There appeared to be a mix of critics and supporters in the audience, based on questions and comments.
“People know what we’re doing, whether we agree or not,” Lewis told the crowd.
A lone protester, Peggy Dunnette of Jordan, stood outside holding a sign that read “Help the needy, not the greedy”. She said she disagrees with Lewis on the environment.
After a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas Friday left 10 dead, questions quickly dialed in on what the congressman thinks should be done to make schools and public places safer.
“This has reached a crisis proportion,” Lewis said.
He pushed back on strengthening gun control laws, such as proposals to ban assault-style rifles, bump stocks, extended magazines and gun show sales, noting the shooter took the weapons used, a shotgun and a .38 revolver, from his parents.
“All of those laws, if they ever came into being, would not have stopped yesterday,” he said.
Lewis favors “hardening the target” by treating schools more like airports. He noted he voted for the “Stop School Violence Act,” which gave more funding to schools to improve security.
He said he wanted to try to understand what has motivated school shootings, wondering aloud about the prevalence of “violent video games” and “fatherless homes.”
Lewis criticized law enforcement and mental health officials in Broward County, Florida, home of Parkland High School, for not taking earlier action against school shooter Nikolas Cruz.
After receiving a question from a parent about economic opportunity for her daughter who recently entered the workforce, Lewis touted recent economic growth and said that growth will lead to a decrease in inequality. He said he believes the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act he helped pass into law in December 2017 is working.
“I am absolutely proud of what we did in doubling the standard exemption under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, in doubling the child care credit and making certain, talking about disincentives, that when corporations bring money home, they don’t get double-taxed,” Lewis said.
“No matter what your persuasion is politically, growth is good,” he said. “And it worked in the 1920s when (President Calvin) Coolidge did it, they balanced the budget in the late ‘20s.”
Lewis said spending needs to be reeled in on defense and social safety net programs to decrease the federal debt.
Questions about a potential revenue-neutral carbon tax drew the strongest crowd reaction, as some attendees called out “wrong” as Lewis cited figures from NASA that the earth was on a 15-year temperature plateau. He said jobs in the second district are important to consider when it comes to reducing emissions, and noted that carbon emissions are decreasing in the U.S.
“I’m not saying that disproves global warming, I’m not saying it proves it,” he said. “The earth’s temperature changes. Has it warmed? You bet. I’m just not convinced it’s due to carbon emissions. And therefore, I’m not going to risk the jobs of 5,000 to 7,000 people.”
When asked how to best address an increase in opioid abuse and overdoses, Lewis called for treating the crisis as a public health issue, not a crime issue. He cautioned against heavy restrictions on doctors prescribing opioids, which he believes could make life harder for patients dealing with chronic pain.
Lewis said he is supportive of laws allowing states to introduce medical marijuana programs. He also touted his support of the bipartisan Juvenile Justice Reform Act and the Safe Justice Act.
“A youngster who is a first-time offender, who is non-violent, and marijuana comes to mind with this, should not be thrown in jail with hardened criminals,” Lewis said.