The recently-formed group Hanover Women Concerned for Our Country’s Future met with Congressman Rob Wittman Monday, March 13 to discuss issues that affect the first district, and the country.
Hanover moved from the 7th congressional district into the 1st under Wittman this year after issues of gerrymandering arose in previous years in other districts.
Ashland resident Rachel Levy organized the meeting with Hanover’s new congressional representative.
“We’re concerned about the threats that this administration poses to our environment, access to health care, to our national security, to human rights, to our economy and to our great democracy and country,” Levy said at the opening of the meeting.
The roughly 20 attendees took turns around the table asking questions and sharing concerns about current and potential political policies.
A few attendees spoke about health care and their desire for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to not be repealed, or at least adequately replaced if it were repealed. Wittman said that he is opposed to the American Health Care Act (AHCA) as proposed this month by Republican leadership. Wittman said the he has volunteered in free clinics and helped form the first community health center in Westmoreland County when he served on their Board of Supervisors.
Wittman said he has also worked with the Williamsburg Community Foundation and the Virginia Association of Free Health Clinics to encourage more efforts towards free clinics.
Clean water and maintaining a healthy environment were topics of discussion as members voiced concerns about the Chesapeake Bay and dwindling bee populations.
Wittman cosponsored the Chesapeake Bay Accountability and Recovery Act of 2014 with Sen. Mark Warner. He said that some EPA definitions regarding water systems were too broad to be reasonable.
“I want to make sure there’s a balance there, but we don’t do anyone a service if we go overboard with this,” Wittman said.
“I think the bay is a treasure; it’s an economic engine for Virginia. There are a lot of things we can do and the bay is getting better but it can get even better.”
President of Richmond’s League of United Latin American Citizens Vilma Seymour asked Wittman about the stance he had taken in 2014 against amnesty.
“I think we have to do to make sure folks see our immigration system as one that works is to make sure we do have security you can’t have unrestricted flow of people in and out,” Wittman said.
“We don’t do it like other countries and we don’t keep up with folks that are here,” Wittman said.
Seymour said that she has been working with schools where immigrant and non-American born students have experienced bullying that has elevated to the level of hate crimes. Some of these students have been hospitalized or needed the help of mental health providers after suicide attempts and harming themselves.
In some cases Seymour and others have obtained emergency power of attorney for children when their parents are taken away.
“Parents are toted off and the kids don’t know, so we’re coming in and taking care of them before they’re dropped into the system,” Seymour said. “There’s immediate concern for the welfare of families, the welfare of children, and the rhetoric of this president does not give me hope.”
Wittman said that he believed positive changes could happen under the current administration and under Republican leadership.
“We need to get to that point where we can get to folks on both sides talking about it rationally,” Wittman said.
President of the Hanover Education Association, member of the Virginia Education Association and parent of three kids Afreen Gootee brought up teacher’s issues in Virginia. Gootee, who has 30 years of teaching experience, said that there is a nation-wide shortage of teachers.
“Teachers are having more students in their class rooms,” Gootee said. “We have many teachers who take on second incomes to make ends meet.”
According to Gootee, Virginia teachers make on average $7,200 less than the average teacher salary nationwide.
On the subject of school choice and vouchers, Wittman said he believes such decisions should be made by individual states.
“We need to not be so limited in our thinking to say that nothing outside of our public school system works,” Wittman said. “My children came up in the public school system, my wife teaches there, [but] I think we need to make sure we aren’t afraid to debate.”
“In many instances public education is the best way but we shouldn’t be afraid of debating if there are other ways of doing things, not to the detriment of public schools,” he continued.
The meeting opened up room for dialogue on bipartisan issues that affect the lives of all citizens.