Team Coverage | Mark Warner visits Staunton
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner held a town-hall meeting with area residents in Staunton on Thursday. AFP editor Chris Graham reports across the media platforms. The news report and photo package are up and running. We also now have the video with Warner’s 15 minutes of opening remarks on the economy and the stimulus package up courtesy Google Video.
Video: Warner talks economy, stimulus
News: Warner engages in give-and-take with local Republicans
The guy with the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag wasn’t there to wax poetic on how he thinks the stimulus plan is going to jumpstart the economy. The guy sitting in the second row with the Fair Tax literature was more ideologically suited to Don’t Tread on Me Man than Mark Warner, too.
And there was the guy from Wilson Trucking going on and on about the Employee Free Choice Act. And the guy sitting a couple of seats down from him ranting about “the nanny state.”
Warner, for those who know him, is more in his element in these kinds of situations than in any run-of-the-mill Democratic Party rally.
“I absolutely believe that what we have with the federal government spending-wise is unsustainable,” Warner agreed with one of his conservative Republican inquisitors at a Thursday town-hall meeting in Downtown Staunton. “But I do respectfully say during this interim time, what I simply want from folks is, you have a right to be upset and make your case, but you also have to say, And here’s what I’m prepared to give up. I’m willing to have 35 kids in each classroom. I’m willing maybe to not have as many roads. I’m willing to have less cops on the beat. You can’t have it both ways. I’m willing to say that maybe folks don’t retire at 65, but retire at 75. And when you say those kinds of things, then I think you have absolutely the right to make this case as strongly as possible. But you can’t say, No, no, no, no, and then say, But I still want all the stuff government provides.”
It was the only town-hall meeting of the weeklong tour of Western and Southwest Virginia for the freshman senator, and he had it in one of the few locales in Virginia where he struggled in an otherwise otherworldly landslide victory over another former governor, Jim Gilmore, last November. Warner lost only six of Virginia’s 134 localities in the ’08 election, and two of them are here in the Central Shenandoah Valley, in Augusta County and Rockingham County.
My guess is that the Republicans were organized for this one, if judging by the presence of a group of well-known (in local Republican circles) political bloggers and the repetition of questions from members of that group on the stimulus package (and the “nanny state” comments). Warner seemed ready and eager to answer their questions, to a degree where an aide for the senator leaned over to me at one point and said, “Why are all these Republicans here, and why does he keep calling on them?”
“Should we try to make our system more efficient? Absolutely,” Warner answered another question on the stimulus issue. “The way we’re going to get this dealt with, there are a lot of things we need to do, but there are two things that I would suggest. One is, you’re going to have to get control of health-care costs – the single biggest driver of federal-government spending. The second is, there are things, and this isn’t going to solve all the problems, I’m not going to be naive. Nobody likes to pay taxes. I don’t like to pay taxes. But I sure as heck want to make sure the money that is being spent is spent efficiently. And there’s a heckuva lot of stuff we can do better to make our dollars spend more efficiently. You’re still going to be mad, but there is a lot of areas where money can be more efficiently spent.”
It wasn’t all stimulus, all the time. Warner heard from local residents on education, energy, from both sides on the controversial Employee Free Choice Act, on health care.
“American business can’t compete if we have to spend two-to-one over our competitors on our health-care costs,” Warner said on the health-care issue. “We have a system that currently says, We’re going to pay a doc or a hospital not for the quality of care, but for the services they provide. Are we prepared in this country to start to have a discussion, and not just with politicians and health-care people, but with religious leaders and moral leaders as well, on end-of-life issues? No other country in the world defers that decision to the caregiver or doc in those hardest times. In the last 30 days of life, we spend 12 percent of our health-care costs and 30 percent of our Medicare costs. And those numbers are going to go up.”
Warner left posing for pictures with Republicans and at least one Democrat grumbling to me about Warner’s noncommital approach on the Employee Free Choice Act. Which is par for the course for a guy who coined the term “radical centrist” to describe his political philosophy.
“I hope and pray that I’ll have the courage to break some glass” in Washington, Warner said. “If you saw my record as governor of Virginia, if I felt it was right, and I had to make some folks mad in my party or the other party, I didn’t care. I’ve got no interest going there and just going along and being one of the boys.
“We’re going to have to raise these kind of questions. It’s not going to be the traditional politician. Let me promise you – health care, education, roads, and by the way, we’re going to lower your taxes at the same time,” Warner said.
“We’ve got to get these guys to stop being Democrats and Republicans and start being Americans. One thing I think the president, and he tried early on reaching out to the other side, I think he’s got to keep trying. This is the economic equivalent of war that we’re in right now,” Warner said.
Photos: The day in pictures
– Story and Photos by Chris Graham