Bonamici weighs in on public education
YAMHILL — First District Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici would really like to meet Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Bonamici told participants in a Sept. 18 town hall audience in Yamhill that most secretaries of education pay frequent visits to the House education committee, on which she serves. But she said DeVos, confirmed by the Senate Feb. 7 on a 51-50 vote, requiring the vice president to cast a rare tiebreaker, has yet to make an appearance.
The Oregon representative said she’s tried contacting DeVos about issues such as Title 9 protections on college campuses, but has received no response. She and other members of the education committee “have lots of questions,” she said.
Bonamici said her own positions differ from those of DeVos, whom she said is failing to fulfill the education secretary’s basic mission of looking out for all students, not just a select group.
In contrast, she said, she supports local decision-making and public schools that give students “well-rounded education for all.” If a school needs help, it should get it, rather than having its students moved to private programs, she said.
“My passion is education,” said Bonamici, who also serves on the science committee, its subcommittee on the environment and the bipartisan climate change caucus. “Education is a key to growing the economy, having great communities and a great future,” she said.
She wants to get that message across when, and if, DeVos appears before the education committee.
“Is there a way to compel her to come?” a man asked at the Yamhill town hall.
Not really, Bonamici said. “We’re asking, though,” she said.
Nearly 100 people from Yamhill, Carlton, Dayton and other cities attended the town hall, one of six Bonamici scheduled in her district during a congressional recess. City council members as well as laypeople attended. They asked questions and offered comments on a wide range of issues.
One man asked her about generating jobs and growing the economy. In addition to education, she said, we need to revise the tax code, help small businesses access capital funding and encourage more women and minorities to enter Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields.
Another audience member asked about North Korea. “I’m scared to death,” the woman said of Kim Jong-un’s threats. “Is there anything you can say to make me feel better?”
“I wish I could,” said Bonamici, saying she’s also concerned, especially because of the Trump administration’s many cuts to the Department of State and the loss of many experienced diplomats.
“We have good military leaders, but I’m not sure the president is listening to them,” she said. “Tweeting is not foreign policy.”
A man said he is greatly concerned about restructuring and cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency. “It’s going in the wrong direction,” he said.
Bonamici agreed, noting that many experienced employees are no longer with the agency. “They’re removing science,” she added. “Ignoring science and dismantling programs is unacceptable.”
Just as she wants to hear from the education secretary, she said she would like EPA head Scott Pruitt to appear before the science committee and explain how he is fulfilling the agency’s mission of protecting public health and the environment.
On the other hand, she said, she finds hope in the bipartisan climate solutions caucus. There are people in Congress who understand the impact of climate change and want to work together to find solutions, she said.
The audience was also interested in health care, the viability of Medicare and Social Security, bipartisan cooperation, the Equifax data breach, the process of becoming a citizen, and internet neutrality.
Bonamici said the latter is the the No. 1 issue her office has been hearing about. Constituents say they want to keep the Internet free and accessible to everyone.
She’s also received many e-mails about the president’s announcement of plans to eliminate the DACA program, she said.
“A lot of people are extremely concerned about the young people” brought to the U.S. as children, “who are teaching, doing medical research, going to school, serving in the military” and otherwise contributing to society, she said.
Bonamici said she wants to “help make the future better” for everyone. That means improving economic growth and access to health care, as well as education for all ages, she said.
She noted that she worked for Legal Aid after graduating from the University of Oregon law school, following her undergraduate years at the U of O and Lane Community College. She is passionate about “helping people overcome the struggle” and fighting proposals that would take away safety nets.
While most of the audience asked big-picture questions, which reflected on policies as well as their own interests, one speaker had a very personal question.
Yamhill-Carlton High School senior Tyler Stiff told the congresswoman that he wants to attend the Air Force Academy. In the nomination process, he asked, “How can I stand out?”
Bonamici said her office would be glad to help him with that.
“We want the brightest students,” she said. “It’s a real honor to nominate them and have them go on to serve our country.”
In fact, she said, any constituent who needs help in dealing with federal agencies, has a question or wants to comment on an issue can contact her staff, as well. She said information may be obtained by calling 503-469-6010, visiting https://bonamici.house.gov or visiting the Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici page on Facebook.