A day after the historic government shutdown came to a pause, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig took questions from constituents at her first public forum.
In the first fruition of the freshman congresswoman's campaign pledge to host monthly town hall meetings, about 250 people gathered Saturday, Jan. 26 at Burnsville High School. The Eagan democrat answered questions from 18 people - some of which went past the one hour allotted for the event. Climate change and health care headlined attendees' questions, while high-profile issues such as the government shutdown, immigration policy and gun control were also discussed.
In her opening remarks, Craig said she would prioritize bipartisan teamwork to ensure that "this is the last shutdown over a policy objective ever in the history of this country."
"There is a group of us, among the freshmen, who have searched each other out from across the aisle. We've said to one another, 'We are the next generation of leadership; the only way this place changes is if we commit to changing it,'" she said. "My job is to look across the aisle and figure out, even if ideology separates us on many issues, where we can work together again."
Rosemount resident Cathy Plotnick told Craig she and her husband, a federal law enforcement agent who worked without pay during the shutdown, had to make a forbearance agreement on their mortgage. She added she knew others who couldn't afford gas for their cars.
"I would like to ask for you to advocate on our behalf that if there is ever a government shutdown ... that at least the employees get paid. It really was a very very difficult time for us," Plotnick said.
Craig didn't specify a plan for paying federal employees in a future scenario, but repeated her vow to work with colleagues from both parties to prevent the shutdown reoccurring.
"You have my commitment to go back to Washington next week and work with all of my mind to see how we can prevent this from ever happening again," she said.
Four people asked Craig about environmental issues. She emphasized her support for jobs in the renewable energy industry and for a carbon fee and dividend. She also said she was "heartened" that the U.S. House voted to revive the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to address the issue.
"If we just take the lens of economic growth - forget about the fact that the planet is warming and more people are going to get sick, and all that for a second - the economic cost of not acting, to me, is unacceptable," she said.
When asked if she would support bringing back the repealed medical device tax, she said she'd prefer to tax profits, rather than revenue, in order to help start-up companies.
Two other attendees pled for legislation to make health care more affordable, suggesting a government-sponsored or single-payer system.
Craig said she'd rather create a buy-in option for Medicare - another key theme in her campaign. Doing so would create more competition in the marketplace, forcing large insurance companies to lower prices, providing Americans more choices.
Arun Sankaran, who immigrated to the United States in 2007 and lives in Rosemount, shared his frustration that after years of working and paying taxes, he still struggles with delays for a green card. He asked her to support clearer pathways to citizenship.
"Everything is good, except for the last 12 years our legal status has been in limbo," he said. "Even though I've been here for last 12 years legally ... we don't know when we go out of this country whether we can even go and come back."
Craig said she supports reforming immigration while also investing in advanced technology for border security. She emphasized that most undocumented immigrants have overstayed visas, rather than entering illegally.
"As long as we have that 3,000 people we need to hire for custom border agents ... we're going to have people who try to go around the system," she said. "It's a false choice if we say we can't reform immigration and protect our borders. We have to have this conversation in America about what kind of nation we want to be."
Craig closed by encouraging residents to continue to bring concerns to her.
"You have my commitment that you may not always agree with my vote, but I will always, always ask for your ideas," she said.
Attendees said they saw this theme of civility reflected throughout the event.
"I'm very impressed with how she handled some of the difficult questions from people who probably didn't vote for her," said Eagan resident Jennifer Michelson. "She respected them and our crowd was respectful."
The event was live streamed on Eagan Television and can be viewed on the station's Youtube channel.