Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-CD1) receives a Gila Monster lapel pin from EAC President Todd Haynie. O’Halleran held a town hall at the college Thursday.
By Jon Johnson
THATCHER – After a day of discussions with community leaders and the administration of Eastern Arizona College (EAC) and helping out with the Meals-On-Wheels program, U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-CD1) met with the general public and took their questions at a town hall event at EAC’s Gherald L. Hoopes Jr. Activities Center on Thursday.
While the questions were tough, O’Halleran didn’t shy away and gave straight-forward answers to his positions on a variety of issues, including gun owner’s rights, healthcare, and the use of water from the Gila River.
O’Halleran was introduced by EAC President Todd Haynie, who declared the Congressman an honorary EAC Gila Monster and gave him a pin for his lapel.
Haynie expressed his pleasure at O’Halleran’s visit and said he hoped the congressman would make a return engagement.
Haynie also espoused on his fervor for EAC and said while he was at a seminar at Harvard this past summer the university had a theme that stated it was learning to change the world.
“That’s great,” Haynie said. “We want the Ivy League institutions to change the world. Here at EAC, we change people’s lives. That’s what we are here to do. I know EAC has changed my life.”
After recognizing the Graham County Supervisors in the room and Graham County Sheriff P.J. Allred and Undersheriff Jeff McCormies, O’Halleran spoke briefly about life in Washington D.C. and advised that the politicians from both sides of the aisle work together more often then they are given credit for and warned that one of the major issues facing them this year would be trying to find a balanced budget.
The Congressman then opened the floor to questions and the first one was about gun control laws with the questioner wondering why the government was turning law-abiding gun owners into criminals.
O’Halleran recalled his time as a homicide detective in Chicago and said he supports the right to bear arms.
“I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” he said. “I have been all my life. You can’t go to my house and not see guns.”
However, he advised that gun-control laws are there to prevent those who shouldn’t have them, such as those with mental illness or those with a felonious history, and illegal immigrants.
“People who are here who are not supposed to be here in our country – they try to do this too,” he said. “If they have the right ID, they are able to get those guns. We want to make sure that people like that and terrorists and others are not able to buy the type of guns that they can get at our gun shops . . . We’re not trying to restrict law-abiding citizens.”
Local businessman John Howard asked about the future of the Gila River watershed and said the future could be disastrous if attention to the river and the water issues with the San Carlos Apache Tribe are not settled.
O’Halleran said the Bureau of Land Management is addressing the Tamarisk issue along the Gila River and that the “terrible, terrible weed” and beetles are being looked into.
He also added that he was informed about the water issued with the tribe earlier that day and he pledged to use his office to help work out a solution for the betterment with both sides.
“We have to figure out how to work on this together,” O’Halleran said. “And the courts, I believe, are the wrong place to go. I believe that both sides have people within them that – and we talked about this today – that are willing to compromise. And so that’s my job (to) find a middle ground with folks.
O’Halleran also took a stand on healthcare reform and said he could not support a single-payer system or Medicare for all at this time because nobody has been able to tell him what the cost of such a system would be.
“I will support a healthcare system in America that works for everybody – that everybody has healthcare,” O’Halleran said. “I will not support a concept. There’s no real bill without the ability to understand what it does – how it’s going to be paid for, what’s the concept, how do we wrap all these systems together. It’s an idea that started out as a political discussion; not a public policy discussion. When it moves from political to public policy, then we have to get serious about how are we going to make this work. And it just doesn’t happen overnight. It’ll take years for us to get there. In the meantime, we’ll try to get the system stabilized. So, then we’re not losing people.”
O’Halleran is in his second term representing Arizona’s First District.