State Senator David Long and State House Representative Jeff Espich held an old fashioned town meeting at the Waynedale Library on Saturday, January 26, 2002. The meeting was heavily attended by local residents, and there was standing room only in the tightly packed room.
Senator Long opened the meeting with remarks about what has been going on in the recent legislature. He mentioned that the new, Anti-Telemarketing Bill, had tremendous grass roots support, and the Zachary Law (Indiana sex and violent offender registry) was being expanded.
House Representative Espich highlighted the tax changes that are up for vote and tried to emphasize the differences between the Democratic proposals and the Republican proposals. According to Espich, the Governors proposal would raise property taxes and the Republicans proposals would lower property taxes.
After opening remarks, Senator Long opened the meeting for questions. One of the early complaints was from an elderly lady that was concerned that her daughter was living in a HUD housing development and smoking was allowed. Long attempted to explain that HUD was a federal program and that he and Jeff were with the State legislature. He asked her to leave her name and address and he would point her in the proper direction. She was not easily dissuaded and continued to interrupt throughout the meeting about the evils of smoking.
Another gentleman stood up to complain about a Bill which would require that senior citizens purchase hunting and fishing licenses. He brought up the fact that he already pays taxes on his boat, motor, truck, trailer, and various other items. He felt that enough was enough and the taxes it took to catch a bluegill were already too high. Senator Long and Representative Espich both agreed that they would vote against any such legislation to raise taxes on senior citizens purchasing fishing licenses.
The most emotional question came from a citizen concerned about the influx of illegal immigrants into the Fort Wayne area. He was concerned that immigrants were taking our jobs, draining our welfare resources and costing the local taxpayer money. He wanted some immediate legislation to remedy the problem.
Long listened attentively and again stated that immigration was not a State issue but a Federal issue. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was a function of the federal government and that he and Espich felt that simply passing unenforceable laws was not a good solution to the problem. Long noted that we, or our ancestors, were all immigrants at one time and the Hispanics that have entered into our culture have done so because there was (and is) a demand. They fill jobs during good times none of the rest of us care to do. Once a downturn in the economy occurs, there will be resistance to people of different ethnic backgrounds. Long felt the immigrants should be made aware of the law and be made to follow the rules of the society they have immigrated into.
The man with the original immigration question was not at all mollified by Long's response and continued to expound on the problems of immigration. The rest of the crowd grew irritated with the complainant's persistence and when he angrily stalked away, the audience was much relieved. The elderly lady with the HUD smoking complaint again tried to get the speakers attention and when she was passed over for another person's question, she got up and stalked out also. Her chair was immediately filled by one of the guests that had been on their feet throughout the meeting.
There were two businessmen at the meeting that took exception to Long's Anti-Telemarketing Bill. They both thought that the Bill was restricting their efforts to effectively market their products, (Kirby vacuums). Long explained that the Bill was an attempt to allow people to put up a "No Peddlers" sign in front of their homes.
Long and Espich had to close the meeting as they were on their way to a town meeting in Aboite. On the way out I heard a guy express a point of view on taxes. He said most of the people at the meeting had a complaint they wanted the government to fix, but they also wanted no new taxes. "They can't have it both ways. If they want the government to solve their problems they 're going to have to pay for it in higher taxes."
In general, the meeting was well run and although there was not enough time to get to all the questions, the people who attended walked away knowing that their representatives were there to listen to their problems.