The Atwater Memorial Building was standing room only for U.S. Representative John Duarte’s Town Hall meeting Tuesday evening. Workers’ overalls and thousand dollar suits sat side by side for the community gathering, which was Duarte’s first in Atwater. Supporters and critics alike gathered to address the 13th District congressman directly, and he spent the majority of the evening answering questions from his constituents. One of the largest topics covered in the evening was Duarte’s stance on immigration. Some of his supporters had been disappointed when Duarte previously voted “no” on the “Secure the Border Act”, H.R.2. Others present were concerned that he did not have sufficient plans for those seeking a legal course to stay in the United States.
“Our economy in this valley would crash if we took a hardline stance against the people working hard here for years,” Duarte said. “Border security and legal presence for those who are contributing are tied, and I don’t believe that there’s a political bargain to be had that doesn’t include both.”
Another recurring topic for the evening was a range of veteran’s issues. Recommendations were made by members of the public regarding veteran healthcare, and concerns were raised about a lack of resources available in the community. One individual applauded Duarte’s refusal to vote for a bill which would have stripped specific healthcare rights from a segment of military service members. “Last month the House passed a defense bill that bans coverage for life-saving medically necessary healthcare for transgender service-members and military families. We thank you for being the only Republican in the House to vote against this ban,” the member of the audience said. “Will you commit to consistently voting to oppose any effort to strip lifesaving healthcare from transgender people, including appropriation bills with these bans?” “I’ll stand against the woke, I’ll stand against the ultra-conservative,” Duarte responded. “I really want to stand against social values being shoehorned into every aspect of government, from either side.”
Other topics addressed by Duarte and attendees included jobs, the debt-ceiling, and of course water. Duarte emphasized the important relationship the Central Valley has with water, in particular because of agriculture.
“There’s no question that water infrastructure and abundance is the only way to create a fair and prosperous society,” Duarte said. He criticized environmental groups who prevent development of infrastructure. “There is only morality in abundance, there’s not morality in scarcity. … These environmental groups have established that their little tiny fish are more important than humans. Well guess what — the humans are suffering.”
At the close of the evening, Duarte reflected on his time in Congress thus far: “I’m enjoying it. I feel it was very important to go in and do this. I’m honored to be elected, and for all the craziness, I’m just glad I’m there. I’m happy to represent this district,” he said.
Duarte declared the evening a success. “I loved the energy, loved the challenge.”
And he added with a laugh: “And it was all civil.”