Education, gun control and casinos were on the minds of readers during a live chat yesterday afternoon with Fourth District Congressman Joe Kennedy III.
Kennedy, who was elected in November 2012, joined Patch for a 45-minute live chat where he answered reader questions and shared a little bit about his first few months in office.
Read through the following recap of Kennedy's chat (below), or browse the full Q&A transcript:
On his first few months in office
Patch: So, you’re a few months into your first term as a Congressman -- how has it been? What are some challenges you’ve had to face now that you’re in elected office?
Congressman Kennedy: It's been a bit of a whirlwind, that's for sure. A combination of finding out where the bathrooms are and what you should ask the Secretary of State on a hearing on Benghazi. We've now started to settle in, which is great. We've got our headquarters in Newton and Attleboro up and running, and we've opened a satellite office in Fall River.
We've hired up a top rate staff in Washington to handle the legislative side of the work, and we're plowing ahead. Parts of the job have been extremely rewarding, like voting to allow relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and extending and expanding the Violence Against Women's Act.
Parts have been frustrating. Watching sequestration go through, despite the consequences it's going to have to our country, was tough. We've just gotten word of companies that are laying off employees and even job training programs that are closing because of the cuts.
On the current political climate
Reader Krissy Worth: I have never seen politics seem so out of control as I have in the past few years. What do you think is the main cause for such disagreement between [Democrats[ and [Republicans]? What do you think can be done to make everyone work as a team that this country needs?
Kennedy: I understand how frustrating this is, because I'm seeing it every day. The level of gridlock is unacceptable, but we need to find a way to work together. It is challenging when you have a group who does not think it is in their interest to come to the table. The more gridlock the less government does, and there are a lot of folks in DC who think that's a good thing. I'll leave you on an optimistic note though: I think our freshman class is trying to find ways to work together. We got the message, but we need your help too!
On the Supreme Court's DOMA deliberations
[A combination of Patch and reader questions]: On DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] and Proposition 8: There is some debate on whether this is something SCOTUS should take up in the first place -- what do you think? Is it something they should be voting on?
Kennedy: There's some complicated standing arguments that are being made around the Prop 8 case, and I'll leave that for the justices to decide. I'm glad they have taken up overall question about marriage equality. The time has come for our country to realize that it's not the government's place to tell someone who they can and cannot marry. The case being heard today, regarding the extension of federal benefits, is an important part of this discussion, and I hope that the Court will finally find DOMA unconstitutional.
On gun control
Reader Carol Bragg: We have many different forms of violence in this society – gun violence, domestic violence, road rage, child abuse, rape, etc. Gun control is like closing the barn door after the horses are out – there are enough guns already purchased to kill every American several times. Isn't it time to teach anger management and alternatives to violence in our schools? What can you do to help get this on the national agenda as well as the state agenda here in Massachusetts?
Kennedy: I'm a huge proponent of any effort to reduce gun violence. I believe the [assault weapons ban] is an important piece of that effort, along with closing the gun show loophole, the private sale loophole, cracking down on straw purchasers and high capacity magazines. The other huge piece to this is strengthening our mental health system and providing counseling and education. I think the proposals you just mentioned are an important part of that portfolio. This needs to be part of the discussion, and I think it will be once the House and Senate start to focus on the details of the legislation. It's certainly a priority for me.
On a new minimum wage bill
Reader Steve (Brookline, Mass.): Can you explain the minimum wage bill you co-sponsored?
Kennedy: I'm proud to be a co-sponsor of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013. The bill raises the Federal Minimum Wage to $10.10/hour over the span of three years (it's currently $7.75) and makes sure that it keeps pace with the cost of living moving forward.
This is another big priority for me. If we indexed the minimum wage to inflation back in the 1960s, it would be over $10.50 already. Instead, it's fallen way behind. Even in MA, which pays $8, it's estimated that a minimum wage worker would have to work 120 hours a week to realistically afford a two bedroom apartment for their family.
Patch: Our next question will touch on the Middle East: You were appointed this year to the Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa -- How do you view the situation with Iran? A report published today says the sanctions may actually be speeding up Iran’s nuclear advancement. Do you believe the sanctions are working in Iran? Is there another answer?
Kennedy: A nuclear armed Iran poses a threat to the entire Middle East and the United States. We, along with the international community, should be doing all we can to make sure they do not develop a nuclear weapon. I believe sanctions are an important tool, and that we're seeing some real success. The Rial has plummeted and the country is largely cut off from international commerce.
We need to explore all options for a diplomatic resolution, and sanctions are an important part of that portfolio.
Reader Nasiba Mannan: Do you have any plans or specific areas that you would like to work on in education? We are falling behind every day from China, India and other countries. Don't you think it is time we make education our top most priority?
Kennedy: Absolutely. If we are going to maintain our competitive edge, or build upon it, we're going to need the best educated population in the world. For me, there are a couple of key components:
1. Strong investments in early childhood education, which has some of the best returns on investment we can make;
2. A top-flight primary and secondary education system that holds teachers accountable while providing the tools that they need to educate our children;
3. An affordable and accessible higher education system that doesn't burden graduates with decades of debt;
4. Strong vocational schools and community colleges that recognize that the traditional college program might not work for everyone, but that everyone needs a pathway to obtain the skills they need in an increasingly competitive economy.
On that last point, workforce training and development is something that I'm especially passionate about, and why this particular time can be so frustrating for me. At a time when we are still seeing painfully high unemployment rates in communities across the Fourth [District], sequestration has just forced some job training programs to close. All this at a time when there are about 230,000 people unemployed across the state and 130,000 job openings because those who are unemployed don't have the skills they need to get the jobs available. It's terrible policy and makes no sense.
On the proposed casino in Milford, Mass.
Reader Amy Burns RitterBusch: I'm wondering what Rep. Kennedy's position is on the Milford Casino. Would he support an exit off a federal highway (I-495) to a private casino? Over 1,900 constituents have signed a petition against the casino and hundreds crowded into the Milford Selectmen's meeting room on March 18 to protest the casino.
Kennedy: My position on this has been the same from the start: it should be up to the community.
In Taunton, also in my district, the proposal by the Wampanoags is overwhelming supported by the town, so I'm happy to support their efforts.
I won't back any proposal until a developer lays out a plan and earns the support of the community. I've been watching the Milford process closely and will continue to do so.
Patch reader David McKinnon: What programs/incentives can we develop to encourage using alternative energy resources to reduce oil dependence and help homeowners and businesses conserve energy for heating, lighting and transportation? Will there be tax credits or similar incentives to help reduce energy consumption? And, will there be comprehensive career training programs developed to assist workers looking to enter alternative energy trades? Are those types of careers viable in this economy to help reduce unemployment and create long term jobs?
Kennedy: I'm a big supporter of the alternative energy, and it has to be a large part to any comprehensive energy policy. There are a number of options that we can explore, from an RPS to tax credits. I'm a supporter of making the production tax credit for wind permanent, which I think would help incentivize wind development for the longterm and not leave businesses wondering every year if they're going to be able to make their business models work.
We also have to be focusing on efficiency. There's huge gains to be made there, and one place where government can lead the way by retrofitting their own offices and buildings.
The last point you make is an excellent one: these are innovation industries that have the potential to create thousands of jobs in the future. We need to make sure that our workforce is ready to fill that need.