The diversity of the region and its interests were on full display at the Town Hall for U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Falls Church) at Poe Middle School in Annandale this past Monday – as were the Congressman’s depth of knowledge on a variety of subjects.
About two hundred showed up for Beyer’s first Town Hall of the 118th Congress, with questions and concerns ranging from international politics to a (very well-played) plug for an internship.
Constituents from various countries of origin including Afghanistan, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, China, Taiwan, and more expressed concerns about a variety of international issues, from helping family escape the Taliban in Afghanistan to assisting Ukraine in a way that doesn’t spark war with China or Russia. An activist asked how to intervene in the detention of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in China, and how to save them from the ethnocide, if not genocide, currently taking place. A student challenged President Biden’s recent statements regarding moving semiconductor production to the U.S., explaining that Taiwan’s independence from China could be undermined by such a move.
Domestically, the effect of data centers on communities and housing, recent bank failures, raising the minimum wage, the cost of medication for seniors, and the Inflation reduction act was discussed. A local mother asked about universal Pre-K efforts (to which Beyer added that the average current cost for daycare in Northern Virginia for one child is $35,000 per year).
Despite the diverse range of topics, Beyer easily addressed every question asked, and his staff frequently moved to exchange contact information with those needing personal assistance, including a veteran struggling to communicate with the IRS.
The recent breakthrough on fusion energy and its implications were raised by a particularly knowledgeable local high school student, who then mentioned he had applied for an internship with the Congressman’s office (and got a very quick “thumbs’ up” from the campaign person responsible for their selection).
Another student asked what the Congressman was doing to protect LGBTQ+ students in schools, after Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin issued 2022 Model Policies specifically attacking trans students, forcing them to use the wrong bathrooms and pronouns, excluding them from sports, and requiring faculty to “out” them to parents.
Beyer responded that this was a recommendation that schools would follow in theory, but added that all Northern Virginia schools rejected the recommendations, and Republican attempts to codify the changes into law failed in the recent legislative session, “so there’s not much that I can do, we have complained, I have been part of meetings with Governor Youngkin saying that this does not reflect my values and shouldn’t reflect his values.”
“The number of transgender kids in America is less than one percent, and yet somehow [in right-wing rhetoric] they’re the source of all our problems, and if we just got mean enough to them, and made them feel bad enough about themselves… as you probably know, 80 percent have considered suicide, 80 percent of these kids, because they feel so differentiated from everyone around them, and they feel so unwelcome.”
“I think that what the Governor did was among the least compassionate and least loving things that I’ve seen a leader do ever.”
A voter named Kathy showed up to thank the Congressman for his efforts towards proportional voting (where instead of just voting for a candidate, voters can rank choices), what she referred to as the “Wonky Fair Representation Act,” saying it took courage and expressing hope that Beyer would continue to push for the reform. “I am an independent… so I feel like I have no voice, and what you’re doing is not just a step in the right direction, it’s really a leap.”
Beyer responded by briefly explaining the act to the audience. “The postcard version of the wonky Fair Rep Act is multi-member districts. You don’t just vote for one congressman or person, you vote for three, and you rank them 1-2-3, so what you have now in a district like Northern Virginia where you have [three Democrats], more likely it would be two Democrats and one Republican,” he said, adding that more conservative states would also see a moderating effect, “so you end up with much more like proportional voting.”
Beyer explained that most Congressional districts around the country are strongly polarized. “So many districts are not competitive, including the one that I represent… so the primary is the determination, and that’s true with all the Republican districts in Virginia too. The primary is the fight.” He continued that our current single-candidate system “means you end up with [candidates] that run to the extreme rather than the center. When you have ranked choice voting, people run to the center.”