U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer talks to Aidan Lara, 12, about education after the town hall held at the Sequim High School auditorium Monday. (Erin Hawkins/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Kilmer draws a full house to talk economy, ethics, budgeting at Sequim meeting

SEQUIM — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer discussed ethics, budgeting and creating a better economy at a town hall meeting in Sequim.

The Monday night meeting, Kilmer’s fourth town hall gathering this year, was the only one on the North Olympic Peninsula this visit.

Kilmer represents the 6th Congressional District including the Olympic Peninsula, parts of Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula. A Peninsula-wide audience filled the auditorium with an estimated attendance of 600 people.

“The fact that Sequim and Clallam County turned out at levels that are so significant shows that people care,” Kilmer said.

He started his presentation by talking about the country’s current political system.

“I’m a believer that we have got to restore faith in government and have a government that works for we the people,” Kilmer said.

Kilmer said he advocates changes in both the legislative and executive branches. At the legislative level, he said he was concerned to see on the first day of this congressional session an effort to undermine the Office of Congressional Ethics, adding he opposes such a move.

Kilmer said in a joking manner that he believes high ethical standards also should apply to the executive branch.

Kilmer said he is the sponsor of a number of bills in that regard, naming a bill that requires a president or candidate to release tax returns, another bill that holds the president and vice president to the same ethical standards as other executive branch officers and finally a bill that calls for a bipartisan commission to investigate foreign activity in the past election.

“For me, this is an issue of ensuring that those who are running for public office are serving the public trust and the public interest rather than any personal financial interest and certainly not the interest of any foreign government,” Kilmer said.

“To me, what’s at stake is the integrity of our democracy.”

Kilmer said part of restoring faith in government is getting back to basic budgeting.

“Too often this country is functioning without a budget or using what’s considered a continuing resolution,” Kilmer said.

He explained under this current resolution, the government takes last year’s spending and continues it forward regardless of whether priorities have changed or things don’t work.

“That’s not strategic,” he concluded.

Kilmer opposes cutting a number of federal agencies such as the National Park Service and Forest Service and said Congress needs to get back to passing regular budgets.

“The executive order the president put out that established a hiring freeze is also a gimmick,” he said. “And unfortunately, it’s a gimmick that really hurts our economy.”

The hiring freeze affects several jobs within his district such as positions in the Veterans Administration and the Forest Service, Kilmer said.

Kilmer disagrees with President Donald Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending, offset by $54 billion in cuts in non-defense discretionary spending.

He said that under this budget, the government could eliminate the entire Pell Grant Program, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife, and a number of other federal agencies to maybe get to $54 billion in non-defense discretionary spending.

“That is not a serious budget. That is not a serious proposal,” he said.

Kilmer said people around the country have been experiencing a squeeze to either keep the lights on in their house or keep the doors open of their small businesses because wages have been declining for the past several years except for the top 5 percent in the country.

While he said there is no “silver bullet” to solve the problems in the economy, he said his office has helped move the local economy forward by helping small local businesses with tax returns and Social Security and aiding individuals who need Veterans Assistance benefits.

“A part of our job is to try to make government work better for people,” Kilmer said.

When Kilmer opened the floor to questions, constituents expressed a variety of concerns from Social Security and Medicare to Trump’s immigration ban and the refugee crisis.

Port Angeles resident Emma Sackett asked what will happen to immigrants and refugees if Trump’s immigration ban goes into effect and what local communities can do to help those who will be affected.

Kilmer said the current president’s approach fails to acknowledge the approach former President Barack Obama took and said the difference is there are “people fleeing people that want to kill us,” referring to Syrian refugees.

Other constituents expressed concerns over cities with sanctuary city status losing federal funding, losing coverage under the Affordable Care Act, investigating Russian involvement in government and free trade.

Kilmer said he believes there were consistent issues expressed throughout the district, such as concerns about the Affordable Care Act, the economy and education.

“Half the questions of people that came up afterward were associated with education and wanting to make sure we continue to adequately support public education,” he said.

“And those are all concerns for me, too, and we’re working on those issues.”

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Erin Hawkins is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach her at ehawkins@sequimgazette.com.

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