Specter Meets With Local Democrats
Sen. Arlen Specter visited Fulton County last Wednesday for the first time since changing his party affiiation. His visit here was hosted by county Democrats seeking answers to questions on healthcare, unions and his future as a politician.
Introduced at the town meeting by Joy Dasher, Specter and the 45 residents on hand were informed by Fulton County's Democratic Executive Committee vice chair that the county is small and hidden away from much of the world and is sometimes even forgotten. However, Dasher did note in spite of its remoteness, citizens in Fulton County do have a voice and care deeply about county, state and national issues ranging from education and jobs to energy.
Touting himself as a "frequent visitor" to Fulton County, Specter said he first came to the county in 1980 as a Republican. After being approached by Democrats to change his party affiliation and voting in favor of President Barack Obama's proposal for stimulus funding earlier this year, the senator switched parties in late April after "finding himself at odds" with Republican philosophies.
"I decided we had to act," Specter told the crowd last week of the president's stimulus package. "We provided the critical votes to get it done. I knew the Republicans would be upset ... but this is an issue bigger than parties."
Specter joked, "After I voted in favor of the stimulus package, there were more Republicans who wanted me to be a Democrat than Democrats."
Reminding the crowd he was there to listen and not talk, Specter fielded a variety of questions beginning with a proposal being supported locally by Mc- Connellsburg area resident Jack Hendricks. Reading from a prepared statement, Hendricks stated the notion exists that competition among health insurance companies results in a better healthcare system.
"If that was true, then the United States wouldn't have the least effective and most expensive healthcare system," he said. " ... A single-payer system would guarantee healthcare for everyone at half the cost."
"Healthcare is a right not a privilege," added Hendricks, who said a rally was held in Harrisburg on the issue on June 11.
Specter responded he would think about the issue and was prepared to have it put on the table for discussion. Specter also stated he was willing to examine an energy bill, which has reportedly made its way through the House. One area man stated media reports have shown that Wall Street could get a hold of this and turn it into a commodity for trading purposes.
"We have to be careful to ensure this doesn't happen," concluded the senator.
Seventy-four-year-old Marlin Wagner told Specter he has been a registered Democrat for 50 years and a labor advocate for 45 years. Wagner publicly welcomed the senator as a Democrat and made reference to the attacks the party has undergone for the last 29 years.
"We're just as moral as any Republican that ever walked the face of the Earth," said Wagner.
Wagner went on to discuss single-payer health insurance that he says has 70 percent support across the nation but is still subject to many "myths and distortions." Going on to discuss pending legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), Wagner stated a team atmosphere no longer exists in today's workplace. Employer mentality differs today from that of 20 or 30 years ago, he said.
"It's my way or the highway if an employee doesn't agree with the employer," Wagner stated, asking for Specter's support of EFCA, which, if approved, would amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an easier system for employees to form, join or assist in labor organizations. EFCA would also allow for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during periods of organizing.
Kathy Hendricks mentioned friends who were reportedly fired from JLG Industries for wanting to unionize. Hendricks also pointed out "greed" plays an active role in today's society and referenced headlines in The Fulton County News announcing 500 laid off at JLG Industries next to a photograph depicting top company executives breaking ground for facilities in China.
Specter maintained he will continue to support working men and women and has seen this issue over the years. "I'm determined to find an answer," he added.
The senator, it was pointed out, has been a politician for 30 years. "Why do you want to continue. What do you hope to accomplish?" one audience member inquired.
"We need people in Washington who will listen. I'll talk to a lobbyist, but I'm not going to be influenced if he's not right," said Specter, who visited four locations across the commonwealth, including McConnellsburg, last Wednesday.
"It's a great privilege to serve on your behalf. I want to get to know you better and reintroduce myself to you as a Democrat," he concluded.