A staple of lawmaker interaction with constituents, town hall meetings have recently become volatile affairs. But Republican Congressman Leonard Lance’s town hall meeting Tuesday night at the Lopatcong Township Municipal Building seemed like a time travel to the easy going ‘80s when moderate Republicans still roamed the earth and MTV played music videos.
The evening wasn’t without some reminders of 21st century realities, including a metal detector, armed police officer, lengthy discussions about gun control, and nukes in Iran.
But the red meat that had been fodder in the tea leaves of 2010 were mostly absent as Lance, now in his third term in a newly re-configured Seventh Congressional district that includes parts of six different New Jersey counties, displayed a gentlemanly temperament while doing his best to tred lightly on specifics or disparaging remarks of political opponents.
“I’m an old-fashioned Republican,” Lance said at one point of himself.
And that image was put to test out of the box as the topic of gun control dominated the first four questions of the night. Lance noted that this debate was just coming into the forefront in the House and that the Senate would likely act first on the issue, but Lance had already formed some opinions.
“I’m in favor of keeping out of the hands of criminals and those that are mentally ill,” Lance said. “Potentially including the closing of gun show loopholes and tightening the background check process on gun sales.”
He then took a play out of the cultural playbook of Lee Atwater and targeted the Left Coast.
“The entertainment culture in Hollywood is terrible,” he said. “…Advocating violence engenders terrific profits for Hollywood.”
But Lance offered no specifics how the federal government could actually enforce a conservative moral code on studios, filmmakers and thespians. “I favor all of our amendments to the Constitution. I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. And I’m a strong supporter of the First Amendment. So I’m not sure exactly what we can do.”
One audience member suggested a “ratings system pushback” that ostensibly would result in a more strict moral code of movie ratings.
Lance made it a point to display his unawareness of popular culture. He noted that the last movie that he saw was “Lincoln” and that he only periodically even watches movies, although he then added later that “video game makers tend to desensitize gun violence,” and that our culture was “infatuated with speed.”
The issue continued for discussion as Lance, a lawyer by trade, later noted that it was his opinion that a “fully-formed family structure” was the optimum environment to raise children and that many of these issues went beyond of the role of government to really address.
When one audience member said that while she agreed with that statement, that in essence the discussion actually skirted the real issue, which was the continued erosion of middle-class Americans who were being forced to work copious hours “just to pay the basic bills,” for a lower standard-of-living, thus leaving marginalized time to adequately raise children in a traditional two-person family structure.
Lance said that he agreed with that statement as well.
Speaking of the languid economy, Lance dusted off the Art Laffler and Milton Freidman supply-side economic theory argument, advocating for lower taxes that would benefit mostly the rich and corporate America, who with the lower taxes, would in theory contribute to the public good by investing their additional profits back into job creation for the middle class and poor.
The congressman also added that the “uncertainty in Washington was partially causing a lack of job creation” and that the government needed to “unleash the entrepreneurial spirit.”
“The most important issue is the state of the economy,” he said during his opening speech. He then showcased his keen interest in deficit reduction by noting some figures.
“We have $3.7 trillion in spending per year at the federal level,” Lance said, repeating the word “trillion” for dramatic impact. “…We have a $16 trillion deficit.”
Lance added kudos for two national Republican stars – Ron Paul, whom he called “a true patriot” for his ardent debt reduction positions and former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, whom Lance said he had just had lunch with last week, and was a “friend of his.”
Lance then said he was in favor of a flatter, fairer tax, but not necessarily a flat tax rate. The problem with any serious debate about the subject, he said, would be which deductions would stay and which would be cut.
“I want to make something very clear to everyone here,” he said at one point. “I will never vote to default on the obligations of the government.” But he added that he “hated to raise the debt level” and thought it was obvious that the government was spending more than it should.
When the questions turned to the fossil fuels, the congressman noted that was in favor of responsible drilling for oil and gas, and that America’s energy future should include one laden with natural gas.
“Our country is fortunate that we have an abundance of natural gas,” adding that our country was too reliant upon oil from the Middle East and Venezuela. Lance also said wind and solar energy should also be part of the mix.
Lance also said that he was a big supporter of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who he hoped and thought would win re-election to Trenton later this year and would then be a legitimate candidate to bring the White House back under GOP control in 2016, noting that the last New Jersey governor to occupy the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was Democrat Woodrow Wilson.