For the first time in his congressional career, U.S. Rep. Peter King hosted a teleconference-style town hall for his constituents on March 8.
King, a Republican from Seaford, serves the 2nd Congressional District, which includes a portion of North Wantagh. About 10,000 Nassau and Suffolk residents listened in on the 90-minute call, while around 20 constituents raised their concerns about local gang violence and drug use, President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, recent changes in federal immigration policies and the American Health Care Act — a measure designed by House Republicans to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Members of New York’s 2nd District Democrats, an organization founded by Liuba Grechen Shirley earlier this year, met with King last month and asked him to hold an in-person town hall. But King said that this type of event “would achieve nothing.”
“Most town halls begin and end in screaming sessions,” he said. “People who want to have an intelligent discussion would be drowned out. That diminishes democracy.”
King said that he chose a tele-town hall to explain his positions on local and federal issues and to listen to constituents’ views. He said that, on March 6, he had received necessary approval from the Committee on House Administration to hold the teleconference. He decided to have the event two days later, he added, because he knew constituents would have pressing questions about the AHCA, which was introduced that week.
Several constituents expressed concerns to King on Twitter about the call’s scheduling, including the fact that it was held on International Women’s Day, which was marked by protests and political demonstrations across the country. Grechen Shirley said that residents weren’t given sufficient notice about the tele-town hall. “People have jobs, children, schedules to juggle … This is his attempt to limit the number of people able to attend,” she added.
To participate, residents registered on a web service called Vekeo and were called when the event started. To ask a question, they either entered it manually on the Vekeo website or dialed *3. King also asked them to press different numbers on their phones that corresponded with specific topics so that the majority’s interests were addressed, he said.
Health care was the most popular topic of conversation, with residents from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma expressing concerns about possible spikes in insurance premiums and the future of Medicaid under the new proposal.
King noted that the ACA had expanded Medicaid to thousands of low-income residents in his district. He explained that he was against the original GOP replacement plan, which would have “knocked them off right away,” and that he had lingering concerns about portions of the AHCA that call for per capita caps, which would limit spending per enrollee.
King told one Massapequa resident named Margaret on the call that the new health plan would maintain ACA protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Diann Forquignon, a 45-year-old from Lindenhurst, said that she never had the chance to ask questions about the future of her own health insurance.
Forquignon said that she receives Social Security disability insurance, is Medicaid eligible and has several pre-existing conditions, including depression, fibromyalgia, asthma and occipital neuralgia, a type of head pain caused by injury or irritation to the occipital nerves. To determine if she could afford care and her prescriptions under the GOP plan, she wanted to ask King for more proposal specifics. However, Forquignon said that she was disconnected from the teleconference when she dialed *3.
“This is something that is very personal to me,” she said. “Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid could force me to go back to living in constant, agonizing pain and being clinically depressed from being in constant pain … Many of us did not get our concerns heard. If you want to do a telephone town hall, you need way more than an hour and a half.”
King said that constituents who did not get to speak during the conference call should visit his Massapequa Park office or write, call or email his staff. He said that he generally received positive feedback from district residents about the tele-town hall — including two Seaford participants.
A Seaford man named Chris thanked King for holding the event and told the congressman that he didn’t agree with provisions included in the ACA and AHCA that allow children to remain on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26. Another Seaford resident, a woman named Zelda, described herself as one of King’s biggest supporters and encouraged him to do what he could to create jobs for younger veterans.
King said he felt it was important for Wantagh and Seaford residents to hear from diverse voices in the district, including a woman who described the impact of gang violence in Brentwood. Members of the MS-13 gang were arrested in connection withthe murder of two teenage girls from the Suffolk County community on March 2.
“People are going to bed at night in Seaford and Wantagh, and they don’t know that people are walking around with machetes 10 minutes away,” he said. “That is going on Long Island — people are being terrorized in their own homes.”
King said he would invite Trump to Brentwood so that the president would be aware of the severity of Long Island gang violence. During the teleconference, King expressed his support for many of Trump’s policies, including the construction of a border wall and his executive orders on immigration.
But while speaking with a caller from Babylon about the divisiveness of the 2016 election and the strong opposition Trump faces from some citizens, King noted that he does not always agree with the president. For instance, he said, he does not believe that President Obama wiretapped Trump.
“He overreacts a bit, I believe,” King told the caller, identified as Caesar, who said that he didn’t trust Trump. “However, I will ask President Trump if he can tone it down, and if you can talk to some of your fellow supporters, we can straighten this out.”
King, who is serving his 13th term, said he is interested in holding another tele-town hall. “I hope that people realize that the issues are complicated and that I am more than willing to listen to them,” he said. “A lot more is achieved by calm discussion than screaming and yelling.”