PALMDALE — Gone are the days when only 18 people came to Steve Knight’s town hall meetings — though Knight admits that was before he was a congressman.
Now as representative of the 25th district, Knight filled the Chimbole Cultural Center in Palmdale to capacity Saturday morning with nearly 300 constituents, and hundreds more rallying outside, to discuss healthcare, the economy, the environment, veteran’s services, women’s care, immigration and education.
“I want to be productive,” Knight said to The Signal before the event. “People who are there who want to learn and hear about the issues, I want them to get their voice. I want people there who want answers and want to have a discussion.”
Among the 275 people in attendance, some wearing pink in solidarity with the Women’s March on January 22 and others in red “Make America Great Again” hats, time was allotted for 27 people to stand and voice their concerns or support to Knight.
“I believe in this district with my whole heart and this will be a great town hall,” Knight told The Signal.
Identification was not checked at the door as anticipated, and constituents filed in on a first come, first serve basis. One woman at the front of the line said she had been there since midnight.
The event began after constituents requested Knight lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
As anticipated, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act was addressed by multiple speakers. Among his comments, Knight said he is in favor of maintaining some lifetime caps in the act and not others, and in light of concern from a senior citizen that the “donut hole” of the ACA would be closed, Knight ensured he would vote to maintain that protection for the elderly.
“Absolutely, I want to keep that in the next plan,” Knight said.
Another constituent said she was passionate about the ACA because it covered her when her appendix ruptured. Knight said he has gone to every congressional listening session to learn as much as he can about the pros and cons of the healthcare act, and said it is a complex issue. He said he wants to provide Americans with more options and more products without raising premiums.
Constituent Lorraine Roe questioned where Knight got coverage for his healthcare and said others should be granted the same privileges.
“Your constituents should have the same level of care you have,” Roe said.
To that, Knight said he agreed.
Knight also said he felt the new healthcare bill should be released online in order to garner feedback before it is voted on.
“That’s how representative government should work,” Knight said.
Antelope Valley constituent Michelley Benitez said she felt it was important to go to the town hall because she did not agree with the ACA, as her insurance doubled in cost after it was implemented. She said she agreed with Knight on his views of allowing those with preexisting conditions to get coverage, but does not agree with his view of letting people up to 26 stay on their parent’s healthcare and thinks the age should be lowered to 18.
“It is no longer affordable,” Benitez said after the event. “I feel there is a better way than taking from the middle class to give to the poor.”
When asked about his views on Planned Parenthood, Knight affirmed that he was pro-life but thought women should still have access to screenings. He said he thought the money funded to Planned Parenthood would be better spent in community health centers that offer similar services, as there are 14 in his district while there are only two Planned Parenthood Centers.
In light of President Trump’s discussion about bathroom laws, one constituent asked Knight how he would protect transgender students. In response, Knight said he had voted against the bathroom bill and believes school districts should dictate bathroom policies, not the federal government.
“When you’re closer to children, like in a city council or school district, you know the needs of the kids better,” Knight said.
Speaker Gregory Wolff of Simi Valley asked Knight about his views on what Wolff called “out of control military spending.” The congressman said the budget is similar to what it was last year, but wants to better use the funds for military operations and maintenance, readiness and equipment.
When Wolff asked where he thought Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase in military spending would come from, Knight admitted he did not know.
“I’ll tell you right now, I don’t know where we’ll get $54 billion in funding,” Knight said. “I agree with you.”
Knight said he did not support Trump’s plan to build a wall at the border between America and Mexico, but he does think there needs to be better border security.
Another constituent appealed to Knight’s faith, telling him that he should abide by Pope Francis’ call to care for the environment. She said as a fellow Catholic, he should not loosen environmental regulations.
The woman then asked Knight to vow not to vote to discontinue the Environmental Protection Agency, to which he agreed.
One constituent, sitting among a group of people wearing Trump hats, stood up to tell Knight she supported the president and thought Americans should become unified under Trump’s leadership. She said she supported Trump and his agenda and thought his actions were reflective of American ideals.
More questions followed asking Knight about his views of President Trump’s actions. After chants telling Knight to share his views about Trump’s tax returns, Knight agreed that he thought the president should release them.
Knight also said he thinks an FBI investigation concerning Trump’s ties to Russia is called for.
“The Trump administration shouldn’t be involved in the FBI investigation,” Knight said to one constituent. “I think if there was involvement with Russia, there should be an investigation. I support the FBI to do that.”
One constituent, who said he was a legal immigrant from Mexico, asked Knight what his plans were for immigration reform. Knight said the fact that only 50,000 of 3 to 4 million immigrant workers having agricultural visas was a travesty. Knight said that while immigration is a large concern for California, the topic was not an issue for the majority of the country and would likely not bring nationwide reform, but should be worked out in individual states.
“I don’t think we’ll get immigration reform,” Knight said. “We need to do little bits.”
Additionally, Knight said that there should be background checks for people to buy guns, it would be beneficial to move toward more people learning English and said he supports vouchers for private schools.
Agua Dulce resident Carlo Basail said he thought the town hall was effective and believed people asked good questions. However, he did not think the demographic was representative of the district because many of the attendees were not Knight’s supporters.
“It was the beginning of the 2018 Congressional District race,” Basail said. “I want to let Steve Knight know he’s not alone. If he runs again, I’ll vote for him again.”
Bryan Caforio, Knight’s opponent in the last election, was in attendance as well.
Knight’s office plans to discuss the outcome of the town hall to see if it would be appropriate to hold more in other cities in his district.
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