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Perriello hears from supporters, critics in South Boston

With congressional elections looming in November, concern, distrust, suspicion and sometimes anger toward the current administration and its policies has been evident in town hall meetings conducted by 5th District Congressman Tom Perriello.

Against that backdrop, Perriello conducted one of 20 scheduled town hall meetings Thursday before a relatively small but vocal gathering in South Boston.

Speakers at a town hall meeting in Danville on Tuesday questioned Perriello’s position on several topics, but speakers Thursday mostly voiced their concerns and opinions about health care reform, the economy, the Federal Reserve System, social security, immigration policy and veterans’ benefits.

Richard Gladding voiced a number of concerns, commented the nation many years ago made somewhat of a vague promise to its citizens that health care wouldn’t be denied due to economic circumstances, but he added he opposed a purely government-run health system.

“I wish health care would be a program that relies on private insurance almost exclusively,” said Gladding.

“However, most people work and they do have the resources for cigarettes, drugs and other unholy things.

“Certainly we could discipline them to pay for their own health insurance.

It can be done and should be done, and I think as a responsible nation, people should take that responsibility.”

Perriello responded, as he has in other town hall meetings, that there is no government plan and no public option, and he added Congress was not expanding a government program.

“Thirty-five million Americans will be buying insurance, and I know there’s a lot of contention about individual mandates, but it does come down to personal responsibility,” said Perriello.

“This is not public insurance, it’s private insurance, and persons have to take some personal responsibility.”

Scottsburg resident Grace Seat asked Perriello if he would sign a “pledge” stating he wouldn’t vote for legislation that cuts social security benefits, reducing payments and/or raising the retirement age.

The congressman responded he was opposed to privatization of social security but didn’t believe benefits should be cut.

“One issue last year was the cost of living adjustment under social security,” said Perriello.

In 2010, for the first time in 35 years, older Americans received no cost-of-living increases (COLA) in their social security checks, and the formula to determine COLA may be outdated, according to Perriello.

”Last sure the formula said costs didn’t go up so there should be no adjustment, but that wasn’t the reality I saw on the ground.

“I saw seniors’ costs going way up…if a similar decision is made this year about the cost of living for social security, I think something is wrong with the formula.

“I think they’re using a formula based on outdated information that doesn’t reflect on the reality of costs seniors face today.

“I’m also very concerned with making sure in these tough economic times seniors get the adjustments they deserve.”

The only contentious exchange of the town hall meeting came between Perriello and Halifax County resident Billy Royster, who said he recalled a statement from Perriello last year that he had never received campaign contributions from federal lobbyists, a charge Perriello denied.

“I sent an email and never heard from you, sent other emails and never heard from you, and I called your office and nothing happened,” said Royster, who recited a number of contributors he located at a site on the Internet (OpenSecrets.org).

“I would like to know in your opinion if any of these groups are lobbyists,” asked Royster.

“No they’re not, and I’ve never taken a dollar from federal lobbyists,” answered Perriello.

“Again, they should be an independent party and I don’t take dollars from federal lobbyists.”

The biggest audience reaction of the night came after another comment from Gladding regarding illegal immigration.

“I hate to be called some stupid lout who is against [Hispanic] people…I feel the U.S., government should be enforcing its own laws,” said Gladding.

“I’m a responsible person, and I harbor this feeling, strongly.

“At my core, I will follow our laws and expect everyone else to do it.

“I find our situation untenable… it puts me at odds with my own nation and that’s wrong.”

“However one feels about the ultimate answer, we’re a nation of laws and someone shouldn’t be punished for following the law,” responded Perriello.

“There are questions as to how to shut down the border, but we simply cannot have a system that rewards law breakers and punishes law followers.”

Perriello said he supported legislation passed last week that added 1,500 extra officers to the border patrol force, including 1,000 new border patrol agents, 250 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and 250 more Customs and Border Protection officers.

“I did not support the Department of Justice bringing the legal challenge to the Arizona law,” added Perriello.

“I thought the federal government should spend its time fixing the problem.”

Thursday’s town hall meeting was the 34th event he has attended in Halifax County since his election, according to Perriello.

“First of all, it was an awesome exchange because people took a little time to lay out real ideas,” he pointed out.

“At some town halls, people are repeating the talking points on either side that they got off the Internet, but there were some people here making some very thoughtful comments in several cases on deeper structural problems like our values and our competitiveness.

“It’s just a very thoughtful community, a great community, and I enjoyed it in that way.

“With one exception it was a very civil and positive exchange.”