United States Congressman Jim Himes stopped by the University of Connecticut Stamford Monday night for what turned into an almost two-hour town hall meeting where roughly 150 people gathered to listen to his message about healthcare and chew his ear about a wide variety of topics.
Himes (D-4) opened the conversation with the audience by discussing how the upcoming election process, of which he will be taking part, was going to get uglier before it got any prettier.
"As we approach the November election, the rhetoric will get more heated, the discussion will get a little sillier than it always has been and I think it is unlikely—and I say this with sadness—that you're going to see a lot more actual, meaningful legislative activity and compromise," Himes said to the audience.
A diverse crowd, they remained largely civil towards Himes and each other, though tempers rose briefly to levels of "somewhat aggravated," when those in the audience felt certain participants were taking more than their fair share of time at the mic.
Stamford resident Guy Magnuson wanted to know how Himes planned to address the corruption ingrained in politics today, and why nothing seemed to be getting accomplished in regards to changing a broken financial system and punishing those responsible for its collapse.
"I'll put a twist on that that is in some ways even more sinister than what you said: there is something worse than a system which produces bad outcomes because it's corrupt," Himes said. "That's a system that produces the kind of outcomes we saw in 2008 that wasn't legally corrupt, which is actually the bulk of what happened."
He said with so many people losing their homes, their jobs, it makes sense for people to want to see someone in handcuffs, but the fact is, with the way the system is currently designed, there's little that can actually be done.
"In retrospect, a lot of very smart people got it very wrong," Himes said.
Mother-of-three Tara Cook-Littman wanted Himes to help address "GMOs," genetically-modified organisms, that people now consume mostly unaware of the classification or true nature of what they're eating.One of Himes biggest issues all night had been discussing the importance of the passing of Obama's healthcare plan.
"How will our government ever turn their attention to this," she asked. "How will they ever get how important it is to pay attention to what we are eating? You want to talk about health? Start looking at what GMOs are doing to our health. Part of why it's become so complicated is because the industry has so much money, the government is consistently putting the rights of the industry above the rights of individuals."
Himes said he's always for labeling and helping people understand what they're consuming, but that, in order for a cause to continue to gain momentum, there "needs to be clear and understandable danger and risk you can explain to a layman" like him.
"When there is a clear connection to danger, then the government will be—probably—responsible," he said. "I say probably because...there's a lot of resistance to change by the people who would be asked to pay a little bit more than they've had to before. They're going to have a reflexively negative reaction to this. Seeing the evidence that shows clear danger, you find the advocacy to get over."
Himes said often times a single person labeling an effort as "Job-Killing Regulation" is enough to stall it until the idea is completely forgotten.
At one point in the evening, one of the stranger and more circumstantial questions from the night came from 17-year-old Christian Fazio. He asked Himes if the representative thought incumbents had an advantage over the competition due to things like name recognition that lead to a re-election rate of above 90-percent (For Congressional bids, Fazio was not far off, though the Senate races are a bit more skewed.)
The teen wanted to know if Himes thought ignoring first amendment rights so challengers could raise more money to even the playing field would make for a more democratically-sound and overall healthier political environment.
"Then, they can bring new ideas into congress, make political discourse more seasoned and make our representatives have to work harder to keep their jobs," Fazio asked.
Himes didn't hesitate.
"Uh, the answer is no," he laughed. "It is also not entirely clear to me with my current 9-percent approval rating that incumbents have a large advantage."