SCANDIA — Constituents from Minnesota's 6th Congressional District filled Scandia City Hall last week for a town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (R). Questions covered a range of concerns, from gun safety in schools to war with Iran to mining in the Boundary Waters.
Emmer, a former state representative, has represented Minnesota's 6th District since 2015. He secured a third term in 2018, winning his re-election bid against DFL challenger Ian Todd with 61% of the votes. Emmer serves on the House Financial Services Committee and chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which recruits Republican candidates and works to elect Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Among the topics raised by constituents at the July 31 meeting, health care and the environment dominated much of the conversation.
Joan Del Rio, of Stacy, urged Emmer to address the rising cost of health insurance premiums.
“I pay $560 (for health insurance) every month … and it covers nothing except for some preventive testing until I then throw in another $6,650. I can't go to the doctor, even though I pay $560 a month because I go and I incur more bills, and my income is finite,” she said. “Please do something about that.”
Emmer blamed the Affordable Care Act for costly health insurance premiums. “The Affordable Care Act did not work. It has collapsed. It's dead. It's gone. It drove up premiums. It reduced choice.” Emmer also said that health care has been overly politicized by both parties. “What I disagree with is Republicans and Democrats pointing the finger at one another over these things. This is not a political issue. We've made it one.”
“It was your (party's) bill to begin with,” one constituent interrupted.
“Oh, here you go; 'it's you guys.' I don't mean to be critical, but it shouldn't be about us and you …. It's not whether someone is a Republican or a Democrat. It's (about) what are your ideas to try and tackle it,” Emmer responded. “The other way didn't work. We've got to start looking at how do you drive premiums back down while at the same time providing coverage for pre-existing conditions so that everybody can get access to the health care they need …. At the end of the day, it's an insurance issue.”
Emmer also said that he believes that health care should be the purview of individual states and not the federal government. "What we should do is return the authority back to the state. We should restore Minnesota's ability to choose.” He has previously said that he supports a system in which insurance can be purchased across state lines and moves with an individual, which he says will extend coverage and competition.
Several attendees pressed Emmer on his environmental record. Wendy Ward, of Marine on St. Croix, questioned Emmer's support for the PolyMet and Twin Metals mining projects near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA).
“I'm wondering if you're aware of the immense financial risks the state is assuming by allowing this project …. Every copper-sulfite mine has left communities and environments destroyed,” she said. “I'm wondering why you think it's acceptable to saddle us as taxpayers with a perpetually toxic environment and then the tax bill to respond to this health crisis.”
Emmer said that he trusts the environmental review processes for both projects.
“If someone proposes a project that doesn't meet the environmental review standards (and) is going to destroy the environment or leave the devastation that you suggest, it should never go forward. We have never advocated for that,” he said. “With the PolyMet situation, as I understand, it has gone through a decade-plus of review …. If it makes it through the process, and it has been proved through the incredibly steep and detailed environmental processes of the state, it should be allowed to proceed.”
Emmer was also asked if he would support renewing a study that would investigate the effects of mining in the BWCA. The study, commissioned by the Obama administration in January 2017, was intended to last two years, but was killed by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue last fall. Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL), of Minnesota's 4th District, has called for the study to be completed. Emmer, however, did not directly confirm or deny his support.
As the town hall drew to a close, many attendees expressed frustration that the hour-long meeting did not allow time to fully address the issues raised.
Emmer said that he will continue to hold more town meetings.
“This is our ninth in-person town hall of the year, so we're actually ahead of schedule. We were trying to do one a month,” he said. “At these things, I always like to say that I'm from the customer service department of the United States Congress because that's what this job is supposed to be.”