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Specter hosts meeting

June 29, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Franklin County residents politely grilled U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter on Friday about issues ranging from Saddam Hussein to a veterans home in South Mountain, Pa.

A crowd estimated at 150 people packed the Franklin County Courthouse for the Town Hall meeting hosted by Specter, R-Pa.

Several people asked Specter to visit the Letterkenny Army Depot and fight to keep it open when another federal base realignment and closure process begins in 2005.

Specter said he voted against the last so-called BRAC report because he thought it unfairly hurt Pennsylvania. He said he will look out for the Chambersburg, Pa., base in the future.

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When asked about special education funding, Specter said he recognizes the need and hopes to address the issue if he one day becomes chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Specter noted that U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who has long held that position, "has been able to pave half of West Virginia." The crowd laughed.

A man who said he was from South Mountain, Pa., urged Specter to support the conversion of the South Mountain Restoration Center into a nursing home for veterans. A local group has been working on the idea for 12 years with no success.

"I'll take a look at it and see what we can do," Specter said.

Specter quickly moved from one person to the next, answering questions from about 25 people in one hour.

Some people told Specter they wrote to him and never got a response. He instructed his staff to take their names and said he would make sure they got an answer in writing.

On the issue of Saddam Hussein, Specter said lawmakers should conduct lengthy hearings on what it would take to end his reign of terror.

"His time has come," he said.

When asked about a proposed death penalty moratorium, Specter raised the issue of DNA testing. No one on death row should be executed if a DNA test could be used to exonerate them, he said.

One woman questioned the future of Social Security.

Specter said the money was never put in a trust fund as it should have been when it was created. Therefore, it has been mingled with general tax money and borrowed for other purposes.

But he assured residents that the fund is secure and payments will be made.

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