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Senator defends his positions at Wilson College town meeting

August 07, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Responding to a citizen's comment about Congress' low approval ratings, Sen. Arlen Specter said town meetings like the one he hosted Monday keep legislators in touch with the public.

"I showed up and took my chances on what I'd find," said Specter, R-Pa..

What Specter found at Wilson College - where he hosted an hourlong question-and-answer session - was a mix of support and frustration from more than 100 people.

Questions and comments covered a wide range of topics from the war in Iraq to illegal immigration to the legalization of marijuana.

Joy McCreary, an education student at the college, was pleased with Specter's acknowledgment that "the restrictions are unreasonable" from the federal government when it comes to public schools.

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"That's my basic issue," McCreary said. "I don't feel the federal government should be dictating to the state and local government."

McCreary told Specter that she doesn't "think the federal government understands the impact it has on local schools" with No Child Left Behind.

"(NCLB) is up for reauthorization. We understand in Washington there have to be a lot of changes," Specter said.

One woman sparred with Specter concerning their differing views on immigration.

The woman said that closing jobs to illegal immigrants would send them back to their home countries. Specter said he wants to first secure the border with Mexico, then remove fugitive status from citizenship and allow 12 million people to stay here.

Deporting criminals would be feasible, but not all the 12 million people, Specter said. Once the existing situation is dealt with, employers should be held responsible, he said.

"It's fair to hold the employer liable if they hire illegals. No matter how high the fence, if you have a magnet (jobs) they're going to come. If they can't gain employment, they won't come," Specter said.

The woman claimed that most people in the room agreed with her, but Specter asked for a show of hands from those who support his proposal.

"Lady, you just lost," he said when the majority of hands favored him.

Other moments were not quite so tense, with Specter making frequent jokes. He teased that, in a room full of various microphones, he didn't know which was for the National Security Agency.

Chambersburg resident Peter Gibaud asked Specter how he balances local and national interests, since Specter is the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"One person's aid to districts can be another person's pork barrel spending," Gibaud said.

Only two-thirds of 1 percent of the budget goes to so-called earmarks, Specter said.

"Most of what I allocate is for health and public education," he said, mentioning $400,000 that was allocated to Wilson College.

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