Rep. Lee Terry was on the receiving end of a healthy dose of constituent comment Thursday night when he headed to north Omaha for a town hall meeting.
About 75 people showed up at Lake Point Center for the opportunity to grill their congressman before he heads back to Washington at the end of the August recess.
Over the course of the 90-minute meeting, many of the exchanges highlighted the stark political differences between Terry, a conservative Republican, and many of those he represents in what is a swing district.
Some of the toughest questions focused on the lack of jobs in north Omaha.
The Rev. Michael Williams, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, noted that the unemployment rate in north Omaha is several times higher than in other parts of the city.
Former State Sen. Brenda Council pointed to corporations continuing to get tax breaks by shipping jobs overseas.
The Rev. Robert Gould talked about the frustration of seeing contractors from outside the area scoop up millions of taxpayer dollars on lead removal and sewer projects in north Omaha.
“Our young people cannot get access to those jobs,” Gould said.
Terry said he's as frustrated as anyone over the situation and suggested that the city has fallen down on the job in the past by not working hard enough to bring companies to north Omaha.
He spoke more broadly about the millions of manufacturing jobs that have fled the country, saying some of those jobs are coming back thanks in part to lower natural gas prices.
He said he wants to capitalize on that momentum, but that will require getting workers the training they need so they can operate today's computerized equipment.
Terry said luring jobs to the area would take cooperation between the federal government, state and city.
“Will you try?” Williams asked.
“Oh, absolutely. ... I will pledge to help continue to work on creating jobs in our city,” Terry said.
A few of the questioners praised Terry's willingness to host the event, but there was almost universal disagreement with his political positions, as they raked him over the coals on the hot political issues of the day:
» Why are you wasting time trying to repeal the health care law again and again and not offering alternatives?
» Why are you pushing the Keystone XL pipeline when it will only contribute to climate change and foul the state's drinking water?
» Why won't you support a path to citizenship for undocumented workers?
“If you just want to stand up and yell, I'll take it,” Terry said at one point.
For the record, Terry reiterated his criticism of the health care law, saying it included too much involvement by the federal government.
He defended the pipeline as posing little environmental risk, and said he could support some form of legal status for those in the country illegally, but not citizenship.
He did have at least one fan in the room by the end of the evening.
Community activist William King Jr. said he felt bad that he showed up too late to speak.
He knew it would be a tough room and he wanted to give Terry credit for his successful advocacy on behalf of allowing community-based, low-power FM radio.
King's 1690-AM “The One” is operating with a limited range but plans to apply to switch to an FM broadcast that will allow it to offer stereo sound and a range of three to four miles.
As Terry left the meeting, King excitedly pointed out that a website had named his radio station the top dog in Omaha.
“You the man,” Terry said.
“It couldn't have happened without you, baby,” King said.