Photo by Charity Maness/Fall River County Herald Star
U.S. Congressman Dusty Johnson lends an ear to the back of the room for a question during an ‘inside scoop’ town hall meeting held last Friday at Springs Coffee.
By Charity Maness
HOT SPRINGS – The heat did not hold back the attendance on Friday, Aug. 18, where community members gathered at Springs Coffee in downtown Hot Springs, filling all available seating to attend the ‘Inside Scoop’ town hall meeting with Representative Dusty Johnson.
“I work for you,” said Johnson, as he began the town hall meeting.
He stressed the importance of representation but explained the difficulties for rural areas in America.
“There are 435 members of congress serving in the House of Representatives,” said Johnson, “of those 435 only 29 are designated rural representatives.” Pointing to the huge disparity in representation, but assured all were working hard for rural America.
Before he opened the floor to a Q&A, he touched on two subjects that he felt were important, HR-1 and HR-2.
HR1 is a Lower Energy Costs Act, incorporated with HR 1211 which is the Protecting American Energy Production Act.
“It is important to have affordable, safe and reliable American Energy,” said Johnson, further stating that the U.S. should not have to “beg” other countries for oil.
The act states that States should be primacy for the regulation of hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas production of State and private lands. The bill further states that the President may not declare a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing unless authorized by an Act of Congress.
HR 2, which is the Secure the Border Act of 2023, passed the U.S. House in May 2023.
“We need to secure our border and get back to constructing a wall,” said Johnson. “It’s too hard to get here legally and too easy to get here illegally.”
This bill covers, in part, border security, asylum reformation, both border patrol and migrant safety, protection of children, strategic plans, staffing and requires an assessment of the economic and security impact on states that border the southern border.
According to Johnson, HR2 would also defund non-profits receiving federal funds that are aiding and abetting illegal immigration.
“We have room in America in our country for legitimate asylum claims,” said Johnson, as well as legal immigration. “Legal immigration is the sauce that powered American exceptionalism for hundreds of years.” But he draws a hard line at illegal immigration.
Johnson opened the floor to question; volleying a vast variety.
A question was posed regarding those on disability wanting to work but getting penalized if they do.
“You are on SSI and still want to work?” asked Johnson, “you are a great American.”
Johnson stated that a bill has been penned to reduce the penalties for Americans who want to work.
“Why punish those trying to get out of poverty,” he asked, “if we get more into the job force, it only helps our economy grow.”
Executive Power abuse came into question with an example of arming IRS agents.
“Every year we take more power away from the states due to the growth of Executive Power,” said Johnson. “The Congressional Review Acts are revoking some of the excessive use of Executive Power.”
Cuts to the VA were questioned.
“Of the 12 appropriation bills that fund a variety of different entities, the VA and the military did not receive cuts, they received increases,” said Johnson, pointing out his belief that it is important to “take care of those who take care of us.”
The PACT Act (promise to address comprehensive toxins act) and the Care in the Community program (where the VA provides care to Veterans through community providers when VA cannot provide the care needed) were also addressed.
“I voted for a different PACT Act,” said Johnson Admitting that it isn’t working as they had hoped, and the narrow window of the PACT Act would most likely be revisited to create another window. Additionally, he maintains that he is working to create a clearer communication with between the VA and non VA providers to help the Care in the Community program work better.
And while he supports partnerships – both militaristic and economic – he is careful of how far the U.S. should go.
“Our store houses are low,” he admitted of our arms due to the aide to the Ukraine, “but so are Russia’s. They are all-in on this one. But, I do not want any American Service member to die on Ukranian soil; I will never vote for that.”
In a comment after the town hall, Cary Talbott of Hot Springs questioned Johnson’s Ukranian stance.
“Our country has no money, our military is severely down on recruitment as patriotism is at a low due to wokeism being forced upon enlistees, and our ammunition/armament is seriously depleted. We are sending our fighting wares and money we don’t have to a corrupt Ukraine that’s fighting a war with no viable plan to see it end,” said Talbott. “At this point it is very questionable that we could defend our own country, much less Taiwan.”
Johnson was asked what was being done, if anything, about our allies in the Middle East, those who may be waiting in vain and definitely in fear for their lives, for America to save them.
“Two days ago was the anniversary of this administration’s greatest debacle, the pull out of Afghanistan, the way it was done was grossly negligent,” said Johnson, “some of us are still working to get our allies out, if you pray, say a prayer for those still left behind.”
“When asked what the greatest threat to America is, make no mistake, Russia and China are flooding the zone with misinformation to destabilize America,” said Johnson. “We better get our act together; when we are united we can’t be beat. When we divide and fight amongst ourselves we are doing the job for China and Russia.”
“We need to continue to build partnerships with other countries,” he said, “let them know when China loans them money China owns them. We need to be able to give them an option and build those partnerships.”
Artificial Intelligence (AI) regulation was questioned.
“Congress needs to understand the possibilities and potential threats of AI,” said Johnson, stating that it could be more than two years before regulation bills are even penned.
The tide turned to Hot Springs.
“What is being done for the businesses affected by this road construction?” asked Jacki Lockwood, owner Taco Johns. “Is there anything you can do for these businesses? A tax break? Something?”
“We are dying on the vine here,” said Kara Hagen, owner of The Southern Hills Mercantile and Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa.
“I have never heard of a road project that has taken so long,” said Johnson. “This is so bad and I am so sorry. We have been looking for some sort of economic relief or economic damage funds but we haven’t found them yet. I am shocked at the lack of progress and I will call DOT and rattle the cage. I am sure I won’t be telling them anything they don’t already know, but I promise I will call.”
“I want to thank you for being professional as we all work together to make our country better,” said Johnson, as he closed the town hall and welcomed one-on-one conversations.