By Linda Cicoira — Health and child care, education, veterans, jobs, poultry, and broadband were among the topics discussed Wednesday at a town meeting at the Eastern Shore Community College hosted by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who was joined by Rep. Elaine Luria.
The two Democrats toured the NASA Wallops Flight Facility earlier in the day.
“I can predict with the great confidence … the future of Wallops is going to be very good,” said Warner, who is a former Virginia governor. Deborah Christie, former Rep. Scott Taylor’s local representative, gave kudos to Warner “for constantly giving support” to Wallops.
Luria, a Navy veteran and newcomer to politics, was on the Eastern Shore for a couple of days and had an open house at her local office Tuesday night. Both public meetings were well attended. Luria arrived late to Wednesday’s session as she needed to change her clothes after just come from visiting Dublin Farms, of Horntown, a fourth-generation potato ranch and home of Phil Hickman, the chairman of Potatoes USA, the Marketing and Promotions Board for the U.S. potato industry.
“I want to be in tune with all the aspects of the Shore,” she said. She also said she visited Chincoteague officials and the wildlife refuge to discuss the relocation of beach access.
Warner noted his association with Bob Bloxom, a Republican and longtime delegate, who served as his Secretary of Agriculture when Warner was governor. Bloxom’s son, Rob Bloxom, is the current delegate.
A bit of a comedian, Warner said he wanted to “report of all the really good news things happening in Washington,” and then stood there quiet for a moment or two. “Washington makes Richmond look logical even when the General Assembly is in session,” he added.
Warner promised to continue fighting for broadband in rural communities. “I think we really have to think about this in new and creative ways,” he said, adding that he supports keeping up with 4G that will soon turn into the 5G that everyone will need. “It’s like moving from radio to television, if the rural areas get left behind, we’re really up the creek.”
“I voted for … Obamacare years ago,” he continued. “I knew when I voted for it, it wasn’t perfect but it was the first time we did an expansion of health care.” Warner said what he would like to see is “keep what’s good and fix what is wrong.” He also applauded Virginia for its Medicare expansion and wants to get a “match on states that went earlier than us.” A real challenge would be “to treat rural hospitals the same as metropolitan on reimbursement rates.”
Warner said he wants the cost of health care brought down as the U.S. spends “per capita twice as much as other countries. There is no reason we spend about $1,500 per person” on prescriptions annually “when in France and England they spend $600,” he added.
“A constant issue is the Chesapeake Bay,” Warner said. “The good news is Congress has put most of the money back in the bay and I think it will be repeated this year.”
Regarding sea level rise, “Wish we could take it out of politics,” Warner said. “I don’t care what we call it … low-lying areas are going to be at risk.” He said he will try to make sure “all the money doesn’t end up in Hampton Roads, and Eastern Shore doesn’t get its share.”
Warner wants businesses to favor “humans” as it used to instead of concentrating on increasing earnings by small margins when 85 percent of the business is “people and (their) ideas. Shouldn’t we treat people as well as the stuff?” he asked. “All those jobs don’t need to be in Northern Virginia,” Warner added.
In Luria’s first 100 days in office, she was named the vice chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces. Luria said she is working hard to get help for Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. She also is concerned about prescription drug costs and favored a bill on biologic drugs, which include recombinant proteins, tissues, genes, allergens, cells, blood components, blood, and vaccines.
Sue Mastyl, of Harborton, and a member of Citizens For a Better Eastern Shore (CBES), called Warner down about his support of the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method Act, known as the Farm Act, because it provides an exemption for hazardous substances from animal waste at farms. “So now what is our remedy to get a handle on these emissions?” she asked, specifically naming ammonia from local poultry houses.
“I think you raise a valid point, let me take a look at that piece of legislation again,” he said. “I’m surprised by your comment.”
“I’m glad I surprised you,” she answered.
“I’d rather that you did it privately,” he said, adding, “I owe you a better explanation.”
The good news, Mastyl later said, is Warner’s regional manager later took her contact information to follow up on it. “I think they are sincere,” she said.
“On teacher training and compensation — underperforming too often we put our rookie teachers in our most challenged schools,” said Warner. “If they get through the first five years then they get attracted and go to a wealthier area.” He said the “wrong compensation model” is used. “Let’s pay really successful teachers a bonus to go to schools.”
Navy Chief Toni Walker of Wallops Island said the lack of child care is holding the community back. Charmin Horton, of the Eastern Shore branch of the food bank, told the officials that access to healthy affordable food is also an issue.