Listening and learning at East Tennessee events

Published 11:11 am Monday, April 29, 2019

The most important part of my job is listening to and learning from East Tennesseans to ensure I effectively represent the First District. While in Washington D.C., I host regular telephone town halls and Facebook Live events to stay in touch with constituents, but nothing can replace face-to-face interactions through town halls and roundtables. Over the past two weeks, I had the opportunity to engage with constituents directly when I hosted several roundtables, held town halls and visited schools across the district. What I heard and what I learned is extremely valuable to me as I work to represent you.
It was interesting learning from the roundtables I hosted that many of the issues we are dealing with at the local level are affected by problems on our southern border. For instance, at the law enforcement roundtables in Kingsport and Morristown, many topics were discussed, but in particular we discussed about how drugs are the biggest problem they face. While opioids are a significant problem, I heard methamphetamine is still a predominant concern, a good deal of which is coming across our southern border. I was also saddened to hear many law enforcement officers still feel they are fighting a negative perception of the men and women protecting us.
In 2017, the opioid crisis claimed 1,269 Tennesseans, a rate higher than the national average. Tennessee has been impacted so severely, that is why Rep. Tim Burchett (TN-02) and I held a joint roundtable in Jefferson County to hear from local experts on how to combat this crisis in our region. We heard, in part, the widespread availability of these drugs is a huge problem, but we also heard prevention is key. Once addicted, it is difficult to stay clean and not fall back into old habits. We need to be engaging with our schools, with our medical community, with our law enforcement and with public health officials on a multipronged strategy.
I was also deeply troubled to learn about the human trafficking that is occurring in East Tennessee. This is a heinous crime that sees people forced into labor and sexual slavery. It is easy to think this would not be an issue in Tennessee, but at this roundtable in Morristown I learned more about how much it affects our region. While Congress has been focused on providing new resources to combat this problem, I will continue to work with our local leaders to eliminate this abhorrent crime.
I also held an open town hall meeting in Blountville to discuss border security. I have long said the first step to fixing our broken immigration system is regaining control of our borders. With over 100,000 migrant apprehensions last month — almost double the number in March 2018 — President Trump has my full support in his emergency declaration. It was clear to me there is strong support for a secure border; in fact, when I asked point blank if anyone in the audience would support an open border, no one raised their hand. We had a good exchange of ideas of views, and I appreciate so many people being engaged.
This week, I also held a town hall in Erwin where we discussed a wide array of issues affecting the First District. I met with a number of businesses in Hamblen and Greene County, held a roundtable with bankers in Sevier County to discuss access to capital and met with several local mayors to discuss regional economic development. I was proud to receive an award from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for my strong support of the great things ARC does to create opportunity across Appalachia.
Finally, the highlight of my two weeks was speaking with students at Harold McCormick Elementary and Greeneville High School, and hosting the Congressional Art Competition. Meeting with the youth of East Tennessee is one of the best parts of my job. Children are the future of our district and to hear their thoughtful questions and see their talent on display was incredible. I am blessed to represent the people in the First District and will continue to serve you to the best of my abilities.

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