Corker gives senate update at town hall meeting

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By Lance Coleman
Blount Today

Three women standing on boxes in front of the Maryville Municipal Building before Sen. Bob Corker’s Monday town hall meeting had what they said was a simple message for the freshman lawmaker.

"He needs to vote against the war," Cindy Collins of Knoxville said. "I personally have been affected by loss of loved ones. We don’t have a need to be there."

Collins was one of the women taking part in the silent demonstration. The others participating in the protest were Sister Mary Dennis Lentsch of Oak Ridge and Lissa McLeod, Knoxville.

Kevin Collins from South Knoxville said the individuals protesting in front of the Maryville Municipal Building were an ad hoc group. The group was asked to leave by Maryville police before Corker arrived because they didn’t have a permit. They only found out about Corker’s stop on Sunday and didn’t have time to get a permit, Collins said. The four sat in the
audience and asked questions during the meeting.

Corker arrived a few minutes later and mingled with residents before Mayor Joe Swann introduced him. Since he took office five months ago, Corker said he’s grown his staff to 40 people and opened six offices across the state and one in
Washington. While he and his staff have answered 35,000 emails, the freshmen senator said he was fond of town hall visits with constituents.

"Nothing beats town hall meetings," he said.

Corker recognized that there were some in the room who may not have been Corker supporters during the election, but said that now he wants to represent them as well. "I’m sure there are people in this room who didn’t support me," he said. "I want to be a senator for all of Tennessee."

Corker said much of his time has been spent in dealing with the Iraq war. "I’ve had five meetings with Condoleezza Rice and two with the President just talking about the war," he said.

Corker said a short-term issue facing lawmakers is health care affordability while a long-term issue is developing an energy strategy, he said.

The state’s farmers are playing a major role in the country’s energy strategy as more is being done to create bio-fuels from crops such as corn or switch grass, Corker said, and Tennessee is also on the leading edge in developing clean coal technology where coal is liquefied and used as fuel.

"It lessens our dependence on foreign oil," he said.

Corker said he was terribly concerned about the country’s energy strategy. "Seventy-seven percent of the world’s energy (reserves) are owned by companies that are nationalized and many of those aren’t friendly with us," he said.

Discussing upcoming issues in the Senate, Corker said he didn’t think there was any more pressing of an issue than health care. "In three weeks there will be a debate on health care," he said. "One will be a push for government to deliver health care. The other will be to reorganize the health care funding so that individuals can make their own decisions."

Illegal immigration also was discussed, and Corker said he understood people were concerned about it. "We’ve gotten 2,500 calls on immigration. I campaigned extensively on the issue and went to the Arizona-Mexico border," he said. "If we put proper policies in place, we can deal with immigration."

Corker said he understood how people in poverty want to come to this country to make a better life for their families. He said he also understood there was rule of law.

Lourdes Perez, director of Hispanic Ministries with the Catholic Church of East Tennessee, offered Corker her perspective on immigration, saying she was an immigrant and works to represent immigrants in East Tennessee. Immigrants, she said, have a good work ethic. "They are here to work. The (immigration) law in the 1980s didn’t work because it wasn’t applied properly."

Perez said she would support the immigration legislation being discussed in Congress now if it provided a path to legalization without paying $5,000 or $10,000 fees and forcing the individuals to wait six to eight years.

"We’ve got a tremendous divergence of views on the issues," Corker acknowledged in wrapping up the meeting. "Just being able to talk with people with different views is helpful," he said.

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