Congressman's conference call draws 2,300 participants | August 1, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - August 1, 2008

Congressman's conference call draws 2,300 participants

by Meghan Neal

U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D., 11th) wants to stay in touch with his constituents even while he's across the country at the nation's capitol.

That was the purpose of last week's one-hour "telephone town hall" meeting, in which residents dialed in to a conference call-style Q&A with their congressman.

Nearly 2,300 people listened in, staying on the call an average of 10 minutes, said communications director Andy Stone. The topics broached were a mix of local and national issues.

The first caller, a Pleasanton resident, asked what is being done in Washington to make renewable energy more affordable.

"I would love to put solar panels on my home but it is cost prohibitive at this point," she said.

"That scenario I feel very strongly about," replied McNerney, whose expertise is in alternative energy. Bills are working their way through congress that would give tax credits for renewable energy products and research and development efforts, he said.

"I think in the end, we're going to be moving strongly in that direction and we're going to be finding new sources of energy from the sun, the wind, geothermal," McNerney said. "I think within about 10 years most of the cars people buy will be hybrids or all-electric vehicles ... We cannot allow ourselves to fall into this trap again of depending on foreign oil."

A Danville resident asked about benefits for veterans, explaining her son recently returned from active duty and is having a hard time navigating the system.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is backlogged, said McNerney, whose own son is a veteran. Congress has devoted a significant amount of resources into the department to help make the benefits process seamless, he said. In the meantime, he encouraged the caller to contact his office directly.

When a Pleasanton resident brought up education, specifically the high drop out rate in some local schools, the democratic congressman took the opportunity to underline his differences with the Bush administration.

"The people who designed No Child Left Behind had the best of intentions, but in practice I think this has been a very bad policy," he said.

He said the program puts too much emphasis on test results and achievements, reduces flexibility, and de-motivates students because they can't enjoy the learning process. A high dropout rate is a sign the system is failing and needs to be overhauled or scrapped.

Moreover, mandates that come from the federal government ought to be funded by it. Schools shouldn't be struggling with limited resources, he said.

"As a society, as a culture, we need to look at education and see how important it is," he continued, pledging to work with local educators to put resources back into schools. "It's going to be an 'all hands on deck' effort."

A Pleasanton resident lamented slow-moving transportation projects in the Tri-Valley area. She said the area is continuously growing and by the time improvements like expanding I-580 and Route 84 are complete, the population will have grown beyond them.

The congressman acknowledged how important traffic issues are to people, especially as roads get more and more clogged.

"We want to cut down the red tape so that highway projects can go in quickly and efficiently," he said.

A Danville resident inquired if anything is being done to stop outsourcing.

"It seems as if there are a lot of jobs constantly going out of the country," he said.

McNerney suggested creating employment that can't be outsourced, such as jobs around new energy technology. He also supports laws that, tax wise, discourage companies from hiring people from overseas.

One caller asked for the congressman's take on offshore drilling, citing a statistic that two-thirds of Americans support it. McNerney said he realizes it's a controversial issue, since gas prices are "astronomically high."

He disagrees with President Bush's take that offshore drilling will help the problem, he said, and believes the president has the ability to lower the price of gas immediately by releasing oil from the strategic petroleum reserve.

The final comment came from a Manteca resident who also lamented the price of gas, as well as things like groceries and college education. People who aren't rich or poor can't afford basic comforts these days, she said.

"What I want to do is make sure we create jobs so you can afford these things," answered the congressman, acknowledging the difficult times. "It's a very tough environment right now."

To contact McNerney call his Pleasanton office at 737-0727 or go to