In his first town hall meeting after the midterms, U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell spoke at his alma mater of Dublin High School on Saturday morning, addressing current affairs both local and national and responding to concerns of his District 15 constituents.
Despite the rainy weather, hundreds of community members crowded into the school’s multi-purpose room to hear the 38-year-old congressman talk about his own policy priorities and take questions from attendees.
The theme of “American values” and the idea of an American promise for all echoed throughout the event.
“If you work hard, your paycheck should grow, you should have a health care guarantee, and regardless of what community you live in, your kids should have school that will prepare them for the future,” Swalwell (D-Dublin) said in his closing statements. “I think that’s the bargain of America.”
The town hall also comes about five weeks after the birth of his second child, Kathryn “Cricket” Swalwell -- a fact noted by attendees in their comments and on the congressman’s social media account, as he joked that his constituents used to chat after the town hall, but now only wanted to see baby pictures.
And it was just a few days after Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi nominated Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) serve alongside Swalwell and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) as co-chairs of the House Steering and Policy Committee, bringing another East Bay representative to the leadership team.
California and the Bay Area will benefit from the high representation in leadership positions, Swalwell said during a media event prior to the town hall, particularly regarding infrastructure issues. His biggest priority here is extending the rail transit from Dublin-Pleasanton over the Altamont Pass, he said.
“We have the best chance since I’ve been elected in finding federal dollars that can help that project,” he said.
The next big item for him on the agenda, he said, was voting rights reforms through House Democrats’ recently unveiled HR 1, which seeks, among other things, to make voting an easier and more accessible process and to “end partisan gerrymandering,” according to a recent Washington Post op-ed by Reps. Pelosi and John Sarbanes.
Swalwell pointed to voter suppression efforts seen in the recent election as evidence that voting reform needed to happen.
“I believe that the long-term solution for voter engagement and voter security has to be that we move toward secure, honorable, online voting,” he said.
Education threaded throughout the talk, under the umbrella of many different topics. Building new, modern schools would help ensure all students -- regardless of community -- had access to a quality education, he said, but also protect against the threat of automation to American jobs, after one audience member expressed that concern.
“What I want to do is make sure that by building modern schools in every community, that we’re preparing our kids to have the ability of skill, so that even as weather changes in the workforce, they will continue to have careers,” Swalwell said.
He also emphasized his ongoing plans to address the student debt crisis -- his “college bargain.”
“If you work through college, if you do work-study through college, and you get out and you commit to serve a community in need, you will have a debt-free education,” he said. “I would also hold these institutions more accountable.”
And reporting from Washington, he addressed questions on developments in the Mueller investigation, along with the recent turnover of the House majority party and the new demographic makeup of House leaders.
Swalwell noted that 27 newly elected members of Congress were in their 40s or younger.
“This transformation of leadership is coming, I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “We’re a Congress that has not necessarily been that youthful or diverse before. I took our leadership picture yesterday, and to see African-Americans, Latinos, a 31-year-old -- I’m a 38-year-old, I’m the old man on the block now. It’s a leadership team that looks like America.”
This was relevant, he said, in particular when considering issues such as gun violence -- something that young people reported to be one of the foremost issues on their minds.
And on the long-term effects of “Individual No. 1” (as one attendee put it) on the nation’s emotional psyche, and to political norms going forward?
“There’s going to be a lot of healing that’s going to have to happen after this presidency,” he said. “There’s going to be an era of reformation, just as we saw after Watergate.”