BLAIRSTOWN – Josh Gottheimer takes some heat for not holding official “town halls.” He says visiting diners and talking to patrons is just as beneficial.
And at least for Thursday afternoon, he was right. The opinions offered at what the Fifth District congressman calls, “Cup of Joe with Josh” town halls were as wide ranging as any structured setting.
Crammed into the Blairstown Diner, a cozy place in rural Warren County, were left wingers wanting to impeach the president, an NRA member with a pro-Donald Trump baseball cap. a man who seemed to blame all of society’s ills on “illegal aliens,” and people who simply wanted to raise specific concerns with the congressman.
It was near the end of Gottheimer’s hour-long visit that impeachment was raised. The questioner and her friends, some of whom were from the more liberal Bergen County part of the district, were pro-impeachment,
Gottheimer is not. He said he prefers letting the courts handle the matter. By that, he means Congress using its subpoena power to access records and compel the unwilling to testify. He said the first goal of Congress is “to get answers.”
In contrast, a few tables away was at least one Democrat, or former Democrat, who told Gottheimer the party was drifting, or perhaps careening, too far left. That was Jerome Rubin of Randolph, which actually is out of the district. Rubin put his concerns on a sheet of paper and handed it to the congressman.
Rubin had written that Democrats were becoming anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and pro-socialist.
“They’re certainly not my views,”‘ Gottheimer replied.
Joining the conversation, perhaps to Gottheimer’s regret, was Mark Quick, of Hardyston, who has run unsuccessfully for local political office.
Quick, who said he may enter next year’s GOP congressional primary in the Fifth District, raised a number of questions and then proceeded to answer his own questions.
If jobs are short in New Jersey, it’s the fault of “illegal aliens.” Ditto for problems with health care, the opioid crisis and education spending.
In the face of this, others at the table grew a bit impatient, but Gottheimer kept his cool. He said he would be willing to further discuss things with Quick, but added. “I deal with facts.” That may limit any conversation.
In comparison, the congressman probably found the NRA booster easier to take, even if they disagreed. The NRA member said he didn’t support so-called red flag laws that would take guns away from those mentally unfit to have them. His concern was that he didn’t trust the people making that diagnosis. As a point of fact, the president has offered general support for red flag laws.
The official reason for the diner visits is not to entertain extremists, but to answer important and sometimes mundane questions from constituents. This visit was officially geared to seniors and Gottheimer stressed the work he’s doing to lower drug prices and to crackdown on scams targeting the elderly.
One group of residents complained about a lack of public transportation in Warren and Sussex counties, a common lament.
“This transportation (problem), I’ve been working a lot on,” the congressman said.
One glimmer of hope is the Lackawanna Cutoff, the historic name for a project that would provide passenger rail service from eastern Pennsylvania through northwest New Jersey and points east. We may see that in five years, Gottheimer said.
Maybe. Keep in mind that the proposal has been around for at least 30 years.