Arizona Congressman Tom O’Halleran visited Page last Thursday evening and held a townhall style meeting with his constituents at the Page Community Center where he addressed around 45 people in attendance.
Prior to meeting with Page residents at the community center O’Halleran stopped by the offices of the Glen Canyon Natural History Association (NHA) at the invitation of NHA’s Executive Director Martin Stamat.
The NHA was holding its board meeting that evening and Stamat invited O’Halleran to join them. He and his wife arrived around 4:45. Those in attendance included more than a dozen NHA members and another dozen rangers and staff from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, including Park Superintendent Billy Shott.
Each member from the group got a plate of food from a potluck-style buffet and gathered with O’Halleran at a long table and discussed such things as Arizona and Utah water needs, tourism, the imminent closing of NGS among other topics.
“I had invited him to come visit us about six months ago, but it never worked out,” said Stamat. “But we heard from him recently saying they’d love to come by during their visit to Page and it turned out we were having a board meeting the same night. It was excellent timing to have everyone together at the same time.
“He didn’t have an agenda, he just wanted to sit down and have a discussion and I found that very refreshing.”
O’Halleran and his wife went from the NHA building to the Page Community Center where he addressed those in attendance from a lectern about his time and experience in Congress and his vision for the future of Arizona. After his speech he took questions from the audience.
O’Halleran is a Democrat representing Arizona’s 1st District. He began his political career as a Republican serving in the Arizona House of Representatives, which he did from 2001 until 2006. He then served in the Arizona State Senate from 2007 to 2009. representing the 1st District from 2007 to 2009. In a 2008 primary election, he was unseated by Steven Pierce. In 2014 he left the Republican Party, citing its policies on education, water, and child welfare as reasons for his resignation. He then ran for the 6th District State Senate seat as an Independent, but lost.
In 2015 O’Halleran returned to politics announcing his candidacy, this time as a Democrat. He went on to defeat Miguel Olivas, in the Democratic party and later Paul Babeu and Ray Parrish in the general election.
O’Halleran said he switched party affiliations because his positive attitude toward government, and, in particular, of his support for government regulations that would increase the use of wind and solar energy.
O’Halleran says his major priorities include government spending, gun control, health care and immigration.
On government spending O’Halleran criticized the Trump Administration for seeking to cut funding for essential agencies and programs such as the Economic Development Administratioin, the Rural Business and Cooperative Service, Rural Water and Wastewater Grants and the Indian Development Block Grant, among others.
Regarding gun control, O’Halleran, who has long supported expanded background checks for potential gun buyers but opposed an assault weapons ban, said he changed his mind on that after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
“At times you have to look at yourself in the mirror and do the right thing and say forget about the political consequences,” he said.
Regarding health care, In March 2017, O'Halleran denounced the Republican health-care replacement plan, saying that it would fail “to provide affordable access to health coverage,” would disproportionately affect rural communities, force seniors to pay higher premiums, and give CEOs "a tax break on the backs of hardworking Arizona families.”
Regarding Immigration, O’Halleran has come out against Pres. Trump’s travel ban on visitors and refugees from predominantly Muslim nations. He said, the order “does not represent our nation's values” and that it violated the Constitution and "the bedrock ideals of our democracy.
O’Halleran belongs to the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of Democrat and Republican Congressmen which work together to identify issues that can be addressed in a bipartisan manner.
“The point is for both parties to sit down at the table and talk and work things out and still be friends when we’re done,” he said during his meeting at the NHA. “When we return to the table we return as friends and keep the talk going.
He said America’s problems can better be solved with real human to human discussions rather than Twitter bursts and soundbites on the news, which he believes usually have the effect of separating people and parties rather than bring them together.