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US Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (CT-Fifth) paid a visit to The Newtown Bee offices August 14 for an editorial board meeting, and unexpectedly presented the local family-owned publication with a certificate of congressional recognition honoring the newspaper’s 140 years of service to the community.
The document fetes the Smith family, which has owned and operated the publication since acquiring it from founder John Pearce in 1881.
“Successive generations of the Smith family have been committed to The Newtown Bee’s success and have ensured the paper’s weekly publication, totaling over 7,000 (editions). Despite changes to journalism, The Newtown Bee has remained a relevant part of the Newtown community, while keeping its historic charm. It is still published as a traditional eight column broadsheet newspaper, but it also pioneered Connecticut’s first online newspaper in 1995,” the document reads.
“Mr Speaker, The Newtown Bee has been a vital and successful institution in Newtown, Connecticut for 140 years, and the leadership of the Smith family has ensured the community is informed and engaged in civic life. Therefore it is fitting and proper that we honor the paper and the many leaders who have ensured its success here today,” concludes the document, which is dated June 28, 2017.
Prior to sitting down with the paper’s editorial board for some questions and updates on several key regional, national, and global issues, Rep Esty marveled at some of the fixtures, collectibles, and memorabilia that occupies many shelves, floor and wall space at the Church Hill Road office.
Settling in to The Bee’s conference area, the Democratic Congresswoman said that she has continued to remain busy both in her district and in Washington, working to “restore faith in our democracy.”
She expressed concerns about the national discourse of late, reflecting on both the tenor of recent district town hall meetings she held, as well as the previous weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Va. Acknowledging the diverse range of political stances and opinions among constituents, many of whom supported Donald Trump in the Presidential election last fall, Rep Esty said the local meetings were productive, and nonconfrontational.
“We’re not going to agree on everything, but we’re going to respect each other,” Rep Esty said.
She also noted that many of her Fifth District constituents were as concerned, or even more concerned, about the state budget impasse in Hartford than they were about national issues she was facing in Washington.
She said she is also hearing that while many business owners “love Connecticut” and “don’t want to leave,” the unpredictability of state actions from regional business leaders, citing the departure of General Electric and a number of top Aetna insurance divisions from Connecticut, are legitimate concerns.
Similar grave concerns were also being articulated from families depending on state assistance, and educational cuts that could impact school-based services for loved ones with special needs.
Constituents were also wary that the increasing cost of housing in Connecticut was not keeping up with wage increases, she said, while admitting she had “questions about the legitimacy of Connecticut’s claim of eliminating chronic veteran homelessness.” She said the state’s ability to technically conform with particular guidelines on homeless veterans was contrary to what she was hearing from the front lines of both agencies and individuals closest to the issue.
On the other hand, Rep Esty was proud to announce that The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, that she introduced along with Rep Mike Bost (IL-12) and signed by President Trump, would modernize the appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to a release from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Rep Esty’s bill recognized that the backlog of veterans’ appeals is out of control, and veterans who experience a disability as a result of their service deserve to have their appeals decided in a timely manner. The new system authorized under this bill will now help the VA move through the backlog of appeals so veterans waiting on their disability decision can have peace of mind.
Rep Esty, who is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said she also appreciated a unanimous House vote to expand and improve veterans’ GI Bill benefits. The legislation, entitled the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, eliminates the 15-year limit afforded veterans to use their education benefits after leaving military service.
It also ensures that all Purple Heart recipients, regardless of their length of service, are able to access GI Bill benefits, and eases eligibility requirements for National Guard members and Reservists, who often don’t qualify for benefits under existing law.
Turning to matters involving President Trump, the congresswoman told The Bee’s editorial board that she has significant reservations about his ability to govern because he has “no experience in government, or even corporate governance” — clarifying that the roles Mr Trump played in his own companies before launching his bid for the presidency involved overseeing management structures that were outside of conventional corporate normalcy.
Rep Esty admitted that she has yet to meet either the President or Vice President Michael Pence, but said she is “seeing a fraying of civility” across the nation that she partially blames on how Mr Trump “stokes anger, fear, and division.”
“People thought the job would change him,” she said. “But if you really want to know what he’s thinking, read his Tweets — don’t wait for the clean-up team.”
On the issue of current legislation involving firearms, Rep Esty bemoaned the amount of “bad information out there” about a current proposal that would relax restrictions on noise-dampening silencers that was being promoted as a hearing safety measure for military and law enforcement members. She said there are currently more than 900,000 licensed silencers in circulation among private owners across the country, but the move to take away certain restrictions would open up the availability of these components to buyers patronizing gun shows, or looking to purchase silencers on the internet.
She was dismayed over the 159 co-sponsors of the new legislation among her congressional peers, and hoped to forward a broader discussion about the issue and its public safety implications, especially when it comes to the safety of US law enforcement professionals. Rep Esty said the use of such noise suppression components could disable the effectiveness of “shot spotter” electronic technology being employed in Connecticut to help police identify the location of guns being fired in urban areas.
And she feared for police officers’ safety if their ability to pinpoint the source of shots that may be directed at them is hampered by the devices.
She closed her visit talking about the critical importance of retaining and growing the base of Connecticut manufacturers, who she said are being affected by a serious shortage of skilled workers willing to train or retrain to enter local and well-paying manufacturing fields.
“There’s a mismatch between the skills Americans have and the jobs that employers need to fill,” she said, adding that she would continue supporting legislation to fast track training and retraining of workforce members to support the growing availability of advanced and 21st Century manufacturing careers.
“We need a lot more young people to train and fill these positions,” Rep Esty said referencing legislation she supported increasing opportunities for young women in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. She added that the country “needs to attract more women and people of color into these professions.”