Freshman U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, a Democrat, faced his first audience in the majority-Republican portion of his district Saturday afternoon, pledging to rise above partisan bickering in Washington and represent all members of his split district.
Kim, a former U.S. State Department civil servant who scored a post on the House Armed Services Committee, pledged to protect the role of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and shepherd in a new Veterans’ Administration clinic in Ocean County. Also, Kim boldly professed his belief in the role of humans in climate change and said he would work to protect the environment and do what he can to cushion the Shore’s impact from flooding wrought by climate change.
Kim updated residents gathered at the Holiday City West community center, Berkeley Township, on Saturday, telling his new constituents that Congress may achieve more through bipartisanship that what is often displayed on television news segments. He also spoke highly of the nation’s armed forces and said veterans’ affairs would be at the top of his agenda over the next two years of his term. Kim took office in January following his election victory in November.
The discussion remained civil on Saturday, with controversy limited to a few rumblings when controversial topics such as abortion and climate change arose. Kim consistently spoke about bipartisan agreements in the House (and the third congressional district) and staked out a position above the name-calling fray that characterizes Washington on political talk shows.
“I think there’s too much partisan gamesmanship that manifests itself in our politics, like gerrymandering, which we’re stopping,” said Kim, to cheers from the audience. “Voters should be choosing their political figures, not political figures choosing their voters.”
Kim pledged not to take “a dime” of campaign cash from corporate political action committees, and said he was open to a discussion on term limits for members of congress and U.S. senators.
Kim said his highest priorities in Congress include maintaining the role of the Joint Base while bolstering small business in the third district. He also said he is focused on bipartisan efforts to enable the U.S. government to negotiate prescription drug prices through Medicare and enhance access to healthcare for all citizens.
“I believe that healthcare is a right, I do, and I believe that everyone in this country who is poor should have access to healthcare,” he said, responding to a question from a resident who asked whether he supported “Medicare for all,” an effort to expand public healthcare coverage to all Americans.
Kim didn’t say whether he expressly supports Medicare for all, explaining that he would have to review bills as they are proposed before passing judgment. But in the mean time, issue such as reducing drug prices and establishing firm pricing for medical services could help residents who are facing healthcare woes.
Kim said he supports investments in renewable energy, especially as it applies to expanding economic development within the growing clean energy industry.
“I do believe in climate change and I do believe that people have been a cause of climate change,” he said. “From the industrial revolution on, in terms of pollution and carbon output, we have been the primary change. There is a lot of scientific consensus on this issue and I think that it’s important for us to be working from a common foundation of facts here. I think there’s more we can do in terms of increasing and strengthening the technology.”
Other countries are “leapfrogging” the United States in developing alternative energy sources and America should invest in this development too, he said.
Asked about the abortion issue – specifically, whether an abortion should be able to occur late-term, Kim responded to a question from a constituent saying it is most important that expectant mothers obtain quality healthcare from the start.
“We certainly want to respect families and the emotional difficulty they’re going through,” Kim said. “We want to avoid these problems in the first place.”
His answer drew some groans from the crowd, with another speaker expressing the view that abortions have turned into a for-profit industry.
On taxes, Kim called the cost of living in New Jersey an “existential threat in our state,” acknowledging that people are leaving due to the high cost of living. He pledged to throw his weight behind efforts to restore tax deductions for state and local tax bills that exceed $10,000, but also work to bring more small business development to the district and promote the growth of opportunity.
“I’m focused a lot on trying to make sure our families are not teeter-tottering on the brink of financial collapse,” Kim said. “We live in a time when 40 percent of Americans can’t handle a $400 emergency.”
Kim pledged to conduct town hall sessions each month, alternating between Burlington and Ocean counties, and mixing up locations with the goal of appearing in each town in the district.
“You are my boss, whether you voted for me or not,” said Kim. “There are people on both sides calling each other names, and I think that takes time away from getting the job done.”