Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, hosted a well-attended town-hall discussion on Western’s campus Thursday, April 2.
Students and community members gathered to discuss local and national issues such as the Gateway Pacific Terminal, oil train safety and the impact both issues have on Bellingham.
The Gateway Pacific Terminal issue was on the minds of multiple community members, as was the increase of potentially dangerous oil trains running through Bellingham – a hot topic following several recent train explosions across the country.
“I support the terminal … because I saw it as a way to create good high paying construction jobs… in a county that has thousands of people out of work,” Larsen said in response to several challenges from community members. “I don’t have a decision-making role in it at all.”
Though Larsen is no stranger to the area, having represented Washington’s second district since 2001, the community forum was his first hosted on Western’s campus.
“I did want to have more students involved,” Larsen said. “And we had a good turnout.”
Roughly one third of the audience members were students, which was a step upfrom last year said Associated Students Vice President for Government Affairs Sarah Kohout.
“[Last year] it was downtown and I think I was one of the only young people in the room,” Kohout said. “So hopefully this will be an opportunity for more young people to be able to go and be able to ask him questions and also learn about what other issues are important to other members in the community.”
Larsen agreed hosting the event on campus made it easier for students to attend. However, the veteran congressman and senior member on the House Transportation Committee had another reason for locating the event at Western.
“I think sometimes when I do it in town, it ends up being a group of folks who organize around one or two sets of issues and the message of the student community can get lost in that,” Larsen said.
The majority of attendees who contributed to the discussion were established community members. Their questions and comments were primarily focused on immediate local concerns.
At one point, a fiery dialogue erupted among several audience members.
“Folks, really,” Larsen said, attempting to ease the building tension in the room. “As my good friend, Derek Kilmer, representative from Port Angeles said, “If this is going to turn into the “Jerry Springer Show” it will be a very short meeting.”
The meeting was not short. In fact, it ran half an hour over the estimated timeframe. For those who did not get a chance to address the congressman, the discussion was over quickly.
“It was obviously good to have a town hall that was centered on campus, because students aren’t represented very much,” said environmental policy major Patrick Eckroth. “But it was disappointing that it was pretty brief and that he cut a lot of people off. It makes it hard to be engaged and represented when no one will listen to you, which is really concerning as a student.”