MASSENA - Massena Central High School Participation in Government students got a first-hand account of government Wednesday morning from a man who has been a part of the Washington, D.C. political scene since 2009.
Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, shared information about the 21st Congressional District that he represents and also answered several student questions in the nearly hour-long session.
He said the size of the district makes it difficult to travel to every location. Thats where his telephone town halls come in, giving constituents an opportunity to share their concerns and get questions answered via a telephone conference call with the congressman.
A traveling office that makes stops at communities throughout the district also gives Mr. Owenss staff members a chance to meet with constituents and bring their concerns back to the congressman, he said.
He asked the students what they thought was the biggest concern he heard from those in his district. Some said the economy, others said gas prices. But that wasnt the case, according to Mr. Owens.
VA issues and Social Security are the two biggest issues. It is these two areas that we get the greatest number of questions, he said.
Mr. Owens, who is retiring from Congress this year, said his typical day lasts for 10 to 12 hours. He spends three weeks a month in session in Washington and one week in his district. This is his district week, when he has an opportunity to travel and talk to some of his constituents and try to understand what their concerns are, he said.
He related how difficult it was to get cooperation from both sides of the aisle on issues in Washington, which he called a detriment, in my view, to how government operates.
Students had prepared several questions in advance for Mr. Owens, who spent about 40 minutes answering them. They ranged from naming the most difficult choices he has had to make, the favorite part of his job and the most difficult part of his job, to his views on the Benghazi investigation, his feelings on the use of drones and his position on minimum wage.
The most difficult part of his role, he said, is making difficult choices on some pieces of legislation.
What I try to do is gather as much information as I could. My intention is to reach out to people who actually have the information, he said.
He said fundraising is also a difficult, but necessary part of the process.
The process of running for Congress is very heavily impacted by how much money you can raise. Its a significant part of the process, he said.
Mr. Owens called his interaction with constituents his favorite part of the job.
Every place I go, I find out something I didnt know, he said.
Asked about his views on the Benghazi investigation, Mr. Owens said another investigation was not necessary.
According to an Associated Press report, Republicans insist that the Obama administration has misled the American people about the attack, downplaying the terrorist assault weeks before the presidential election. Democrats point to multiple investigations, bipartisan as well as independent, and maintain that an eighth inquiry is unnecessary.
In the Senate on Monday, Democrats blocked a Republican push for a joint House-Senate investigation.
I think the initial investigation was legitimate and made some sense. The process of conducting yet another investigation after weve had three seems to be not very good use of our time, Mr. Owens said.
Speaking about the use of drones, the congressman said he would prefer their use instead of the deployment of troops whenever practical.
Im going to go with the most efficient utilization we can, he said.
Mr. Owens said he also supports an increase in the minimum wage recommended by President Obama. By raising the minimum wage, he said, it would provide more spending money for families to ensure the economy is getting fed.
Following his visit with the students, Mr. Owens met with sophomore Cashlynn Jaggers, who was named the New York 21st Congressional District winner of the 2014 Congressional Art Competition. Her piece, Papas Farm, will hang at the United States Capital in Washington, D.C. for the next year.
Mr. Owens also visited PurinePharma LLCs manufacturing facility in Massena to meet with the CEO and other company principals. PurinePharma produces over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and exports approximately 75 percent of the products produced. The company currently employs eight people in Massena and plans to expand in the coming months.