Border security and immigration policy didn't play a huge role in last fall's election in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District — but they were front and center on Saturday as Rep. Angie Craig faced her constituents in a public forum for the first time since she took office.
Several hundred people gathered in Burnsville for Craig's first town hall since being sworn in as a U.S. representative earlier in the month — one of 85 new members of Congress.
"I am proud to say that I am one of many of those who are going to head back to Washington this week and talk about and work with each other on making sure that this is the last shutdown over a policy objective ever in the history of this country," Craig told the crowd at Burnsville High School, to applause from some in attendance.
Craig also thanked a handful of federal workers in the audience and said the shutdown at least highlighted their sacrifice and service.
She didn't offer any concrete steps to keep them from being put out of work again. But she told the crowd she intended to be part of a new bipartisan spirit in Washington that wouldn't just keep government going, but focus on constituent service and bread-and-butter issues ranging from the high price of insulin to getting another lane on Interstate 35 in Lakeville.
Attendees asked her about everything from six-day-a-week mail service, to her take on last weekend's confrontation between Kentucky high school students and a Native American demonstrator at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
Climate change was a recurring theme, with the audience asking about agriculture, clean energy and federal regulation. Adam Nicholai, of Eagan, urged Craig to make it a business proposition.
"This concept of a Green New Deal, where we can help people do what they need to do...," he said. "We don't just tell them what they need to do, but we provide them the support, so they can do the things our entire community needs them to do, and the burden doesn't just fall on them. I think that's really important.
Craig pointed out that Democrats had made it a top priority as soon as they got to Washington, and revived a decade-old committee to address the issue — the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Craig isn't on the committee, but said the transportation and agriculture committees that she sits on will have climate change on their agenda.
The crowd was largely friendly and polite, and offered noticably more applause then another recent town hall held by Republican Congressman Tom Emmer. That gathering Tuesday in Ramsey featured audible booing at times as constituents and others grilled Emmer about the then-ongoing shutdown.
On Saturday, Craig got questions about the propriety of President Trump confidant Roger Stone's arrest on Friday. She said she supported the investigation by former FBI head Robert Muller. Another attendee asked whether she would vote for a resumption of the medical device tax to help pay for health care, since she was formerly an executive at St. Jude Medical, one of the state's premiere device makers. Craig said she'd like to see it shifted from a tax on revenue to a tax on profits, a move she said would help start-up companies.
Carol Fortman of Apple Valley said she was a Craig supporter in last fall's election, and counted gun violence prevention among her top issues. But she said the shutdown was a distressing development, as well.
"I mean it should be a both sides of the aisle issue; it shouldn't be a one side versus the other," she said. "We shouldn't govern like this. It shouldn't be a, 'we can shut down the government over a policy issue.' The government should run, the government should function. And it shouldn't shut down like that and leave people in the lurch."
Craig said she is committed to finding a way to avoid another government shutdown.
"Even before the agreement (on Friday), a number of freshman have been talking to one another about how we can make sure this never happens again," she said. "So I am headed back to Washington. We have a singular focus. Is there any legislation, is there any discussion we can have to make sure ... we can't just shut down the government over a policy issue."
Craig said she hoped to regularly host similar town hall meetings in her district, which includes the suburbs and exurbs south and east of the Twin Cities.