U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) hosted a “community coffee” March 22 at the Expo Arts Center to update constituents on recent congressional actions and answer their questions.
“I am so grateful about how many people showed up on a Saturday morning just to talk about what interests them in government,” Lowenthal said. “It’s wonderful.” About 50 people attended the Saturday-morning event.
He has hosted close to 100 community coffees in his 20-year career in Long Beach politics, Lowenthal said.
“One of the biggest problems that we have in our country is that people feel government is not responsive to their needs,” Lowenthal said. “The ordinary person feels like they are not listened to, that only big interests are listened to, and it’s meetings like this that you get a chance to sit down and hear what people are thinking.”
Lowenthal was elected last November to represent the 47th Congressional District, which encompasses Long Beach, Signal Hill, Lakewood, Cypress, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, Garden Grove, Westminster, Stanton and Buena Park.
In 1998, he was elected to the State Assembly, representing the 54th District. Then, he represented the 27th District from 2004 to 2012 as a member of the State Senate.
“I didn’t come to ask for support for any particular plan, but I did want to hear how people feel about the issues before Congress: the budget, the debt, Affordable Care Act, immigration reform and minimum wage,” Lowenthal said. “Not because I’m going to change my vote, but I wanted to know how my community felt on those critical issues.”
The forum became the most heated during a discussion regarding the Affordable Care Act. There were concerns addressed about the initial increase in premium fees some members of the community are seeing. There were also the suggestions from others that premiums will stabilize once more young people enroll.
“We get people here from the furthest conservative to the furthest liberal,” Lowenthal said. “Some want more programs, some want no programs, some want government out of health insurance, others are just grateful they can’t get kicked off for having a pre-existing condition.”
The tone in these meetings is always the same, Lowenthal said. It’s having someone to listen that he says his constituents appreciate most.
One of Lowenthal’s constituents, Nasser Sharif, said he attended the community coffee because he cares about what is going on in the district as well as in the Iranian community. Sharif said he wanted to meet Lowenthal and share his community’s concerns.
“I think [the event] is very important because most of the time, people don’t get a chance to meet face-to-face with members of Congress,” Sharif said. “It’s a great opportunity to come and share their stories and concerns. Not everyone is able to get an appointment with their members of Congress. So these meetings are very important, not just for the constituents, but for the Congressman to hear their stories as well.”
Sharif said that the issue he was most interested in Lowenthal address was global human rights abuses.
“Our foreign affairs issues are particularly important to me,” he said. “Especially human rights issues in Iran.”
“They know they are not going to get their way every time, but it’s through meetings like this that they get to hear all the different kinds of issues and get to express what they feel gets ignored,” he said.
Helene Ansel, senior field representative for Lowenthal, said that these community coffees also draw in people who need help solving a specific problem.
“A lot of times we get questions that really have nothing to do with the federal level, and they just don’t know, but we can point them in the right direction,” Ansel said.
Sometimes, there are issues addressed that he can help with, and Lowenthal says its also just helpful for him to know what folks are facing.
“Half the folks like one side of the argument, and the other half of the folks were on the other side,” Lowenthal said. “And that’s what’s so good about it, to listen to what’s going on.”
Lowenthal plans to continue these community coffees so he has access to as many residents as possible.