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Stewart faces polite skepticism at town hall meeting

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( Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Citizens concerned about Rep. Chris Stewart's, R-Utah positions on science, the EPA and clean air regulations rally outside the Sweet Library in Salt Lake City, Utah Wednesday Sept. 4, 2013 before his town hall meeting in the Salt Lake City Avenues neighborhood.

By peg mcentee

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Sep 04 2013 10:29PM
Updated Jul 17, 2014 07:28AM

U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart came through a side door at the Sweet Library in Salt Lake City’s Avenues district and took the podium to face a mostly polite but intense audience wanting answers about his positions on environmental issues, immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act and Syria.

"If I’m not serving you, I feel like I’ve done you a disservice," he told a packed room with people standing outside for their turn to listen.

Stewart has been criticized by environmentalists and health care professionals for his skepticism about climate change science and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

"Some of you may disagree," he said Wednesday. "I respect you for that. I want to understand what’s important to you."

With that, one person asked Stewart to explain his opposition to the ACA, passed by Congress and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I think the ACA is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever," Stewart said, adding that jobs created over the past four years have an inverse ratio of part-time jobs created.

"If you’re an employer, you can hire two part-time employees instead of one with insurance," he said. "But you can’t raise a family on one or two part-time jobs. That’s one example where I think the legislation has failed."

Still, he said he understands that if someone can’t get coverage because of a preexisting condition, "we have to fix that."

"What’s your plan?" asked a man in the audience.

"Frankly, the Republicans over the past 10 years have dropped the ball on articulating a plan," said Stewart, a first-term representative of Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.

During a meeting Wednesday with insurance providers, he said, one topic was tort reform, which would place limits on the kind and amount of damages awarded in personal injury lawsuits.

Such reform could reduce the cost of health coverage by 10 to 20 percent, Stewart said.

On the environmental issue, one person told Stewart the Avenues community had many educated people, many with science backgrounds, and what would he do to represent them?

"We met with some leaders earlier this afternoon and I said, ‘I don’t understand. I’m a caricature created in the media … I want to tear apart the EPA and roll back scientific progress. I never said ‘junk science.’

"The only thing we said is, before the EPA creates new rules that would cost $90 billion, show us the evidence," said Stewart, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment.

As for immigration, those who back reform agree with Stewart that undocumented immigrants should not be deported and should be given legal status. However, they oppose his position that such people should never be granted citizenship or the right to vote.

But Tony Yapias of the advocacy group Proyecto Latina de Utah said, "we want people to earn a path to citizenship. What can we do?"

"We’re going to have to agree to disagree," Stewart said, adding that if a person entered illegally, he or she was living here illegally and "probably did illegal things," such as obtaining a false Social Security number.

"If we’re insistent on a special path to citizenship, this legislation [before Congress] is going to die," he said. "Better to do permanent residency."

On the United States’ position on Syria, particularly with the chemical weapons that many believe the Assad regime used on civilians last month, Stewart, a former Air Force pilot, said U.S. policy is "clearly ill-defined."

He said he wants Obama to make his case for a military strike.

"I hope we can vote on this," he said. "It’s already been too long."

pegmcentee@sltrib.com

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