Dwight Evans went from Harrisburg to D.C., but seeks to thrive in the GOP’s House

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When it looked like the Republican health care bill would come to a vote, freshman Congressman Dwight Evans said at a town hall meeting in Philadelphia Sunday, he was ready to vote against it.

The Trump administration’s proposed budget? Terrible for America’s cities, said Evans.

And when it was  revealed that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met with Russia’s ambassador before the election and hadn’t disclosed that fact at his Senate confirmation hearing, Evans  called for the AG to resign.

In his first town hall meeting since being elected, Evans highlighted his commitment to liberal policies and Democrat party politics, but also said that if constituents are looking for a legislator who will just say “no” to President Trump and the GOP, he’s not that guy.

After 18 terms as a state representative in Republican-dominated Harrisburg, he said, had had learned there are ways to pass legislation that matter to his constituents even when Democrats lack the majority.

By networking, “I still find a way to get some things done,” Evans said.

In his first 90 days in office he has gotten to know other members of Congress in the hopes of building relationships, and is seeking ways to find common ground. Among the issues he believes he could work on with Republicans are tax reform, and a farm bill that he will help shape as a member of the House Agriculture Committee next year.

Evans’ audience of about 60 at the Bossone Research Center on Drexel’s campus Sunday was largely receptive, unsurprisingly, as the Second Congressional District is one of the most heavily Democratic in the country.

In about two hours of give and take between the legislator and constituents, the dialogue shifted between hard policy questions and inquiries about what Democrats can do to recover from the 2016 loss to Trump. On the latter, Evans said he believes Democrats are still trying to figure out how to connect with voters. The party is opposed to Trump, but hasn’t crafted a coherent positive message, he said. They also need a messenger.

“There doesn’t appear to be somebody in the pipeline at this point,” he said.

On policy, Evans emphasized the farm bill as a route to bolster programs to fight food insecurity in cities’ poor neighborhoods. He has sponsored a bill proposing tax credits for developers that rehabilitate unused public school buildings. And he admitted that he didn’t get his first choice for a committee, Ways and Means.

“Tax policy drives behavior,” he said.

Evans shied away from what one questioner, Mary Migliuzzi, 32, called more robust progressive positions. She asked Evans if he would support free educations at four-year public colleges. He wouldn’t go that far, saying he supported free two-year degrees and would look at more expansive tuition reform. Another questioner, James Baier, a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania, asked Evans if he would support single payer health coverage. Evans wasn’t opposed to it, but didn’t commit to it as the best way to insure all Americans.

The meeting was amicable. If anything, some people hoped Evans would lean further left.

“I think it’s important that progressives especially make themselves heard at these meetings,” said Migliuzzi, an  Italian professor at Villanova University.

Evans described Democratic voters as leading the party through demonstrations and activism, and urged it to continue.

“I think you as citizens have been ahead of where we are,” he said.

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