At a town meeting in Storm Lake Monday, Congressman Tom Latham addressed issues of national security, Iowa education, the rash of identity theft and rights based on sexual orientation.
This marked Latham's last community meeting in Storm Lake. Under new congressional districts approved by the Iowa Legislature last year, Latham's home is now included in Iowa's 4th Congressional District.
Latham said he would miss representing Storm Lake, and said he has appreciated the friends and supporters he has met here.
"It's been a real honor to represent you," he said.
Just in the past four months Latham said his role as a U.S. Congressman has changed dramatically.
"Last year the world changed as you all well know," he said. "On Sept. 11 the priorities for our country and for us as individuals were reassessed."
The war on terrorism has been successful so far, he said, but added, "It's far from being over with."
"It will take years to accomplish what all we want to do and have with personal security and a return to economic security," Latham said. "It has been great seeing the country respond the way it has with unity, patriotism and a sense of purpose."
While those attending Latham's community meeting questioned the need for armed security at the Storm Lake and Spencer Social Security offices, Latham said it is an understandable bit of overreaction.
"Right now everyone is erring on the side of caution," he said.
He also justified the decision of Congress to reimburse those who lost family in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It's the strong feeling by many in Congress they were victims of a foreign terrorist attack and that it is some responsibility of the federal government to protect them," Latham said. "There should be some help for them."
He said it is different from the Oklahoma City bombing and for military personnel who die in the line of duty because Sept. 11 was a foreign attack directly on the U.S.
In terms of border security, Latham said enforcement and administration of Immigration and Naturalization Services need to be separated. He called the INS the "most incompetent, dysfunctional agency in the federal government."
"A lot of people here legally are scared to death to go to the INS and do the paperwork," he said. Latham suggested splitting the enforcement, administrative and border patrol duties of that agency.
Also, with developments in computer technology and Internet-based vital records data, Latham said identity theft is a concern.
"It's the issue of the future whether it's financial privacy or medical records privacy," he said. "With technology anyone in this room could virtually go in and find out anything about anyone else in this room."
Latham also discussed other priorities of the U.S. before and after Sept. 11, including the Education Reform Act. He said it is "overwhelming, sweeping" reform that targets students most at-risk.
The legislation is targeted at schools "with no expectations or expectations that only 30 to 40 percent will graduate from high school," Latham said. "Iowa is exempt from most of the provisions because we do have a strong education system, and we have local control and local input.
"I think Iowa is a model nationally," he said. "It's the only state that is exempt from testing and standards. Many states look at Iowa to be a model for their future."
Iowa could also become a leader in new energy if a national energy policy is completed. Latham said Iowa could become "the Middle East of America" in terms of energy.
"Ethanol, wind energy and bio-mass energy will be on the forefront if we ever get an energy bill passed," he said.
He said the country has been in need of an energy policy for 20 years. "That's why we're as dependent on parts of the world we shouldn't be today," he said.
In regards to transportation, Latham said the lack of a four-lane Hwy. 20 in northwest Iowa is not the result of a lack of federal funding.
"The problem is not in Washington, it's in Ames," Latham said of the Iowa Department of Transportation. "The priorities have changed down there."
He also stressed the need for a community-based VA outpatient clinic in Storm Lake. He has tried securing funding for one in the past, and said he plans to push for that again this year.
New VA clinics in Sioux City and Fort Dodge have been overwhelmed since opening.
"We have a huge problem with World War II and Korean War veterans needing a lot of health care," he said. "The whole population is dependent on good care and they deserve it."
Latham did not discuss the specifics of new farm legislation, but said it is getting to the point that the Senate needs to pass some version to continue work on the Farm Bill. Latham said any Farm Bill passed by the House or the Senate will be changed when they go to conference.
He said he voted for the House version just to get something done.
"It's gotten bogged down totally in politics on the other side," he said, referring to the Senate version.
Latham also said he would not support H.R. 217, an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. He said he has not supported such legislation in the past.