Sen. Joe Manchin interacted with local residents and community leaders during a special event in Elkins Friday.
Manchin, D-W.Va., held a town hall meeting Friday afternoon at the West Virginia Wood Technology Center in Elkins. The senator, who is traveling across the state to meet with constituents, focused on the economy, gun control, immigration and Obamacare.
The 88-seat meeting room was packed with city and business leaders, including Elkins Mayor Van Broughton, Randolph County Commission President Chris See and Randolph County School Superintendent Terry George, along with members of the public.
Sen. Joe Manchin III answers audience questions at a town hall meeting on Friday at the West Virginia Wood Technology Center in Elkins.
"We're Americans first, and West Virginians second," Manchin said. "We have to start fixing things, rather than just being against things."
Manchin, who is on the Senate's Armed Services Committee, quoted Mike Mullins, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who called the the national debt the greatest threat we face as a country.
"We have $17 trillion of debt," Manchin said. "We will hit the wall sooner or later. What we need is to get our financial house in order."
A hot topic for the audience was Obamacare.
"What are we going to replace it with?" Manchin said. "There are a lot of good things about it that Democrats and Republicans can agree on."
A show of hands showed a majority of the audience was in favor of Obamacare, if it is "fixed."
An issue not on Manchin's meeting agenda was raised by Mike Gallogly, owner of Mi-Tec Computer Solutions Inc. in Elkins.
"Telecommunications infrastructure is a huge problem. There is little bandwidth in West Virginia," Gallogly said. "The lack of broadband and the infrastructure for it, and a lack of education is holding West Virginia back. The state needs to make it a priority."
When asked about Corridor H, Manchin mentioned that it will reach Davis next year.
"Paul Mattox, transportation secretary, thinks he can get Davis to Parsons done," Manchin said. "The lack of a Washington budget means there is no infrastructure planning going on. An option may be private-public partnerships, and bonding. Maybe an Internet sales tax can raise another chunk of money for infrastructure."
Border security was also a topic raised by an audience member.
"It's a tight horse race between my number one concern and the second I think is going to kill us," said local resident Larry Scott. "My first is borders and national security. Ten years ago I was promised by a politician that it would be secured, and it's not."
Manchin responded, "We have 700 more miles of fencing along Mexico. Drones are being used more for the border. More police will be using drones. They're cost-effective and you don't know they are there."
"Please just get it done," Scott said. "Take care of America and Americans, and the borders. Keep it first, border security, and then, immigration reform."
Manchin said, "We have 11 million to 13 million immigrants. The immigration bill proposed would grant citizenship if you become English proficient in 10 years, and pay a fine for coming in illegally. We haven't been serious about e-verification."
E-Verify is an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee's Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.
Earlier this year, a bill that Manchin co-sponsored on background checks for gun sales was defeated by a Republican filibuster.
"As a responsible gun owner you'd want to know who you're selling to," Manchin said.
"I just wanted to hear about gun control," said Byron E. Kangan, a 30-year Elkins resident. "I think there should be a background check for every gun sale."
On the topic of job creation, Manchin said education was the key for West Virginia.
In a tribute to West Virginians and their ability to see through governmental shenanigans, Manchin quoted an old state saying that goes, "you can't shine 's' - you can fill in the rest."
Despite praise from audience members on the job he is doing, Manchin said he has no plans to run for President.