Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., drew cheers and boos Saturday from a diverse and raucous crowd eager to hear the congressman talk about his positions on a casino near Glendale, national defense and the economy.
Even before the meeting began at the Rio Vista Recreation Center in Peoria, those who attended were greeted on the road in by a man with a sign referring to Franks as a “do-nothing” and “worthless.”
Attempting to lighten the mood at the town hall, which attracted about 300, Franks said: “I’ve known that man for a while now. And if you’d seen the signs he used to carry you’d know I’m slowly winning him over.”
The audience laughed, but the good feelings did not last long. Over the course of the next two hours people stood on their chairs and frequently shouted each other down.
On the subject of the economy, Franks painted a bleak picture.
“We’re in a battle for our lives right now,” he said.
Franks said the government needs to cut spending and shrink the budget, though he said the military is not an appropriate place to do that.
“If we don’t have sufficient national defense it will do more damage to the economy than anything else,” he said. “We must not compromise the security of this country in the name of economic security.”
Franks said, in general, he favors freezing the budget and has favored that tactic for years.
“Two-thirds of the budget is mandatory spending,” he said. “I feel the best thing to do is freeze the budget until it is balanced. I advocated for doing that in 2004 and was told it was too drastic. If we had done that in 2004 we’d be balanced right now.”
Franks said he is against the announced plan to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of the year.
“I understand the war-weary feelings of some people,” he said. “But in this Arab Spring, we don’t know which way it’s all going to go. I’m concerned the Muslim Brotherhood may use this as an opportunity to gain control in some of these countries.”
Because of that fear, he said he believes it is unwise to so quickly reduce American strength in the region.
“To unilaterally say we’re done in Iraq when Iran is right next door I think is unwise,” he said. “I think we should do it more slowly and more measured.”
As for local issues, Franks was asked to explain his position against the West Valley Resort in Glendale, a casino-resort proposed by the Tohono O’odham Nation. Franks has drafted legislation to block the development.
Gary Livingston of Glendale said he believes a majority of people favor the casino.
“We want the casino,” he said. “We need jobs in this area. Seventy-five percent of people are in support of it. I don’t understand why you’re not.”
Franks said he has no love for casino gambling.
“First of all, I’m not sure casino gambling has ever really done much good for society,” he said. “But that’s not my goal.”
Franks said his personal feelings about gambling do not factor into his stance.
“I’ve never acted against Indian casino gambling,” he said. “This is the first time you’ve heard from me.”
Franks reiterated his point that he believes the Tohono O’odham acted unethically and illegally in acquiring the land near 91st and Northern avenues and moving forward with a plan for a casino.
“I felt we had to respond,” he said. “This is not a creative or a productive industry. Everything they make comes out of your pocket. They own the land and if they want to build a hotel, that’s great.”
Sun City resident Jon Behncky said after the meeting he was disappointed in what Franks had to say.
“I just don’t think he understands the crisis this country is in,” he said. “I think he distorts the truth to suit his own interests.”
Behncky said he was drawn to the meeting primarily by the casino issue.
“I see the majority of people favor the casino, I see jobs,” he said. “I came to hear from him a reasonable reason for why he is against it, and he did not give me that.”
During the meeting, Franks recognized the tense atmosphere at the town hall. “I know we’ve had a diverse crowd,” he said. “And there’s been some tension in the air. But you’ve all conducted yourself like Americans today, and I want you to know I appreciate that.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.