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Commentary: Questions back home about stimulus plan

  • Story Highlights
  • Rep. Jared Polis: I got the chance to go back to my district and reconnect
  • He says people wanted to know why the economic stimulus won't do more for them
  • He says there are concerns about health care and about reviving economy
  • Polis: Constituent asked why she suffers due to the mistakes of others
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By Jared Polis
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, represents Colorado's 2nd District in Congress and is writing a regular series of reports for CNN.com on his freshman year. For his bio, read here. For a Republican's freshman's view, read here.

Jared Polis says people back home wish the economic stimulus plan could do more for them.

Jared Polis says people back home wish the economic stimulus plan could do more for them.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Members of Congress wear two hats: one as Washington legislator, the other as listener and community leader back home.

After Republicans left town for their retreat at the end of last month, I got my first opportunity to take off the legislative hat and reconnect with the good people of Colorado.

It was great being back home, meeting with constituents, listening to their concerns, and settling back into the Colorado groove.

My district is centered around the progressive college town of Boulder, Colorado, and the high-tech U.S. 36 corridor. It goes from the well-established suburbs of northwest Denver in Adams County to the beautiful mountain towns of Vail and Breckenridge and the majestic Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains. My constituents include CU Buffs, ski bums, techies, artists, suburban soccer moms, and proud hard-working Colorado families.

Although my first vote on the economic recovery package was behind me, it continued to be at the forefront of my constituents' minds. Video Watch new video of the two freshmen congressmen »

Most people I listened to were generally supportive of the plan, but wished that it went further and did more for them.

Boulder City Council members stressed the importance of funding projects that are "not just shovel-ready, but people-ready, and planet-ready." At the North-Metro Chamber of Commerce Gala, I heard from local business and community leaders advocating more aid for Colorado's small businesses.

I've started several small businesses myself, and know that it is tough out there for the little guy in the global economy. I came to the conclusion that often times, the best thing the government can do for small business is to stay out of the way.

That's why I was awestruck by these traditionally "small government" businesses owners clamoring for the government to play a larger a role. The crisis must truly have hit home to cause such a shift.

Sadly, many people -- too many to name -- who recently lost jobs were extremely worried that the recovery package did too little to expand health care coverage and urged me to again call for universal health care.

In Adams County Colorado, the unemployment rate has jumped to 7.1 percent this past year, and is over 10 percent in other parts of the country. Residents shared their trials with insurance companies, and horror stories about having to choose between groceries and doctor visits.

Angie, a local attorney and activist feeling pinched by the slowing economy, was angry. Why, she pointedly asked, should she have to pay for the mistakes of so many others?

The homeowners who got in over their heads with mortgages they couldn't afford; the banks who loaned them money they shouldn't have loaned; Wall Street financiers, who misleadingly packaged these loans and leveraged the risk; and the government regulators who through all this were asleep at the wheel -- why should hard-working, citizens who abide by the law, be forced to pick up the tab? As a new congressman, these are the hardest questions to answer.

I explained to Angie that, yes, a lot of mistakes were made, and we are now all paying for it. Thousands of mortgage holders have lost their homes, banks have been virtually nationalized, Wall Street refugees are packing up and relocating to the Jersey shore, and those "in charge" of government oversight have been tossed out of office.

Whether we like it or not, our fates are interwoven in this global economy and it will take all of us working together to get it going again. The worker in Datang, China, who goes to work every day to make the socks you wear, is feeling the impact of the cascading mistakes just like Angie, you and me.

Gustavo Oliviera, a fiery student activist at the University of Colorado in Boulder, received a standing ovation for his town-hall testimony deriding the amount of education funding in the recovery plan.

To Gustavo, $125 billion is simply not enough, given that bailed-out banks are hoarding millions and cutting back student loans on which his fellow college students rely. "I'm a student, not a bureaucrat," he said, "I should be studying rather than teaching the government how to spend American tax dollars." iReport.com: Share your thoughts on the stimulus package

The most moving event for me of the weekend, however, was the "I Have a Dream" Adoption Ceremony in Boulder. The "I Have a Dream" Program finds private sponsors to help groups of second and third-graders from underprivileged families with mentorship, after-school programs, and scholarships to help them graduate high school and successfully attend college.

To urgently eager yet rightfully jaded ears, I spoke, in Spanish and in English, about the Dream Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants who succeed in school, allowing them to attend college and live the American Dream.

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It was hard to keep a dry face as each "dreamer" stood and talked about his or her dreams. While many wanted to be professional athletes and doctors, two said they wanted to be president of the United States. I jotted down their names and hope to include them in my youth advisory task force to help them get a start in public service. Who knows, maybe in 30 years, President Edgar Chavarria will appoint me to be his Secretary of Education!

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jared Polis.

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