During a "listening tour," Congressman Womack (R-Arkansas) lashed-out at a constituent, telling her to "be quiet," after she pressed him to answer a question concerning why he voted to subsidize oil companies while voting to cut Pell Grants for education.
Steve Womack is the U.S. Representative for Arkansas' 3rd congressional district and on Wednesday, January 4, he held a town hall meeting in Fayetteville, Ark. Two days before the event, Rep. Womack’s (R-AR) office issued a press release titled “Womack to Host Fayetteville Town Hall/Listening Tour.”
At that meeting, according to Blue Arkansas, a constituent, Kelly Eubanks, 28, of Farmington, Ark., asked Rep. Womack "why he voted to cut the pell grants she depends on to go to school but wouldn’t cut oil subsidies."
Blue Arkansas reports:
According to Kelly and a handful of other witnesses, Womack happily retorted that it wasn’t the federal government’s job to pay for education (he’s doing this in a college town mind you) and then quickly added that he paid for his education by joining the military, apparently suggesting that the mom of two do the same and totally oblivious I guess to the fact that it was, in fact, the federal government that paid for his education then.
Max Brantley, who writes the Arkansas Blog for Arkansas Times, had this to say about the Blue Arkansas report, "U.S. Rep. Steve Womack is a former National Guard colonel and he apparently acted like a rank-pulling jerk at a rare town hall meeting Wednesday night."
For the purpose of clarifying what transpired that evening and to glean a better understanding of why Eubanks asked Womack about his vote to cut Pell Grant funding, DigitalJournal.com interviewed Eubanks.
In terms of background, Eubanks is a married mother of two who recently completed an AAS degree in Culinary Arts at Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC). Eubanks is working two jobs that are related to her education and future career goals while going to college. "I am working on a Bachelors in General Nutrition with a concentration in dietetics at the U of A [University of Arkansas]," said Eubanks. "My classes start this Spring semester there. Almost half of the classes I took at NWACC transferred to the U o f A and went towards my Bachelors. Continuing my education, becoming a dietician, and working in the field is how I plan on accomplishing my goal which is to one day be a childhood nutrition director."
Courtesy of Kelly Eubanks
Blue Arkansas states that during the Jan. 4 event Eubanks "was being shouted at by Womack and told to 'be quiet and listen' like a good little girl." When asked to describe the experience and discuss what was going through her mind when Womack shouted at her, Eubanks replied:
I was really shocked when he flat out said that “It’s not the government's responsibility to pay for education”, because it was probably one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard anyone say. Our schools, education in this country, should be a priority to every elected official and to every voter. If it’s not then we are going to fall further behind other countries that do make it a priority. He also suggested I join the military to pay for my education, which isn't a viable option considering I would be leaving two kids, not to mention I am working in the field that pertains to my degree, building experience and accomplishing very clear-cut goals I've set for myself. Also I know many people that joined the military and still have to use a Pell Grant as well, so his suggestion didn't make any sense, and furthermore didn't answer my question. The shouting started because he basically kept on talking over me and every time I tried to respond back to him it made him mad, I guess. That was when he yelled at me and said “are you going to be quiet and listen?” There were other people making comments in the audience during the whole thing, one guy yelled at me to “get a job.” It was really ridiculous, and at that point I was actually getting really scared more than anything. It was very frustrating that he wouldn’t answer the question, and he was visibly angry, which was not at all what I had expected going into this. I also wasn’t the only one that didn’t get their question answered. After talking to others who were there (and another person that was yelled at), I think the general feeling was that Womack’s “listening tour” was more like a “listen to Womack” tour. He really didn’t want to hear what any of us had to say.
The video clip above was part of the media coverage of the meeting, but does not include the exchange between Womack and Eubanks. It does, however, show Womack's angry response to a constituent regarding a different issue.
The issue of importance to Eubanks is Pell Grants. Eubanks' question to Rep. Womack contrasted his support for cuts in Pell Grants with his support of taxpayer funded subsidies to oil companies. Eubanks was asked to explain why the Pell Grant is so important to her and why that was the question she asked.
"Under H.R. 1, which Womack voted for, $60 million would have been cut from the Pell Grant Program in Arkansas, affecting 94,000 higher education students in the state," said Eubanks.
The Congressional Research Service indicates that H.R. 1 (Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011), among other things, "Reduces the maximum individual Pell Grant amount from $4,860 during award year 2010-2011 to $4,015 during award year 2011-2012."
The Pell Grant is important to me because it is one of many ways I pay for college. Without it though, I wouldn’t be able to attend. When he voted for H.R. 1, I was beginning my last semester to finish my AAS in Culinary Arts and like many students at NWACC received notification that our Pell Grants were up in the air, that we had to wait on Congress to vote to find out if we were still getting them or if they were going to be reduced. Many students, like myself, were worried about what was going to happen to us. I was at the end of my degree I’d been working on for two years, and facing the possibility of not finishing if I didn’t have the financial aid help of a Pell Grant. At the town hall itself, Womack spent a lot of time talking about cutting spending, and I felt he was not serious about cutting spending because he voted to give big profit-making oil companies billions of dollars in oil subsidies right around the same time he voted for H.R 1. To me it’s simple math, taking millions from needed programs that will improve society, and at the same time giving billions to Big Oil just doesn’t add up or make sense. His own voting record proves he is only interested in cutting spending in regards to programs that lower, middle income, working, seniors, and students need, and that he is intent on protecting the interests of his corporate donors like Big Oil over the interests of the people.Ken Aden, Democratic congressional candidate running against Rep. Womack, issued a press release concerning the incident between Eubanks and Womack. "Congressman Womack’s display of unbridled arrogance is beyond the pale. Why anyone would behave this way toward a constituent, much less a mother working her way through school by working two jobs, is unbelievable,” Aden said.
Aden's press release also alluded to the "alleged attempts by Womack’s staff to block Ms. Eubanks from the microphone and castigate her for speaking out" and noted that they "were inappropriate."
Eubanks was asked to elaborate on the details of what happened when Womack's staff tried to take the mic away from her and how she managed to keep it. "During the middle of the exchange, two staff members came up next to me so I moved my position where I was standing away from them," said Eubanks. "And the friend I had brought with me moved to my side. Afterwards she and another person said it looked like they were trying to get the mic from me, so pretty much I just moved away from them, and kept talking. I was intent on being heard by Womack and wasn’t going to give up my chance to get an answer from him on why he voted the way he did."
When asked what has this particular face-to-face experience with Rep. Womack made her think of him, Eubanks replied:
I’ve kept up on his voting records, campaign contributions, and his stances on various issues, like I do many of our politicians. I keep up on this stuff, because everything these politicians do really does affect our everyday lives. I knew going in that he has never voted against his party. I knew that the majority of his campaign contributions come from Corporate interests, and that he fully supports the very controversial Citizens United ruling. I know about specific votes like the one for H.R 1, and his position on the childhood nutrition reauthorization act which was something else I wish I could have asked him about. I do not support him or his policies because the majority of his positions hurt families and working class people, which is the majority of people in Arkansas. I thought maybe meeting him and asking him why he’d vote to hurt students but protect Big Oil interests, face to face, would get me a real answer. I really thought maybe he could explain it somehow. I did not think he was a heartless or arrogant person going in to this, but I definitely do now. I don’t think he cares at all about his constituency, and I believe he is seriously disconnected from real Arkansans like me.