WASHINGTON — Just days after Congress passed a nearly $800 billion economic stimulus bill, Rep. Frank Lucas found big crowds at the town hall meetings he had scheduled in his western Oklahoma district.
Normally, people want to talk about agriculture and energy, he said.
"This time, it was overwhelmingly stimulus — from stop to stop,” said Lucas, R-Cheyenne.
He said at least 90 percent of his constituents were against it.
Lucas voted against the package, as did all of Oklahoma’s Republican lawmakers. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, was the only member of the state delegation to support it.
"I don’t know how they would have treated me if I had voted for the bill,” he said. "It might have been ugly.”
Lucas spent early last week traveling to Sayre, Elk City, Clinton, Weatherford, Seiling, Watonga, Kingfisher and Yukon.
The sprawling Third Congressional District has areas that are heavily reliant on federal spending — there are Air Force bases in Altus and Enid, and it’s one of the top-ranked districts in the nation in farm subsidy receipts.
And it stands to benefit from many of the stimulus bill’s provisions — including those for road and bridge building, local school support, rural broadband development and alternative energy research.
Lucas said the people who showed up for his meetings — "the biggest turnout I’ve had for a long time” — aren’t opposed to spending money on roads or extending unemployment benefits for victims of the recession.
But, he said, they were concerned about the size of the package and how it would be paid for.
"It was a very intense set of discussions,” he said. "It was hard-core policy.”
Lucas, who has been in the House since first elected 1994, said his constituents were concerned about the economy and about the dire picture painted by President Barack Obama as he worked for passage of the stimulus bill.
Because western Oklahoma suffered so severely in the Depression of the 1930s, people are particularly sensitive to warnings about another depression. Lucas said he told them that current economic conditions were much more similar to the recession of the early 1980s than to the Great Depression.
Though Obama didn’t do well in the Third District in November’s election, Lucas said there is still "a honeymoon-type” attitude toward the new administration. He said people understood that the stimulus bill was written largely by Congress.
And he said when he told his constituents that he hopes the stimulus bill works despite his opposition to it, "no one disagreed.”
I don’t know how they would have treated me if I had voted for the bill. It might have been ugly.”
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