While Boy Scouts raced Pinewood Derby cars in the cafeteria of Fairview Elementary School Saturday, Feb. 4, more than 100 people lined the walls and filled the seats in a multi-purpose room upstairs. They were waiting to hear U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) conduct the final in a series of town hall meetings in Fairfax County.
After commenting that the drive down Route 123 from Vienna to Fairfax Station had taken considerably longer than he'd expected, Davis took questions from residents, on topics ranging from domestic spying and taxes to economic concerns and international policies.
Among the first people to speak was Jeanne Chutuape, a Fairfax Station resident who told Davis he was "misguided" if he thought his constituents weren't concerned about Hurricane Katrina victims.
"That area sends billions of dollars in oil revenue over and above their regular taxes, but there seems to be a belief that the people of New Orleans are corrupt and can't be trusted to rebuild themselves," she said.
To argue that residents who lost homes built below sea level somehow "asked" to be devastated, Chutuape said the same could be said for homeowners in Northern Virginia, living so close to Washington D.C.
"We're sitting ducks," Chutuape said. "We're a prime target for terrorists. If we were attacked again, why should we rebuild here? We don't have the right to question their responses."
She also seemed distressed that Jordanian King Abdullah II, who paid a visit to New Orleans last week, had offered the help of his country, adding to a list of foreign countries who have pledged to aid Katrina victims rebuild their lives.
"Where is our help?" she asked. "Our government is supposed to be there to protect us from things like this. I am so bitterly disappointed."
Davis, who has made two visits to New Orleans "unlike 80 percent of Congress," said he was finishing up writing a committee report that he promised would be a "blistering" criticism of federal agencies.
"This was the worst storm in the history of the Gulf Coast and the government had a lot of faults there," he said. "The question is how we permanently rebuild [New Orleans], which makes things a little more complicated. In some areas, there's no way to rebuild it the way is was before."
SHIFTING TO the previous week's State of the Union Address, some residents questioned President George W. Bush's (R) suggestion of decreasing the nation's dependence on oil.
"If a loved one has an addiction, you don't wait 20 years to do something about it," said Bob Petrusak, a Fairfax resident. "If that addiction leads to violence, you have to do something sooner."
Petrusak went on to say that so long as the United States government has an interest in the Persian Gulf and the oil reserves buried there, American lives will be in danger.
"The Sept. 11 Commission issued a report and the administration got a D minus," he said. "The relationship the government has with Saudi Arabia is inexcusable. They are clearly a source of terrorism and we're not doing anything to stop them."
Davis admitted that "we don't know who the government is" in Saudi Arabia, an oil-rich country whose government has historically been able to consider America an ally.
To combat the war on terror domestically, the Bush administration has recently admitted to its practice of spying on American citizens without warrant or disclosure.
"I read about the constitutional and statutory liberties that were infringed upon during the Vietnam war," said Jeffrey Milstein of Fairfax. "We know the government has spied on Americans, on civil rights groups and so on. Now we're reading about surveillance again. What is Congress' role in regards to the checks and balances to make sure some of our constitutional liberties are being protected?" he asked.
Most of the monitoring on spying is done by an intelligence committee, Davis said, and as he is not a member of that committee, he wasn't sure what the policies entailed.
"I understand that the government has a policy of listening in on conversations between U.S. citizens and people overseas who may be involved in terrorism to try and gather intel to find out if we may have another attack," Davis said.
He reassured the residents that under the system of checks and balances, eventually the "balance of power" will be restored. However, until then, the spying practices will be carried out by the executive branch of the government until the legislative branch is brought in "at the appropriate time."
All of this was just part of living in a democracy, Davis said.
"It's an inefficient way to get things done but it's the best system we have."
Burke resident Stan Binder asked about global warming, in light of the record-breaking mild temperatures in January and the lack of a typical winter season.
"The Bush administration's solution seems to be to drill for more oil and claim that global warming doesn't exist," he said.
Davis pledged that a hearing on global warming would take place this year. "I was encouraged to hear the president talk about that during the State of the Union address last week and to address alternative types of fuels. We need to look beyond petroleum, and the money we've put toward that is some of the best dollars we can make right now."
Davis said it's too soon to jump to any conclusions on the man-made impact on global warming.
"We used to be in an ice age, but I'm wide awake enough to see what's going on here now," he said.