SOMERSET — Jean Dias had one thing on her mind when she showed up at the local police headquarters Saturday to meet US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy — whether the freshman legislator will support or oppose military action in Syria.
“I want you to vote no,” said Dias, urging the congressman take care of problems at home, like unemployment and the languishing economy. “Do I have a solution? That’s why we voted for you and Barack Obama.”
Only nine months into his term, Kennedy is facing tough issues and having to learn the ways of Washington quickly. He is moving around his district — in what he calls the Tour 34, referring to the number of communities he serves — in an effort to hear voters’ concerns and talk about the things that bother people here, not necessarily big policy issues that dominate Washington debate.
But Saturday, several voters were focusing on the major policy question of the day — whether to launch air strikes in Syria. Most who questioned Kennedy were opposed, especially to any proposal that could drag US soldiers into a protracted civil war.
“My personal feeling is we should not use bombs because we wouldn’t get [President Bashar] Assad, we’d be causing collateral damage,” said Peter Denison. “Random bombing would accomplish nothing. I think the negatives way outweigh the positive.”
Kennedy, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he has not made up his mind, but would not support anything that was “open-ended” or allowed for the use of US ground troops.
“I have very strong concerns about any possibility of putting American troops into a civil war,” he said. “Injecting US troops into that — I’m not sure it is productive. I would have a hard time supporting anything that would allow for the possibility of putting US troops in harm’s way.”
One voter asked whether he would vote “present,” a reference to freshman US Senator Edward Markey’s vote on the Senate authorization measure. Markey, a liberal who was sworn into office in July after winning a special election, voted “present” in a committee on a resolution giving President Obama limited authority to use force against Syria.
Kennedy laughed, but later said he will vote on any measure that comes before him.
He said that although Obama has yet to forge an international consensus behind military action, he was making progress persuading some allies to blame Syria for a chemical weapons attack and endorsing some, as yet unspecified, action.
Some of those who showed up to meet Kennedy at noon in Somerset on Saturday and earlier that morning in Swansea had more personal matters on their mind — like how to get a visa, or flood insurance, or how to get into a military academy.
One voter wanted to gripe about the “dysfunction” in Washington and the apparent power of the politicians on the far left and the far right.
Kennedy, 32, listened patiently to people’s concerns and let them know he believes most members of Congress are decent people who vote their conscience. “The media portrays Washington as a place where there is a knock-down bloody brawl every day — that’s not accurate,” he said.
Others wanted to shake hands with the newest politician member of the Kennedy clan or pose for photos. Or reminisce about other family members, like matriarch Rose.
“Can I adopt you?” said Carmen Plante, who also asked him to autograph a few books.