Keating: Shutdown was a ‘hostage taking’

At town hall, congressman updates audience on legislation and is challenged to help Island tribe.

U.S. Rep Bill Keating, D-Bourne, answers a question during Thursday's town hall meeting at Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center. - George Brennan

Climate change, student loans, the Green New Deal, campaign finance reform, and President Donald Trump were all on the minds of Martha’s Vineyard residents who attended a town hall–style meeting held by U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, D-Bourne, Thursday night.

About 25 people, most of them enthusiastic supporters, attended the hourlong session at Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center.

The only pushback Keating received was for a bill he is sponsoring to have land taken into federal trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), asked Keating to amend the bill to protect the Island tribe’s rights, as well.

“Since you’ve requested it to be fast-tracked into the suspended-rule situation, and it basically forecloses on our right to have inclusion we were promised in markup, I was wondering if you’d be willing to amend your bill, so when it’s introduced, it’s introduced as amended, including our tribe, so we too will be protected by the Department of the Interior’s negative decision about Wampanoag people being able to have land in trust outside of our own homelands,” Andrews-Maltais said.

Markup is the process where the committee that reviews the bill, in this case the natural resources committee, makes any changes to move it forward.

Keating said he’s not aware of any promises made at that time.

“One of the things we were told is if you start making this broader and inclusive in that regard, it could have a harmful effect on moving the bill forward,” Keating said. “And the way the bill is worded now, I don’t think there’s any way it hurts you directly.”

Andrews-Maltais said after the town hall that she intends to go to Washington to speak against the bill moving forward without protections for the Aquinnah tribe.

The Mashpee tribe has no land in trust, including its government buildings in Mashpee and land in Taunton where it hopes to build a $1 billion casino. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as the Carcieri decision has blocked the Mashpee tribe’s land bid. The Aquinnah tribe has more than 400 acres on Martha’s Vineyard set aside as reservation land.

During the town hall, Keating attempted to smooth things with Andrews-Maltais, praising her leadership. “I do enjoy working with you, and congratulations and success on what you’re doing moving forward,” he said, a reference to the tribe’s casino project. “I believe if you look back at the history of this country, you can see, as you start digging into that history, fewer groups were treated worse, if any group was treated worse, it’s among the worst treatment that our Native Americans have had if you look historically at this country. I believe there’s real importance in making sure further harm is not done.”

Ben Robinson, a Tisbury planning board member who has traveled to Washington with his family to support the Green New Deal and whose children have been striking for climate change awareness, pressed Keating, who has endorsed the idea, to do more. Earlier in the town hall, Keating called the Green New Deal, promoted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, “aspirational.”

“It’s not aspirational, it’s essential,” Robinson said.

In answer to a comment by Chilmark selectman Warren Doty about the federal government shutdown that had Coast Guard members at Menemsha Station working without pay, Keating was most passionate — particularly Trump’s demands for wall money at the U.S. southern border with Mexico. “That was a hostage taking that was outrageous,” he said.

Keating said the shutdown reinforced how fragile the situation is for families, as Coast Guard members were forced to seek help from food pantries. “They couldn’t get by,” he said.

Keating also demonstrated some intensity when a mother brought up student loan debt as crippling for young people, including her son.

“We need to expand opportunity for public service and loan forgiveness,” Keating said.