Congressman Tom O’Halleran was appointed to the oldest committee in the House of Representatives last week, and said he hopes to use the position to bring more attention to rural and tribal communities.
The congressman, who represents the state’s first congressional district, including Flagstaff and huge swathes of eastern and northern Arizona, will be on the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee.
“It’s an exciting time; it’s been a while since Arizona has had a representative on the committee,” O’Halleran said. “It does allow me as a sophomore to have a lot more say on what goes through the House and how it looks.”
About 50 percent of bills that make it to the House floor and are voted on go through the committee, according to O’Halleran.
The committee works on issues of health care and insurance, the environment, energy policy, commerce and consumer protection, but O’Halleran said one of his primary goals on the committee is that of telecommunication -- in other words, quality and speedy internet and phone services.
O’Halleran said he especially wants to work on issues of telecommunication within the rural parts and tribal lands that make up much of his district.
There are plenty of programs currently trying to provide services such as quality internet to rural and tribal areas, but O’Halleran said these efforts are often not enough without new technologies, like fiber optic cables, a technology that is spreading through cities and one the congressman said needs to make its way to rural America.
“There are three issues in rural America: health care, education and communication,” O’Halleran said, adding that all three of these issues are interconnected.
As an example, O’Halleran pointed to the problem of attracting doctors to rural areas. The United States generally has fewer doctors than it needs, O’Halleran said, but this lack of manpower is especially felt in rural areas and on tribal lands.
But good telecommunications can allow doctors across the U.S. or in big cities to make video calls into rural hospitals so they can speak with patients and provide much needed expertise, something that he said is already done in some hospitals in rural areas of CD 1.
And making sure rural areas have access to good telecommunications networks can also ensure they are not forgotten or left behind in the information economy, O’Halleran said, which could help provide much needed economic development.
O’Halleran’s appointment to the committee also provides the southwest region with another representative on the committee. In Congress, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona are tied together as one region, and with the appointment of O’Halleran, the three states now have a combined four representatives on the committee with the ability to advocate for the issues of southwestern states.
The same week, O’Halleran also announced he had joined the bipartisan Safe Climate Caucus.
“In the past few years, we’ve seen the effects of climate change play out across Arizona. From raging wildfires, superstorms, and rising temperatures, it is clear we must act before it gets any worse,” O’Halleran said.
He pointed to Flagstaff’s recently passed climate change plan and said cities are trying to send a signal to Washington D.C., but added that when it comes to issues such as air and water quality and climate change, the solutions are global in nature.