During a town hall meeting Thursday at the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library, U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita addressed a number of the country’s most pressing and controversial topics, including Donald Trump’s candidacy and the recent Supreme Court nomination.

Speaking to a crowd consisting largely of state and local public officials, Rokita began the event by discussing fallen Howard County Sheriff’s Deputy Carl Koontz, who he honored on the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday with a short speech and photo of the deputy.

On Sunday, Koontz and Sgt. Jordan Buckley were shot in Russiaville while serving a warrant to suspect Evan Dorsey. Koontz, 26, died in Indianapolis late Sunday morning from a gunshot wound to the pelvis.

“I couldn’t really get through it. It was one of the hardest sets of remarks I had to give,” he said. “I appreciate just coming to the community today and seeing how this community has come together. I wish it was for a different purpose, I wish it was for a different reason, but we still have community here.

“It’s unfortunate that Carl had to give the ultimate sacrifice, but I hope at least there is good that comes out of it in a lot of different perspective.”

To watch Rokita's speech on the House floor, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mT-PTR3NjYc&feature=youtu.be.

After speaking briefly about the tragedy, Rokita moved into a PowerPoint presentation about his work in the House, where he is vice chairman of the Budget Committee, chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

While discussing needed reforms in Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, which he called “the three biggest drivers of our debt,” Rokita said a portion of the Republican Party has shown the “political courage” to outline the troubles associated with these programs.

One problem, he said, is the rising average lifespan of Americans.

“We just can’t support these programs in their current form...Before, people would say, ‘You know what, you touch Medicare, you even talk about Social Security, and you will be unelectable,’” he said. “Frankly, to the credit of the budget committee and the House of Representatives, we have talked about this and outlined solutions for the last five years of what needs to be done.

“My biggest disappointment is that the presidential candidates aren’t picking up this lead.”

Shortly after moving into the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, Rokita was met with concerns about two of those topics – Social Security and Donald Trump.

The first comment focused on Rokita’s assertion that Social Security must be adjusted to cater to longer lifespans. With that mindset, the representative is budgeting on the assumption that people will live to be 100 years old, said an attendee, who countered by pointing out the relatively short lifespans of manual laborers.   

After also criticizing Rokita and other representatives for instilling unfair tax policies that he believes led to wage stagnation and Social Security problems, the man began to berate Rokita during his attempt to address “social entitlement programs.”

“You’re lying. That’s not what’s driving the debt,” said the attendee before quickly exiting the room. “You’re a liar. What’s driving the debt is the wealthy’s got all the wealth…I can’t even talk to you.”

Following Rokita’s extensive answer to the man’s concerns, which continued after he left the room and included an explanation of the representative’s free market economic philosophy, Rokita was asked about the possibility of supporting Trump for President of the United States. 

If Trump wins the Republican nomination, Rokita, who previously endorsed Marco Rubio, said he would support the candidate despite his controversial statements on Muslims and immigration policy.

“I think that’s better than supporting a likely, if not potential, criminal, and it’s better than endorsing a socialist,” said Rokita, referencing Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. “Words are words and it’s not my cup of tea. It’s not how I conduct myself, hopefully you see that.

“But in terms of working with someone to get to these issues, I think I have a better chance of getting that done for us with Trump, far more than either one of the two Democrats, especially these two Democrats.”

In reference to the controversy surrounding the United State Supreme Court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Rokita said he thinks this year’s presidential race should determine who chooses Scalia’s replacement.

President Barack Obama has nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy, but many Senate Republicans have vowed to not consider the nominee.

“You saw it here in this room a little bit today, the divided nature of this county and of the electorate and which way they’re going to go,” he said. “I think it’s reasonable to let the people speak, and depending on how this comes out in the presidential election, then take up the consent process after the people have spoken.

“Is the Senate being reasonable in withholding their consent at this particular time? I don’t think they’re unreasonable,” he added later when addressing a question about whether the people have already spoken by electing Obama to a second term. 

George Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gpmyerskt.

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George Myers covers city and county government. He joined the Kokomo Tribune on November 18, 2014.