Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety — welcome to the new town-hall-style meeting, the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress.
On the eve of the August recess, members are reporting meetings that have gone terribly awry, marked by angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior. In at least one case, a congressman has stopped holding town hall events because the situation has spiraled so far out of control.
“I had felt they would be pointless,” Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO, referring to his recent decision to temporarily suspend the events in his Long Island district. “There is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.”
In Bishop’s case, his decision came on the heels of a June 22 event he held in Setauket, N.Y., in which protesters dominated the meeting by shouting criticisms at the congressman for his liberal positions on taxing energy, socialized health care and the bailout of the auto industry.
Within an hour of the disruption, police were called in to escort the 59-year-old Democrat — who has held more than 100 town hall meetings since he was elected in 2002 — to his car safely.
“I have no problem with someone disagreeing with positions I hold,” Bishop said, noting that, for the time being, he was using other platforms to communicate with his constituents. “But I also believe no one is served if you can’t talk through differences.” In other words, if you do not accept his liberal viewpoint.
Bishop isn’t the only one confronted by boiling anger and rising incivility. At a health care town hall event in Syracuse, N.Y., earlier this month, police were called in to restore order, and at least one heckler was taken away by local police. Close to 100 sign-carrying protesters greeted Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) at a late June community college small-business development forum in Panama City, Fla. Last week, Danville, Va., anti-tax tea party activists claimed they were “refused an opportunity” to ask Rep. Thomas Perriello (D-Va.) a question at a town hall event and instructed by a plain clothes police officer to leave the property after they attempted to hold up protest signs.
The targets in most cases are House Democrats, who over the past few months have tried to ram down the voters throats liberal legislation including a $787 billion economic “stimulus” package, cap and trade energy tax and a socialized health care system. All of these bring the voters higher taxes and more government control over your lives.
Democrats, acknowledging the increasing unruliness of the town-hall-style events, say the hot-button issues they are taking on have a lot to do with it.
“I think it’s just the fact that we are dealing with some of the most important public policy issues in a generation,” said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who was confronted by a protester angry about his position on socialized health care at a town hall event several weeks ago.
“I think in general what is going on is we are tackling issues that have been ignored for a long time, and I think that is disruptive to a lot of people,” said Bishop, a four-term congressman. “We are trying, one by one, to deal with a set of issues that can’t be ignored, and I think that’s unsettling to a lot of people.” If that isn’t a load of crap. It is unsettling to the voters because they do not want a socialist government. It is unsettling to the voters because they do not want to double the cost of electricity, natural gas, and gasoline because the liberals want to spend billions on “global warming”!
Freshman Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), whose event at a Syracuse middle school was disrupted, said that he still planned to hold additional town halls but that he was also thinking about other options.
“I think you’ve got to communicate through a variety of different ways. You should do the telephone town hall meetings. You should do the town hall meetings. You should do the smaller group meetings,” said Maffei. “It’s important to do things in a variety of ways, so you don’t have one mode of communication.” They are afraid of the people! And they have reason to be! The voters are fed up with their liberal agenda.
“You’re going to have people of varying views, and in this case, you’ve got the two extremes who were the most vocal,” Maffei said of the flare-up at his July 12 event.
Republicans, with an eye toward 2010, are keeping close track of the climate at Democratic events.
“We’ve seen Russ Carnahan, we’ve seen Tim Bishop, we’ve seen some other people face some very different crowds back home,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas). “The days of you having a town hall meeting where maybe 15 or 20 of your friends show up — they’re over. You’ve now got real people who are showing up — and that’s going to be a factor.”
Asked later how or whether the GOP would use the confrontations against Democrats, Sessions responded: “Wait till next year.”
Voters, attend every town hall meeting you can. Confront the liberal congressmen with facts. Do not accept their liberal spin on saving the environment – talk about doubling your energy costs. Do not accept their liberal spin on the high costs of health care – talk about increasing your health care cost in a government run system where you have no choice. Talk to them about the elderly who will not be treated because it is not not good economics given their age. Read the next posting, 5 Freedoms You’d Lose In Health Care Reform, to get some facts!