Democrats Dodge Meeting with Constituents About Issues

Questions screened at tele-town hall meetings


by Penny Wise


House and Senate Democrats have been dragging their heels in scheduling face-to-face meetings with constituents during their August break, which is designed for this very purpose. It’s not surprising. Some Democrats do not want to meet in town hall forums to defend their votes for record deficit spending, new hidden taxes, a failed stimulus package and radical healthcare reform.


According to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, voters at town hall meetings are angry and their behavior at the town hall meetings “is simply un-American.” And Senator Arlen Specter, a newly converted Democrat, told ABC News reporter Jake Tapper, “We have to be careful here not to let those town meetings dominate the scheme and influence what we do on health policy.”


So whom does Senator Specter think should be influencing Congress’s decisions on health care reform, if not the people he and others represent? It’s no wonder that 62% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.


As is the case with many issues, the view of Democrats in Congress also differs significantly from President Obama’s view. In a memorandum on transparency and open government, the president writes, “Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge.”


Sorry, New Hampshire voters, but Representative Paul Hodes, a candidate for US Senate in 2010, sides with Speaker Pelosi and Washington Democrats when it comes to avoiding face-to-face meetings with constituents. And it took most of August for Representative Carol Shea-Porter and Senator Jeanne Shaheen to schedule face-to-face meetings with voters, even though the House and Senate calendars designate August for work with the voters back home.


The tradition for town hall meetings in New Hampshire dates back to colonial times. In fact, Article 32 of the Bill of Rights of the New Hampshire Constitution, which was ratified in 1784, states, “The people have a right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble and consult upon the common good, give instructions to their representatives, and to request of the legislative body, by way of petition or remonstrance, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.”


The authors of the New Hampshire Constitution clearly understood that voters might become angry about actions taken by their elected officials and that voters had a right to assemble, consult and instruct. Even though it may be difficult for Speaker Pelosi and Representatives Shea-Porter and Hodes and Senator Shaheen to defend their voting records, it is not un-American for New Hampshire residents to question their elected leaders in face-to-face meetings. Quite the contrary. It’s a fundamental American right.


Representatives Shea-Porter and Hodes and Senator Shaheen have been using the latest in technology to reach voters in telephone town halls. And one of the major benefits of telephone town halls: “Private Screening: our Tele-Forums give you the ability to screen a participant’s question before they are live with the host, ensuring that all questions have been validated.” Representatives Shea-Porter and Hodes and Senator Shaheen get to pick the questions they answer. That’s a bit like having the exam questions in advance of taking the exam. Even school children know that’s not fair or right.


The editorial writers for the Portsmouth Herald agree: “The whole concept of a telephone town hall meeting is flawed. We live in New England, where the town meeting form of government originated and where it still thrives. We know how a town meeting is supposed to work, and it certainly isn't by telephone. It is neighbors meeting face-to-face to discuss the issues.”


We should all insist on absolute transparency from our elected officials, something that the Obama administration claimed it would bring to government. Right now, the only thing that seems to be transparent is the motive of Congressional Democrats, who want to steamroll legislative changes without having to mix with the masses and maybe take a little heat for their votes.

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