Democrats Tweaking Town-Hall Formats

Posted August 11, 2009 at 4:22pm

Updated: Aug. 12, 12:51 p.m.House Democrats have been talking tough about continuing to hold town halls in the face of disruptive protesters. But many are quietly tweaking their events to minimize the influence of the angry participants.Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) announced Monday on his Web site that he is restricting attendance to his public events to residents of his district. “Unfortunately, due to a coordinated effort to disrupt our town hall meetings, we will be restricting further attendance to residents of the 29th Congressional District and verifying residency by requiring photo identification,— Green said.Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) spoke on a panel at his Monday night town hall in Clarkston. He set up a designated protest area outside and had extra police on hand, although the event never erupted into shouting matches, according to local reports.“Down here in the South, we know how to get along with each other,— Johnson said in his introductory remarks, according to the Southern Political Report.Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) spoke at an Aug. 2 event organized by an outside group that billed the meeting as a “health care prayer vigil,— which had the effect of warding off protesters.As a YouTube video reveals, organizers laid out rules of conduct at the beginning: “As people of faith, it is important that we have respect at all times and that we create space for everyone to be a part of this experience. … Respect the agenda; it has been carefully prepared by community leaders. Do not speak without permission from the chair. Don’t go over allowed time. No poster boards or signs. We are here to pray, not to protest.—Sanchez used the event to tout a single-payer health care plan and take jabs at fellow Orange County lawmakers over their position on health care reform.A Sanchez aide emphasized that the Congresswoman held a town hall before the August recess, “which happened to be before this recent trend of very outspoken opposition,— and that the event drew more than 300 people.Other Democrats are avoiding public events altogether and instead opting for telephone town halls. Nearly all Florida lawmakers — including Reps. Adam Putnam (R), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) and Ron Klein (D) — are planning telephone forums in place of public meetings, according to TBO.com, a Web site affiliated with the Tampa Tribune. One of Klein’s challengers, Allen West, used the opportunity to call Klein a chicken for not standing in front of his constituents. Klein brushed off the charge: “I’ve been out there a long time and reach out probably as much as anyone. I’m very comfortable with my record of reaching out to people,— he said Monday in the Palm Beach Post.Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) is sticking with telephone events in order to avoid an “ambush,— he told his local paper, the Columbian, this week. The move angered some constituents, who complained to the newspaper about wanting access to their elected official. Two New Hampshire Democrats — Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes — took part in a town hall Tuesday but had a key ally by their side: President Barack Obama. Shea-Porter is already taking heat for not being willing to hold a town hall on her own.“Carol Shea-Porter had no problem with town halls when she was crashing them during her first campaign for Congress, but her noticeable lack of recent public appearances speaks volumes about the plummeting approval of her party’s government takeover of health care,— said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.