Lawmakers Hoping for Civility’ at Town-Hall Sessions

Posted August 19, 2009 at 9:51am

Correction Appended

As a few Members gambled that their constituent meetings on Tuesday wouldn’t descend into name-calling and disturbing photographs, others hoped to learn from their experience as they prepared for town halls later in the week.

Freshman Rep. Anh “Joseph— Cao (R-La.), who won his seat by defeating disgraced Rep. William Jefferson (D), told a crowd of more than 100 that he hasn’t decided whether he will support health care reform, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

“Our health care system does need reform — that’s the reality of it,— Cao said. “The question here is, how are we going to reform it, and whether or not the bill will be a responsible bill that’s not going to burden future generations. I’m still studying the bill in order to see whether or not it’s going to be a good bill.—

In Florida, Rep. Alan Grayson (D) asked hostile questioners to bear in mind that his own three children were in the room, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Those turned away from his meeting said they were frustrated it was held in a room that seated 120 people and it was held immediately after a meeting of local Democrats, some of whom kept their coveted seats during the town hall. Grayson told those in the room that he supports a public health insurance option similar to Medicare.

In North Carolina, a bipartisan, bicameral delegation invited Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to join them at a town hall. Republican Sen. Richard Burr and Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell avoided talking about health care with a crowd of more than 600 people, according to the Charlotte Observer.

“We’ve got a tremendous health care challenge. I don’t think I want to get into that today,— Burr told the gathering.

Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan (N.C.) wasn’t able to attend the town-hall meeting because of a family commitment.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), on the other hand, faced health care questioners head-on in Dartmouth, Mass., according to CNN. To a woman who compared President Barack Obama’s health care plan to Nazi Germany, the Democrat asked, “On what planet do you spend most of your time?—

Meanwhile, lawmakers preparing for town halls later in the week insisted theirs would be civilized affairs. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) told the Dallas Morning News that protesters “have agreed with me that it would be inappropriate to disrupt public meetings on health care.—

Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.) made plans to hand out copies of George Washington’s “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation— at her 10 upcoming town halls. Rep. Michael Arcuri, a New York Democrat, prepared for another town hall in Utica on Wednesday night, after a town hall he held there with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) descended into shouting two weeks ago, according to WKTV in Utica.

Arcuri is one of at least two dozen Members who will hold town-hall meetings on Wednesday.

See a list of today’s town halls at Congress.org.

Correction: Aug. 19, 2009

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) did not back out of the North Carolina town hall. Because of a family commitment, she never planned to attend.