Town halls gone wild
.............."Be Afraid,be very afraid !
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.
The targets in most cases are House Democrats, who over the past few months have tackled controversial legislation including a $787 billion economic stimulus package, a landmark energy proposal and an overhaul of the nation’s health care system.
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 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 positions on energy policy, 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.”
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 plainclothes police officer to leave the property after they attempted to hold up protest signs.