The Texas 26th district is predominantly Republican. Is there any value to congressional town hall meetings for moderate and progressive Independents and Democrats in such districts?
Congress has adjourned for their August recess and gone back to their home districts to face the voters following their circus performance on the manufactured crisis over the debt ceiling. Democrats are angry with them because of spending cuts agreed upon that will hurt the economy and the most vulnerable amongst us, allowing no tax revenue to pay down our debt while TeaParty Republicans are angry that they even allowed the debt ceiling to be raised. Democrats are also irked over the failure of the Republicans to act on a major campaign promise along with deficit reduction they made prior to the 2010 elections – J-O-B-S. Not surprisingly, that has not occurred. Over 200 days as the ruling Party in the House and not one jobs bill has been written.
I attended the first one of my congressman’s Town Hall meetings this year, Michael Burgess, who held it at the Denton high school auditorium. As the pictures convey below there were about 200 in attendance. Based on reactions to Burgess’ comments on various issues I would venture to say that the political divide was about 50-50
Outside there were a couple of dozen protestors that primarily displayed signs opposed to GOP policies. Denton is predominantly a Republican stronghold so this show of strength from the local Democrats was mildly impressive. Unlike 2009 where town hall meetings were exploding with Tea Party anger, their presence here was mollified considerably by an equal force of the opposition.
Following a brief summary of his efforts over the last couple of weeks Burgess opened the floor for questioning and about 40 people quickly lined up in an aisle in the auditorium that stretched from the stage to the back of the room.
Democratic opponents conveyed their dissatisfaction about the partisan gridlock that has developed in Washington, the two wars George Bush started and then failed to pay for, the failure to create jobs as promised and one constituent even asked Burgess if he was willing to take a cut in pay to show empathy with those workers who have lost their jobs or have had to take a cut in pay to sustain their employment.
With a couple of exceptions I was disappointed how Democratic constituents used their opportunity to challenge Burgess. For example, instead of asking Burgess if he would take a pay cut to show solidarity for working families, I would have rather seen someone ask him when he last voted against a pay raise for himself.
Another point that could have been raised would have committed the Congressman to side which way he would vote if Democrats could ever get a resolution to the floor on removing the $4 billion a year subsidy to Big Oil corporations. According to a report in May by Andrew Restuccia of The Hill:
House Republicans rejected an effort by Democrats Thursday to use a procedural maneuver to force a vote on a bill to repeal a key oil industry tax break.
Democrats sought to defeat a procedural motion to move forward on two GOP-backed offshore drilling bills. If the motion had been defeated, Democrats would have brought up a bill authored by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) to repeal the Section 199 domestic manufacturing tax deduction for the largest oil companies.
But the motion passed in a 241-171 vote, largely along party lines. Passage of the motion allows Republicans to move forward with consideration of the drilling bills. SOURCE
Republicans in the Senate effectively filibustered efforts on their side to prevent a similar resolution to the floor to vote on.
Congressman Burgess is a strong “free market” advocate so it would be interesting to see if he would commit the mortal sin of capitalism by allowing government subsidies to fund activities that profits are designed to address. What’s particularly egregious about this tax subsidy is that it continues in light of the fact that the seven major oil companies have had historic profits over the last 3 years with a combined $900 billion in profits since 2001. Former Shell Oil CEO John Hofmeister even told the National Journal that “In the face of sustained high oil prices it was not an issue—for large companies—of needing the subsidies to entice us into looking for and producing more oil.”
Removing the $4 billion a year subsidy to Big Oil will hardly make a dent in the national deficit but it would go a long way to aiding start up businesses in the renewable energy fields of solar, wind, geo-thermal and bio-fuels. Studies have shown that investments in the renewable energy fields “can generate a net increase of about 1.7 million jobs.” What federal aid the renewable energy field has received from Uncle Sam has been but a fraction of what Coal, Oil and Natural Gas industries continue to reap.
But if Burgess’ Democratic opponents were weak in their expressions of concern to him, those friendly to the Congressman drove home the example of how ideologically driven some people can be to the point of being incomprehensible and just plain silly.
One large man with a tattoo on his left arm brought a prepared text that essentially repeated the tired old “Don”T Tread On Me” Tea Party mainstay jabber. He read a couple of quotes from Jefferson that condemned big government and demanded that Burgess do everything in his power to restore America to it’s rightful moorings. After quoting Jefferson he actually said that “we need to return to our Judeo-christian roots”.
Another constituent, a balding man who said he was a Vietnam Vet, commented on some policy that supposedly has every American paying roughly $2400 of their tax money being spent on foreigners, “especially Muslims”, the man claimed. Some one in the audience shouted out “racist” at this comment of his. To his credit, Burgess challenged the man telling him that he was unaware of such a program or such an amount and would he please e-mail it to his congressional office to study it.
The man also brought up the old saw that many Vietnam Vets have mentioned that essentially complains about our military’s hands being tied by politics to fight a war with all our military capabilities. Never mind that Vietnam and today’s wars are no longer the conventional type that requires massive troop deployments and allows destroying everything in the country we have sent troops to. This man was essentially asking why we weren’t using our nuclear capabilities to blow places like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan off the face of the map.
But I guess the most pathetic person that approached the microphone was a woman who was perhaps in her early to mid-sixties. When she first spoke her words indicated she may be a barometer of a common thread that unites us all. “I am here to represent ALL of the people in your district”, she said. She spoke softly and as one who sat close to the microphone I could barely hear her after her initial remark, so I asked her to please speak up. I wish I hadn’t.
She was not an articulate woman as I hoped she would be. She began to blubber about how she had been asleep over the last couple of years and had only recently been “awakened” to what she surmised was going on in our country. Sadly, the generic talking points that come from most Tea Partiers were repeated by this lady who was fearful that “our country was being destroyed” by this president. As she walked away from the mike she reiterated that she represented all of the people in Burgess’ district and then confessed, “I am a Tea Partier”, as she turned toward her seat.
These three people represent a mindset that tends to be ignorant of our complex political history, the real strength of our military might and a sense of intolerance that excludes too many people who don’t look or think like them. In other words they ARE the TEA PARTY. None of them talked about the need to turn this economy around with real job creation or were willing to meet on a level playing field to discuss our concerns and compromise where necessary.
All of their comments came across as bitter, mean-spirited people with a point of view that suggested they were being hurt while other less worthy people were “making out” on the federal dole. The man with the tattoo on his arm let everyone know he was not a Democrat or a Republican but “a constitutionalist”, yet seemed oblivious that the founding fathers who put that document together were there to give the central government more power, not greater state powers as his comments conveyed. Likewise his “Judeo-christian” comment came on the heels of his Jefferson quotes; a founding father who held anti-Christian views and was also very mistrusting of corporations.
The balding man who was fearful that we were spending too much on foreign nationals rather than Americans seemed unaware that U.S. foreign spending only amounted to about 1% of our national debt. He also seemed to be insensitive about how his slash and burn ideas in waging war would only further agitate those abroad when we use “shock and awe” tactics that claim way too much “collateral damage”, as former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld so flippantly put it back in 2003.
And the mild-mannered lady who feels only Tea Party members make up the 26th congressional district in Texas had to be in a state of denial as she passed the protestors entering the auditorium that night and listened to many in the audience boo those comments she would have been supportive of while applauding others she wouldn’t have. It is this state of mind by all three people who, as sincere as they may be, have come to represent an intransigence to the changing character of this nation and feel that it is better to have disharmony rather than let the wave of change have any footing at all.
It’s not that we all don’t share many things in common but these people seem to think that only they have a lock on what the constitution REALLY says and what the founding fathers REALLY meant when they wrote it. It is their obsessive contempt for most anything that is related to government, especially if it’s the federal government.
They are either blind to the excesses and abuses of corporations or are in agreement with pretty much what they do. To these zealots of capitalism as with zealots of any organized system of belief, what errors may be made are inconsequential from the gains one gets from them.
One Tea Partier at the Town Hall meeting pretty much confirmed this when a thirty-something woman was articulating the case for tax increases and the fallacy of tax cuts as a means to stimulate the economy. She challenged that notion by conservatives that the savings from tax cuts to the rich go back into the economy that generates jobs. “There is no real evidence of this” she claimed and cited the evidence of this during the Bush/Cheney years when job growth was weak, even though two of the biggest tax cuts to the rich in quite some time had been passed during that administration.
She intimated that they reward themselves and a select few of their investors with bonuses and golden parachute retirement funds. It was at this point that an older, well dressed man six rows back from me could be overheard saying, “so what’s wrong with that”. Clearly the notion that providing tax breaks for the wealthy as an investment for job creation was an unreal possibility for him or one that was secondary to keeping it instead and widening the income gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Whether Congressman Burgess heard something he could use or simply used selective hearing, confirming for himself that most voters in his district are not a threat to his re-election, remains to be seen. I suspect that he heard what he wanted to hear and much of the same that he has practiced over the last eleven years will simply be replayed as long as he remains in office. As long as the Texas 26th district remains a GOP stronghold most people are content with someone who doesn’t really fix anything but accommodates the case for not rocking the boat.