UPDATE (Sept. 8th) — Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler never did hold a town hall meeting during the month-long Congressional recess that ended today. However, she returns to Vancouver on Sept. 24 for a $2,500-per-person “roundtable discussion” with her and Speaker John Boehner.
By DAVID GROVES
VANCOUVER (Aug. 31) — Two summers ago, the national media was agog over exciting town hall meetings featuring angry Tea Party members railing against health care reform and the federal stimulus. It was a deliberate, organized campaign by right-wing conservatives to create a spectacle by disrupting public meetings to get video coverage of “angry Americans” and seize control of the national debate on President Obama’s agenda.
When Rep. Brian Baird (D-3rd) of Southwest Washington decided to stop holding town hall meetings that summer, The (Vancouver) Columbian eviscerated him for the decision and he soon resumed having the meetings, despite receiving personal death threats. A few months later, the six-term Democrat announced he would not seek re-election.
With congressional approval ratings now at 13%, the lowest level ever measured, Baird’s replacement, freshman Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-3rd), is avoiding his fate… by not holding town halls meetings.
Herrera Beutler has been home from Washington, D.C., for a month, but has not held a single town hall meeting with constituents. Instead, she has held invitation-only coffee meetings in remote areas of her Southwest Washington district. The schedule of these community meetings is not public and not available to the press. One of her staff members told The (Vancouver) Columbian that the meetings haven’t been publicized in advance because “a coffee shop can accommodate only so many people.”
That, of course, is the point.
Like many other members of an unpopular Congress, Herrera Beutler wants to avoid, as the L.A. Times puts it, “rabble-rousers or amateur videographers who may turn them into the next online spectacle.”
You know, like what happened to Brian Baird.
At a town hall meeting in May, Herrera Beutler heard boos and catcalls when she attempted to defend her vote to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with a private voucher system. (She continues to defend that vote, by the way.)
In an editorial published today, The Columbian rightly takes Herrera Beutler to task for “listening only to the people she chooses:”
If it’s because of personal security concerns, then why did the congresswoman have several town hall meetings earlier? Is her new reclusion due to worries that rowdy critics will use a town hall meeting to immortalize their performances in YouTube videos? Whatever the reason, Herrera Beutler should know that real leaders prove their worth by tackling adversities and exerting control, not by retreating.
Will Herrera Beutler be shamed into public meetings with her constituents? Stay tuned.
In the meantime, it’s worth noting that, after pioneering these orchestrated Internet video ambushes of Democrats two years ago, some Republicans, like gubernatorial candidate and self-proclaimed champion of open government Rob McKenna, are calling the cops rather than allowing their opponents to film his speeches at a public venue.
If you are afraid to speak in public, then don’t seek public office.