The scenes from YouTube and cable news outlets of irate constituents at town hall meetings have left a mark on Americans and the legislators that represent them. Some lawmakers have gone as far as not hosting events at all or charging fees to get in them to weed out potential trouble makers.
The move has outraged and shocked some constituents. Others still forge ahead and pay nominal fees to outside groups that allow them to speak directly with their Congressional representative or senator.
In an August 16 Politico story, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) came under fire for only being available during the August recess at a $15 per person event hosted by a local Rotary Club. Ryan’s spokesperson claims the congressman’s office has nothing to do with the entry fee. They also say his lack of open access is not a result of the heated debate about the budget proposal he introduced in the spring. Rep. Ryan is the chair of the House Budget Committee.
Other representatives in Minnesota and Arizona are also appearing at pay-for-access events.
Anger at townhall meetings became a public focal point during the August 2009 recess. At the time, Washington politicians returned home to discuss policies around potential healthcare legislation. Several incidents turned loud and physical for both Republican and Democratic legislators.
Liberal interest group MoveOn.org made it clear why they thought Republicans, in particular, were shying away from an open-door policy on town hall meetings.
“After Republicans voted to gut Medicare and other vital programs while protecting tax breaks for millionaires and corporations, it’s not surprising that they would not want to face their constituents in an open forum,” MoveOn.org Executive Director Justin Ruben said, according to Politico.
“There seems to be no limit to how much our government is for sale,” Ruben added.
Some constituents can still interact with their leadership at free town hall events or other issue-specific gatherings.
The Congressional Black Caucus has taken it a step further and included town hall events directly after the job fairs or during the same week. Six congressional representatives from the Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, and Los Angeles area will be on-hand for town hall meetings that coincide with the Caucus’s traveling job fair.
Despite party affiliation, legislators should expect to hear from constituents more leading up to next year’s election. After the debt ceiling debate, budget issues, and low approval ratings, people are determined to make their voices heard.