Last year I reported on attending a town meeting held by my Congressional Representative, Rob Bishop (R-UT). Last night I attended another town meeting held by Rep. Bishop. This time I hauled my 9th grade son with me. The meeting was slated to last one hour. Due to other commitments, we had to leave about 40 minutes into the meeting.
This year’s meeting had about two-thirds the attendance of last year’s meeting. I think two factors probably contributed to this. Last year was an election year and this year’s meeting was held later in the evening than last year’s meeting. As with last year, I was among the younger attendees. The average age of the attendees was probably quite a bit higher than my age. There was one other youth beside my son in attendance.
As with last year’s meeting, Rep. Bishop started off talking for about 15 minutes, trying to hit the hot button issues. He also took a couple of jabs at the Senate, although, these were milder than last year. He said that the House has passed 12 of its 13 appropriation bills to fund the federal government for the next fiscal year, but that the Senate has passed only one. Bishop admitted that he had voted against all but two of the House’s appropriations bills because all of them, except for the defense bill, appropriated far more money than President Bush requested, and Bishop argued that the President’s requests were already way too high.
As far as the defense bill goes, Rep. Bishop expressed extreme displeasure with the House leadership in giving the Armed Services Committee, of which he is a member, far too little money. He praised committee chair Ike Skelton (D-MO) and several other committee members, both Democrat and Republican, for their honest hard work in developing a good bi-partisan bill. He was disappointed that they were forced to cut some programs and underfund others due to House leadership priorities.
When it came to the question and answer period, I was very gratified that the one rude lady that kept butting into others’ questions last year was not present. The first guy to ask a question was a feeble older gentleman that asked the exact same question as he asked last year, part of which was about the general Social Security program, and part of which applied to a small subgroup that has been griping for years that Social Security shorted them a couple of thousand Dollars years ago. Rep. Bishop answered the question pretty much the same way he answered it last year.
A number of citizens brought up immigration issues. It was obvious that some of these folks were pretty hot under the collar about illegal immigration. Some made what I would consider to be rather absurd statements. Rep. Bishop’s answers were balanced. He said that there is no way we could deport 12 million people, but that even if we could, it would make no difference unless we first secured the border. He favored passing legislation to address specific problems and actually implementing existing legislation, rather than attempting a huge compromise bill, such as the one that failed in the Senate a few weeks ago.
I don’t know how many of the people at the meeting realized it, but one older distinguished looking gentleman in attendance used to be a rather influential Democratic politician in Weber County. I knew some history here, and I knew that he and Rep. Bishop had been on opposite sides of the aisle in the Utah State House of Representatives years ago. (Bishop served as speaker of the Utah House for eight years.) I doubt many in the room realized it, but when this man asked a couple of questions meant to agitate in favor of universal health care and federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, he was having some fun with his former colleague.
In turn, Rep. Bishop had a little fun with his answers. This gentleman asked if Rep. Bishop had seen the movie Sicko. Rep. Bishop responded that he saw no need to watch what amounted to propaganda, which is Michael Moore’s stock and trade. This man said he wasn’t surprised because he hadn’t met a Republican that had seen the film. Rep. Bishop responded that he chose not to watch pornographic films either.
Up to this point in the meeting, the discussion had been fairly polite, even though, some citizens had made extreme statements. One guy never asked a question, but simply rambled on about how he had lived in Canada for 25 years, that the Canadian health care system wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, and that his wife had obtained her U.S. citizenship legally, etc. But everyone had been rather subdued. When Rep. Bishop made the comment about pornographic films, a small number in the audience vocally protested, a few people acted clueless, and most of the audience laughed out loud. I had to leave at this point, so I didn’t get to see if the meeting got any juicier.
One thing I noted about both this town meeting and last year’s meeting is that no active local politicians attended either meeting. I am left to wonder why that is. Is there some agreement that local politicans don’t attend these kinds of events? Is there concern that they would taint themselves by appearing? Is there a concern that they might upstage the congressman? If they’re supposed to be leading by example, the example they are demonstrating is that attending a congressional representative’s town meeting is not very important. Can anyone shed more light on this?
Although I sat quietly at the meeting and didn’t say anything, I think that it’s good for our elected officials to occasionally come down from their ivory towers and directly interface with the unwashed masses. Rep. Bishop is in a secure district. That is, unless he does something really stupid, a la Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), he can probably be re-elected as often as he wants.
Rep. Bishop could probably get away with rarely having to talk with constituents in unscripted meetings. He could likely get away with treating constituents condescendingly. Although Rep. Bishop had some fun with a couple of questions, he treated each citizen with respect while being fairly forthright about his positions and where he disagreed with people. While people may have differing views, this kind of approach earns their respect.