As he entered the auditorium of the Mardela Middle and High School on Tuesday, a surprised Frank Kratovil waded through a sea of constituents. The first-term Democratic congressman had been told by aides that maybe two or three dozen residents would attend the “Congress in Your Corner” town-hall event in this Eastern Shore town of about 360 people. Instead, more than 250 people showed up.
The crowd repeatedly burst into wild cheering, but not for Mr. Kratovil. The cheers were for residents who gave the congressman a piece of their mind over whats happening in Washington.
Scenes such as this are occurring across the country. As congressmen return home for the August recess, many are facing a barrage of fury over proposals to create a government-run health-care program that many believe risks undermining private health insurance. Voters are also upset about runaway government spending, and a cap-and-trade bill that will lead to higher energy prices. The discontent is giving rise to a new political phenomenon: the town-hall protest.
By tradition, town-hall meetings are sedate, boring, sparsely attended affairs. Now large, hostile crowds of voters give their guy in Washington an earful about government run amok. Videos of embattled lawmakers are posted on YouTube, and the meetings are turning into events that resemble last Aprils Tea Party protests. The targets are mostly Democrats in districts where a majority of voters are more conservative than Democratic leaders in Washingtonmany of these districts voted for John McCain or George W. Bush in recent presidential elections.
Mr. McCain won Marylands First Congressional District by 18 percentage points last year; Mr. Kratovil, a county prosecutor, defeated his Republican opponent by fewer than 3,000 votes out of 360,000 cast to become the first Democrat to win the seat in 18 years. He describes himself as a Blue Dog and is considered vulnerable in next years election.
Mr. Kratovil is an attractive, polished, likable guy, but his seeming support for President Barack Obamas health-care proposals and his vote for cap-and-trade legislation put him out of step with many constituents. “You dont get it,” one told him after he argued that increasing governments role in health care would be a good thing if only Congress crafts the legislation language properly. “We dont want it. We dont want your help.”
The audience erupted in huge applause when a retired naval chief petty officer brought up government-run health care on Indian reservations and at Veterans Administration hospitals and then asked, “Why would we want that?” The audience booed when Mr. Kratovil said he voted for cap-and-trade because he thought it would actually lower Marylanders electricity rates.
The meeting was contentious, though civilized. Those at the meeting politely allowed Mr. Kratovil to make his points before responding, and the audience applauded when he noted that he voted against various spending bills, including the presidents budget. Many questioners thanked him for having the courage to show up.
That doesnt fit the story line Democrats and many in the media are trying to peddle. Asked on Tuesday if the town-hall protests were grass-roots efforts by voters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a reporter, “I think theyre Astroturf,” i.e., orchestrated by political pressure groups. In an online ad, the Democratic National Committee has called the protests “mobs” of bitter Republicans. On July 31, MSNBCs Richard Wolffe tried to buck up spooked Democrats by claiming, “Those angry protestors who will disrupt your attempts to talk to your votersand trust us they willare being coordinated and coached by industry-funded right wing operatives. Their stated goal will be to rattle you, not to have an intelligent debate. And theres a good chance they dont even live in your district.”
The protestors can misbehave. At a town hall he hosted in the Napa Valley on Monday, California Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson watched some in the crowd of 500 people shout down panelists. A spokesman for North Carolina Democrat Rep. Brad Miller has told reporters that his boss wont be holding town hall meetings this month after receiving a death threat.
But the discontent is neither faked nor staged by the GOP. At the Mardela Springs event I attended, the parking lot was filled with Maryland license plates, the speakers made references to local areas and events, and everyone of the several people I spoke with lived in the congressmans district. They were just upset and worried that the reforms Democrats were bent on enacting would hurt the economy and their ability to get the health care they needed.
This crowd was probably far more representative of the national mood than Mrs. Pelosi realizes. Mardela Springs is about 100 miles from the nations capital, on a strip of land that sits between the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Chesapeake Bay to the west. The district is filled with farms and is populated by farmers, mariners and retired beach bums. “We are not very political people. We are just ordinary people with ordinary concerns,” said Salisbury businessman Earl Nelson, who told me he voted for Mr. Kratovil. “But we are very concerned. I just hope he understands that.”
While playing the Christian in the lions den is nobodys idea of a good time, Mr. Kratovil took his ordeal in stride. He knew that he didnt change anyones mind about supporting ObamaCare or other items on the agenda in Washington, but he did gain a few grudging admirers merely for facing the onslaught. “Listening to constituents is a big part of my job,” Mr. Kratovil told me. “This is part of the democratic process.”
Of course, so are elections, and Mr. Kravotil and his colleagues face the voters again in 15 months. Just how long the anger from this summer of discontent will fester remains to be seen.
Original Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052970204908604574334310398020486.html