After campaigning to repeal and replace ObamaCare, Rep. Erik Paulsen now is tasked with how to do it —- and his constituents want to know what he’s going to do. However, like many Republicans across the country, Paulsen is avoiding public face-to-face meetings with constituents — and that brought protesters to his office on Saturday.
“We want him to have a town hall and listen to our concerns about ACA (Affordable Care Act),” said a woman holding a sign in the parking lot of Paulsen’s office. “We want him to have a town hall and listen to our concerns about (President Donald Trump’s advisor) Steve Bannon.”
The Washington Post reports that most Congressional Republicans aren’t doing public face-to-face meetings with constituents to avoid giving Democratic activists “YouTube moments” that can be used against them in the 2018 campaign. Seven years ago, videos of Tea Party activists confronting Congressional Democrats at public events helped stoke the backlash against Obamacare.
Protesters say Paulsen’s lack of holding face-to-face town hall meetings is not a change, but the norm. They say he hasn’t held a publicized face-to-face town hall meeting with constituents in seven years. That’s not quite accurate. Paulsen did have a town hall meeting in August 2010 — six-and-a-half-years ago. And video shows he took questions from constituents at Mound-Westonka High School in 2011. A search of Paulsen’s current website finds only the 2010 meeting listed. The UpTake has asked Paulsen’s office for a list of any other such public town hall meetings, but so far they have not replied.
Paulsen’s Tele-Town Hall Meetings Seen As Dodging Tough Questions
What Paulsen does hold is “tele-town hall” meetings. According to an explanation Paulsen gave in 2009, a tele-town hall consists of thousands of people in the district selected at random and dialed up for a big conference call. Here’s a recording of one of Paulsen’s tele-town halls in November 2009.
Paulsen was chided by many of the same protesters last weekend on his Facebook page for not holding a face-to-face town hall meeting. Many had called his office asking when he would do so and were told there wouldn’t be one. Then, with apparently little public notice, Paulsen held a tele-town hall meeting by phone on Monday. After it was over, he posted it on his Facebook page:
The post drew hundreds of comments, most of them critical of Paulsen for avoiding his constituents.
“This sounds like a great way to avoid most of your constituents. A real town hall, proper notification to your constituents in advance, would be appreciated. These bogus calls look like you’re dodging us,” wrote Amy Rea, who says she has lived in Paulsen’s district many years. “We pay your salary. Show up.”
“My understanding from talking to people that were called for the town hall, was that he took pre-scripted or pre-vetted questions from people instead of allowing his constituents to ask him what they really want to know about particularly the ACA,” said a woman holding a “Where’s Erik” sign with a cartoon of the “Where’s Waldo” character.
The tele-town meeting prompted the group called Indivisible CD3 to organize Saturday’s protest.
Some Other Minnesota Representatives Also Shy Away From Public Town Halls
Paulsen isn’t the only member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation with very few publicized face-to-face town hall meetings. But he does appear to avoid them more than any other of the other currently serving elected Minnesota Representatives. All of them have had at least one town hall meeting since 2013 (with the exception of just elected Rep. Jason Lewis). Rep. Collin Peterson (D) in 2009 said he “didn’t do town halls” but attended one in 2015. Mostly he sends his aides to attend them. Rep. Betty McCollum (D) held a pair of town halls in January. Rep. Tim Walz held a pair of public town halls in 2013. Rep. Keith Ellison (D) held one in April 2013 on gun violence. He has held tele-town meetings since then, but he does allow people to sign up in advance instead of random dialing like Paulsen does.
Rep. Tom Emmer (R) is bucking the national trend of Republicans not doing town hall meetings. He has done seven in the past year and has another scheduled at 7pm, Feb. 22, in the Sartell City Hall. Rep. Rick Nolan (D) is the most prolific town hall attendee. His website shows 102 town halls scheduled in 2017 just through March 14. That’s more than one a day.
Dissatisfaction with President Trump’s executive orders is also driving a lot of the frustration expressed in Saturday’s protest. One man called the executive orders banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries “knee-jerk brain-fart reactions.”
“There’s nothing I approve of that President Trump is doing right now,” said an older woman holding a protest sign. “And his cabinet, his administration is awful and some of these Republicans are going to have to stand up and start having a backbone. I’ve fought for this stuff for so many years. And I didn’t want to have to do it at my age again.”