Commentary: Baird cancels town hall meetings over health care debate

By Jason Mercier

Center for Government Reform


The national health care debate is setting up an interesting compare-and-contrast back home concerning the strategies of neighboring congressional Democratic Reps. Adam Smith (Tacoma) and Brian Baird (Vancouver). Smith is making himself available to constituents, whereas Baird is canceling his town hall meetings.

This comes against the backdrop of news wires abuzz with phrases such as “AstroTurf protesters” and “anti-government radicals” at town hall meetings voicing their displeasure over how the health care debate is unfolding in Washington, D.C. It seems that for some in D.C. and the media, only those Americans who don’t have strong opinions and don’t try to organize are worthy of having their voices heard.

It should not surprise elected officials that when they push controversial policies, there will be some heat back home. Assuming the policy is well thought out and the typical member of Congress understands what he is advocating, he should have no fear answering even the most hostile question.

Whether a union packs a town hall or tax protesters, these individuals are still constituents and, more important, they are Americans participating in representative government.

Although some in Congress may prefer that town hall meetings be more like an echo chamber, it appears Smith has not lost sight of the fact that all of his constituents have the right to be heard and not just those who agree with him.

Commenting in this story about Baird’s canceling his town hall meetings to avoid the “lynch-mob mentality” of those opposed to the proposed health care changes, Smith said:

“They aren’t protesters. They are constituents speaking their minds.”

Smith said that even if the protests are organized, “what’s wrong with that?”

Absolutely nothing. Kudos to Smith for not hiding from the people he represents.

Jason Mercier is the director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center. He serves on the Executive Committee of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force and is a contributing editor of the Heartland Institute’s Budget & Tax News. Mercier also serves as treasurer on the board of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and was an adviser to the 2002 Washington State Tax Structure Committee.

21 Responses to Commentary: Baird cancels town hall meetings over health care debate

  • Sarajane46th:

    Grassroots democracy is at risk when a mob intent on disrupting public meetings is allowed to be successful. At other sites, police have had to escort out the disruptors. Your story innaccurately states that Brian Baird is not making himself available. Brian Baird has chosen to make himself available to constituents through virtual meetings in a teleconference forum–a better choice in my opinion. I recently participated in Jay Inslee’s health care teleconference forum. Participants could signal that they had a question, and questions were screened by staff to represent a broad variety of concerns, including those who may not have voted for the Congressman. Over 2,000 people participated. The format provided a good 2-way communications experience. How many halls would it take to attract 2,000? This format allows rural constituents to participate on equal footing. I think it’s an excellent choice.

    Your byline should have a disclaimer that you represent a conservative think tank. This is opinion, not news.

  • Rich Carithers:

    It’s unfortunate that Sarajane46th is so misguided in what she thinks is going on. Congressman Baird is not making himself available to his voters on a wide scale basis. He’s scared to hear the truth about the proposed healthcare proposals. People don’t want it on the left and the right. These aren’t planned or organized demonstrators; these are everyday Americans upset at the thought of waiting 8 months for a simple operation or seeing if their even eligible for surgery or healthcare.

  • Bob Thornton:

    Sarajane46th: what if this were happening to people protesting the Iraq war, the Gitmo prison, the partial privatization of social security, etc.? The left would be irate and would be storming these townhall meetings with legions of protestors, and they would be screaming if congressional representatives cancelled in-person meetings and did these tele-townhalls instead.

    Rank hypocrisy!

  • pam anderson:

    Note to Brian Baird, I just heard that you plan to hold your town hall meetings by phone instead of in person. Your job is to represent the people and to face them and respond to their concerns and questions on the issues. Shame on you for subscribing to the slanderous notion that the people who are respectfully raising their concerns with their representatives at their town hall meetings are nothing more than a mob, and are anything but what they are.. the people who pay your salary, and who deserve to see your face at a meeting to address the issues. You are a coward, and I hope you will be replaced when you come up for re-election by someone who respects their constituants.

  • Rob Moitoza:

    Bush’s tactics were to mace, tear gas, and put protesters in “free speech zones”. Maybe we need to give these guys a taste of their own medicine and see how they like it.

  • Bill:

    I thought Democrats and liberals are all about tolerance. Where’s the tolerance? Oh, I get it, they’re only tolerant of views they agree with.

  • Marsha A:

    Whenever our representatives screen our calls, or set up a situation in which the average citizen cannot attend a public meeting regarding the policies which will affect all of us, then the system is broken. Hiding behind phone calls and screeners because of ‘fear’ is a dummy excuse. Let’s make it public and lets make it REAL. I feel that my government officials think I’m dumb enough to believe this baloney. I agree with the group that is very angry about HOW our representatives are handling the entire situation. They are behaving just like the Wizard of Oz…hiding behind the curtain, yet making us think they are wise and powerful. Give me a break.

  • Sean R:

    Obama, the fake president who has NEVER PRODUCED A BIRTH CERTIFICATE AND THEREFORE HAS NEVER PROVEN HE IS LEGALLY PRESIDENT will not take my economic LIBERTY! COMMUNISM MUST NOT GET A FOOTHOLD IN AMERICA! Republicans are the only ones who seem to understand the REPUBLIC is under threat!

  • CentralAreaGuy:


  • Buzz:

    what time zone are you in? who stopped ACORN from protesting using homeless people paid with government money. Get your head out of Obamas Butt and see the light .

  • buzzcosta:

    I am not from a GOP think tank. I am a taxpayer that is fed up with taxation without representation. Why should my voice be screened by a staff person who thinks my opinion doesn’t count. One person one vote. These spineless Representatives who cant face the people who they represent should be drummed out of office at the next election. They hide behind their office and feed at the public trough and gorge themselves like the swine they are.

  • buzzcosta:

    sarajne46 just what “think tank” are you from?

  • Atticus:

    I’m disappointed Mr. Baird dropped out. It wouldn’t have anything to do with his referring to American citizens exercising their first amendment rights as “brownshirts,” would it? He also compared the same individuals to Timothy McVeigh. Vancouver–are you listening?

  • Freeman:

    When our constitution was created in 1781, the founders provided for meaningful representation, the essence of a republican form of government, because without a meaningful ratio congress, in the words of Madison “ they [the congressional representatives] would not possess enough confidence of the people and would be too sparsely taken from the people to bring with them all the local information which would frequently be wanted “. The ratio of representatives to constituents was initially set at 1: 30,000. Our constitution also provided for a means of continually adjusting the size and distribution of the congressional representatives with a census- that is the very reason for the ten-year census. The constitution, likewise, indicated a sense of the proper ratio necessary to maintain our republican form of government at article I section 2, par 3. The initial proposed bill of rights amendment of august 24, 1789, was further aimed at maintaining a meaningful ratio of representation as indicated by its wording “…there shall not be less than one representative for every 50,000 people”. All these protections were negated in 1912 when Congress froze its membership at 435 representatives where it basically has remained until the present. Since 1912 our population, then 92 million, has grown almost three fold, to 300 million, and the representation ratio factor situation has severely worsened since 1912 and is continually growing worse.

    This is one of the very fundamental reasons that Congress is not responsive and hostile to us constituents. It’s time to correct this problem to expand the number of representatives to at least 1000 so the House of Representatives more closely represents the composition of our country and more clearly reflects the nature and character of the people.

  • Zagreus Ammon:

    I consider myself conservative and feel I have something to offer in this debate that would help fashion a better health plan. However these rabid people — who hijack democracy and claim they are alienated in the political process any time the will of the people is different from their own — have ruined it for me.

    While societies are judged by how they handle minorities and dissident segments of their communities, this is getting ridiculous. If the Republican approach is to bully me into believing what they believe in the face of science, reason and data (cf: birth certificates), then I will fight back. As they marginalize themselves more and more, these psychotic people (defined as behavior that contradicts evidence of reality) calling themselves Republican and conservative, but who are really followers of Fox, will be exposed as pathetic thugs who do not read books and whose ignorance belies their actions.

    We must remember to reach out to these injured and marginalized individuals who do not have the temperament to take part in civil society. It really is where craziness like Ruby Ridge and Timothy McVeigh is incubated. I would have gone to the town hall, even under the threats that have been uttered, if only to show democracy cannot be deterred. People must never fear the opinions of their neighbors.

  • CobraX30:

    Are you serious? Have you seen these town hall clips? These people are the elderly and the disabled. How can you compare them to McVeigh? Either do some research or find a brain!

    I just heard a story from Oregon where the state insurance refused to pay for this ladies cancer medication, but instead offered to pay to euthanize her. WTF?

    If that story is true, and combined with a 500 billion cut to medicare, no wonder old people are up in arms about this!

    If the Dems really wanted to fix healthcare, they would pass torte reform, and increase the amount of doctors available. That would reduce costs dramatically.

    On a side note… Bravo to Adam Smith! From this point forward you have my support and respect!

  • Uncle John:

    Wasn’t there a report that Rep. Baird decided to cancel these meetings following a faxed death threat. Not hard to believe considering the general level of nastiness in some of these comments.

  • Robert Morgan:

    Baird is more than a coward, he’s a disgrace and will be given his walking papers come next election.

  • Eddost:

    What about free speech in America? It seems to me that many think free speech only matters when it is their own agenda in question. I hate to break it to some of you but free speech applies to all of us no matter what side of the fence you are on.
    Of course people are frustrated. Many of our elected officials are flat out telling us that they are voting for their own agenda and they seem to care very little for what the majority of their own constituents want. If I remember correctly these elected officials, were elected, to represent us…not the other way around. I heard congresswoman Sheila Jackson say on television yesterday, that she was attending townhall meetings to convince her constituents that her vision for healthcare was the correct one and that was her sole purpose for going to townhall meetings. She was not interested in what her constituents had to say; only in convincing them to accept her plan. This is a clear sign that we are being ignored by our elected officials if favor of their own agenda. This is a common theme for elected officials across America who are concerned more with agenda and ideology than they are with representing the people they were elected to represent. Of course American voters are angry and the anger will be displayed when it comes time to vote.
    I do agree that these townhall meetings must be orderly and respectful in order to be effective but people need to be able to express their frustration at the fact that their legislators are completelt ignoring them. This also applies to Baird who would rather choose to ignore angry constituents than to face them with the hard answers. The man is welcome to call these unruly mobs of angry 60 and 70 year old seniors, “Brownshirts,” if he chooses to but this will surely come back to bite him when he runs for re-election.
    The man is not only a coward for hiding underneath his desk rather than to face his constituents but he is a fool asking for political suicide by equating American citizens to Hitler’s brownshirts.

  • Bob Powell:

    Seriously now. Bush wouldn’t let people into his public official events if they had bumper stickers on their cars or wore t-shirts he didn’t like. When “conservatives” don’t like history, they simply rewrite it.

  • Bob Powell:

    While I’d prefer that Congressmen face the mass ignorance of the “Tea Party” disruptors, I can’t say I blame them because the disruptors are unwilling to listen to facts and reason.

    They have been brainwashed into believing there will be government “death panels” (there are already corporate “death panels” now), fears of government-run healthcare (this is about health insurance, not the entire healthcare system), fears of “socialism” (OMG!) when they don’t understand that the only way to address some problems is to do so collectively.

    Google “Single Payer Health Insurance” “systems thinking” to see understand why this is one of those cases.