ThinkProgress filed this report from a town hall meeting in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
As voters around the country continue to voice their anger at town halls over the Republican plan to end Medicare, Republican congressmen are using a range of tactics to try to avoid constituent wrath. In a heated Orlando town hall yesterday, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) largely ignored contentious questions, leading many in the crowd to demand the congressman “answer the question!” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the architect of the GOP budget, even ducked out a back entrance during his town hall last night and left in a police car rather than his own vehicle.
Last night, ThinkProgress was in attendance at a Fort Lauderdale town hall where Rep. Allen West (R-FL) took a different approach: pre-screening all questions. Not only were all questions pre-approved by the congressman’s staff, but the attendees were not even permitted to ask the screened questions themselves; staff members read the questions instead, lest a constituent ask an unscripted question. The Sun Sentinel noted that West’s move to pre-screen questions was a far cry from “his usual practice at previous town hall meetings, where West took questions from people who lined up at microphones.”
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Still, a few upset voters attempted to circumvent West’s screening process and make their voices heard. These town hall attendees were thrown out by security and at least one woman, a former Air America radio host, was arrested.
It’s understandable why West would want to screen all the questions he would be asked. Voter anger over the Republican budget – West gave the plan a full-throated endorsement – has popped up in town halls across the country. Constituents have been giving an earful to many GOPers who support the Republican budget, including Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Daniel Webster (R-FL), Charlie Bass (R-NH), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Patrick Meehan (R-WI), and Robert Dold (R-IL). West’s move to pre-screen all questions was an unfortunate attempt to head off the voter backlash that’s plaguing other supporters of the Republican budget.
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,Rep. West’s communications director, Angela Sachitano, emailed the following response:
“Congressman West did not prescreen his questions and didn’t even see them ahead of time. Every person who entered the town hall had the opportunity to write down a question. The questions were sorted by a third party- the employees of the venue. No staff was involved with the questions. We did this intentionally so there was no bias with the questions. The decision to do this was based on getting through as many questions as possible.”
Nonetheless, as the Sun Sentinel pointed out, this method of holding town halls is far different from the way West conducted them in the past, when audience members were allowed to ask impromptu questions themselves. Allowing two Calvary Chapel staffers to screen and ask all the questions eliminated the possibility of West receiving hard-hitting questions directly from constituents. In addition, though Chapel employees were the questioners rather than West’s employees, it’s important to note that the Chapel was no impartial observer. Indeed, the head pastor introduced West prior to the event and praised him in glowing terms.