Congressional lawmakers headed into this year’s August recess touting the lowest approval rating in polling history, leaving an equally low number of members less-than-eager to face their constituents. According to a No Labels survey, 60 percent of House members are not holding open town halls. Having literally pledged to provide a more honest and accountable government, this basic failure of openness should not sit well with the 50 percent of House Republicans hiding behind closed doors. Freshman Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), however, seems perfectly happy to shut his constituents out.
Facing “Lou, where are the jobs?” protests in his district, he has opted to offer “pay per view” public events in which he charges and admission fee instead of the free town-hall format. Blaming “hecklers” for spoiling his message, Bartletta pointed to his Republican brethren as a defense: “What other elected officials are having town hall meetings?”
He said he has tried to hold town hall meetings, but hecklers have made them so disruptive that he can’t get his message out.
“What other elected officials are having town hall meetings?” Barletta asked. “How can you blame someone who has been in office for eight months why no jobs are coming here? I hope these protesters are asking all elected officials, especially those that have been in office for years, what they are doing to bring jobs here.”
To answer his question, 175 elected officials are. His fellow Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Tom Marino is holding one today right next door to his district. Indeed, 10 of his Pennsylvanian colleagues who are holding open town halls — including GOP Reps. Marino, Mike Kelly, Glenn Thompson, Jim Gerlach, Pat Meehan, Mike Fitzpatrick, and Joseph Pitts — might ask “why aren’t you?”
Particularly when Barletta actually campaigned against former Rep. Paul Kanjorski’s (D) refusal to hold town hall meetings after facing “ambushes by hecklers.” Indeed, Kanjorski gave the exact same reason Barletta did, fearing “nuts” or “a small number of extreme political opponents who come to disrupt town meetings solely for the purpose of scoring political points.” To which then-candidate Barletta replied back then: “Kanjorski has been in Congress for 26 years and his response to our region’s 10 percent unemployment rate is to call his constituents ‘nuts’ and to attack the city of Hazleton.”
For now-Congressman Barletta, it only took a few months.