Few Michigan congressional members hosting town halls

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin is meeting with constituents at a union hall to talk about job training. Rep. Gary Peters is focusing on regional transit discussions in his district, while Rep. Candice Miller is touring a wind farm in Michigan's Thumb. But few of the state's 17 U.S. Senate and House members besides Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga are holding town hall meetings open to all constituents, despite the recent fight over the debt ceiling, growing fears about the strength of the economy and voter displeasure with Washington.
AP Wire
Aug 20, 2011

It’s a pattern many congressional members across the country are following as they visit their districts over the August recess. Some are meeting with constituents in remote places far from the major media spotlights. Others are addressing only events that promise a friendly audience, or that charge a fee to attend.

Lawmakers are leery of wading into repeats of the 2010 confrontations at town hall meetings where heated exchanges over sweeping federal health care changes and other legislation left some congressional members looking for a speedy exit.

This year the voices are more likely to be those of voters chastising lawmakers for raising the prospect of cutting back on Medicare and Social Security, refusing to raise taxes or fighting over the federal debt ceiling rather than dealing with a shaky economy. 

That was the case at an Aug. 10 town hall meeting Huizenga held at the Grand Haven Community Center, where a standing-room-only crowd of 200 hurled some pointed questions his way.

Both TV stations WZZM and WOOD showed Norm Kittles of Whitehall asking the freshman Zeeland congressman, “Are there any circumstances where you would be willing to raise taxes on the top 1 percent of the people, or let the Bush tax cuts expire?”

“Do I believe right now, what we are dealing with this economy, that we need to raise taxes on anybody? Absolutely not,” Huizenga replied.

Huizenga acknowledges that town hall meetings can grow testy, but said he finds them a good way — in addition to town hall “meetings” on Facebook and over the telephone — to help constituents understand his views and what’s happening in Washington.

“With the debt ceiling situation, I thought it was important just to get out there and let people have a crack at their congressman,” he said in a telephone interview Friday. “There’s still something about holding a town hall meeting and giving people a chance to see you face to face.”

GOP Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph thought he was meeting Monday with elderly constituents at a forum sponsored by Kalamazoo County Advocates for Senior Issues. But dozens of political activists also showed up at the Coover Senior Center, turning the event into an occasionally unruly clash between those chanting “bring back jobs!” and the veteran congressman as the seniors in the crowd looked on bemused.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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