Congressional recess was dominated by news of angry constituents in town hall meetings around the country, seemingly more and more disgruntled with what they’re hearing from their representatives.
Some members of Congress have refused to hold such events while others have imposed new rules on attendance and conduct.
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who has held the most town halls this year, said he’s heard anger from constituents throughout his nearly four decades in the House. And his approach to dealing with it has been consistent.
“There’s an awful lot of heat that’s going on now, and I’ve been very insistent that the people who come to the town halls be respectful of people who have views other than their own,” he said. “I made the point consistently that town hall meetings are not a contest of who can yell the loudest.”
The 20-term congressman has prioritized doing town hall events since he first came to Congress in 1979.
“I believe that it is very important for people to see their elected representatives, be able to ask them questions and be able to get some answers,” he said. “We’ve had some hot issues before, we got some now, and whether we have hot issues or not-hot issues, I think it’s incumbent upon me … and I do it.”
Sensenbrenner has already scheduled 15 town halls for March, most of which will be in-person events in Wisconsin.
He is able to get to so many because his “compact” 5th District is easy to get around, he said.
“I think people like to see who represents them, rather than sitting and listening to the radio,” he said. “I can understand why members do telethon meetings if they have a district that is so geographically large that it is difficult to get around. But that’s not the case with me.”
Earlier this month, Sensenbrenner saw some heated exchanges during a town hall and had to bang a gavel to restore order.
“The thing is that people want to interrupt the speaker,” he said. “I tell them to wait their turn. I do have a gavel and I ask people to be respectful of the other person … just as they are being respectful to you if you disagree with them.”
Sensenbrenner said his constituents have “just as much right to express their views under the first amendment as everybody else.”
But he added that “trying to shout down or embarrass people whose views do not agree with other people, I don’t think is the way democracy should operate.”
At the age of 74, Sensenbrenner said his constituents should know he’s still with them.
“I’m showing people that even though I’ve been in for 38 years, I haven’t slowed down in my outreach to people,” he said.
“I continue doing in-person town hall meetings and the Lord willing, I will continue to do that,” he added.