Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
Being a political wonk, I decided to spend a few hours last Saturday attending one of Jim Sensenbrenner's Town Hall forums. Like most members of Congress, Sensenbrenner holds regular meetings around his district. This session took place at 1:00 PM in Oconomowoc. Appearing with Sensenbrenner was State Representative, Joel “Cranes are the Rib-Eyes of the Sky” Kleefisch.
About fifty people showed up. I quickly understood what an interesting afternoon it would be after hearing a woman say, “Know what I call Fox News? Radio Free America ! “
As expected, most of the questions were related to the two current hot topics in Washington-gun control and the fiscal cliff negotiations. Of the 28 questioners, 21 expressed conservative viewpoints, and 5 voiced traditionally progressive views.
One of the first questioners asked about the ever-continuing debt ceiling debate. She quoted the 14th Amendment which states -”The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, ..., shall not be questioned.” and asked Sensenbrenner how he interprets the phrase “Shall not be questioned”. Is the payment of debts already incurred by Congress subject to debate and available to be held hostage?
The Congressman said that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution doesn't apply in the case of his votes against raising the ceiling. He said that spending already authorized by Congress above the debt ceiling, is not really “authorized by law”. So his view is that his party is fully justified in holding the US economy hostage by refusing to pay our incurred obligations.
The same woman pointed-out Sensenbrenner's mixed record of debt ceiling votes. He voted against raising the ceiling twice in 1993 (Clinton Administration) in 2008, twice in 2009, in 2010, 2011, and 2013 (Obama Administration). However, he voted for raising the ceiling in 2002, 2003, 2004 , 2006, and 2007 (W. Bush Administration). Is he being blatantly partisan, or is that just a coincidence?
Many attendees were sputtering over Federal spending. Most were blaming Democrats, forgetting that one of the legislators responsible for two unfunded wars, a giant revenue cut, and an unbargained prescription drug plan was sitting right in front of them. Sensenbrenner's party was in power when the country went from a surplus to a huge deficit, yet he takes no responsibility for this and now poses as a deficit hawk. President Obama was constantly cast as a big spender despite a 36.2% reduction in our annual deficit since Bush's last budget and the partial sunsetting of the Bush revenue cuts in 2013.
Many of those present felt that the Republicans had somehow “folded” during the recent budget negotiations. John Boehner certainly garnered no love from the crowd. Several threatened to stay home from the polls if the Republicans did not “draw a line in the sand”. Sensenbrenner is sick of Republicans attacking other Republicans, blaming party in-fighting for Romney's 2012 loss. He kept trying to calm people down, saying that Republicans will have a good bargaining position in the upcoming March 2 and 27 budget deadlines.
When asked about gun control, Jim ducked and weaved like a prizefighter. If the questioner seemed to favor sensible gun safety legislation, Jim brought up that he does not own a gun, is not an NRA member, and supported the Brady Bill. He said that he supports universal background checks, but is not sure how to make all gun purchases subject to them.
If the question came from an advocate of guns-for-everybody-everywhere, Jim said that “Guns are just machines” and don't kill anyone. He implied that any limit on types of available arms would violate the 2nd Amendment. Several times, he stated that semi-automatics are legal for hunting in 49 states, so that any limit on high capacity clips should come from individual state DNR's.
One question concerned Photo ID and what was being done to implement it. Last year, two different judicial decisions found the law to violate the Wisconsin State Constitution. Joel Kleefisch responded that the next probable step for Republicans would be to amend the Constitution to allow Photo ID. Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) and Sen. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) plan to introduce the bill early in the current legislative session. So much for our legislators' “laser-like” focus on jobs.
Another person asked about the incredible amounts of secret and unlimited money flowing into political campaigns after the Citizen's United decision and what could be done about corporations purchasing our politicians. Sensenbrenner said that he does not believe in limiting political advocacy by corporations, as that would require amending the First Amendment. He agrees that corporations are people and should be granted the same rights as individuals.
Many of the attendees made the conservative Congressman look downright progressive in comparison. Various zombie-eyed questioners called for the impeachment of Obama, the defunding of the EPA and “Obama's Czars”, getting the US out of the United Nations, and abolishing the Federal Reserve.
Another fellow went on a rant about the President attacking “American values”. He was especially incensed about “political correctness” and about Federal standards on drinking water and energy-efficient light bulbs. A woman said that Sensenbrenner should do something about the “radical President who is doing everything he can to tear-down our country”. I used to stereotype Tea Party types as grumpy old men. I was wrong. There were plenty of grumpy old women in attendance, too.
Overall, the Town Hall session was quite interesting and eye-opening. I recommend that everyone in our district attend at least one meeting. Town Hall schedules are listed on Jim Sensenbrenner's website.