Democrats avoid health care town halls amid disruptions

News & ObserverAugust 7, 2009 

RALEIGH — The town hall forum, long a hallmark of the August congressional recess, is disappearing this year as the partisan lines harden and tempers flare over the health care debate.

Democratic Rep. Brad Miller of Raleigh received a death threat from a constituent, his staff said.

The caller was angry that Miller wasn't holding a town hall meeting.

Two congressmen, Democrats Heath Shuler of Bryson City and Larry Kissell of Biscoe, are phoning it in, holding a town hall meeting from the safe distance of a teleconference. Most other U.S. House members aren't even going that far.

Conservative critics of President Barack Obama's plan for health care reform are demanding town hall forums across the country, because they want to give members of Congress — particularly Democrats who support the president — an earful of why they think it is a bad idea. Several town halls in other states have become instant YouTube classics, with shouting, angry mobs humiliating congressmen. For the Democrats, it smells like a set-up by conservative advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. Democrats say these groups are trying to torpedo meaningful health care reform.

"They were not interested in having a discussion," said Democratic Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte, referring to what he called orchestrated efforts to push for a town hall meeting. "They were interested in having a town meeting they're going to disrupt."

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