Lawmakers’ hot season

Published 4:33 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Anyone living in South Georgia can attest to what it is like living with heat and humidity at the same time. Those same conditions exist in the month of August in our nation’s capitol. In fact, Washington, D.C., is so unpleasant this time of year that Congress actually passed a law requiring that they take a recess in August.

Longtime Speaker of the House John Nance Garner once said, “No good legislation ever comes out of Washington after June.” Some might argue that there isn’t any good month for legislation any more. In any case, the August recess is a tradition that has been around a long time. In fact, the official U.S. Senate Web site states that August is “a time for senators to spend time with family, meet with constituents in their home states, and catch up on summer reading.”

I doubt many members of Congress are getting much summer reading done this year. Instead, they are getting reacquainted with another old political tradition, the town hall meeting.

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Town hall meetings originated in New England. Some of the smaller towns actually use the town meeting as a form of government. More broadly, elected officials hold town hall meetings to give the citizens a chance to speak about issues and feel that their voices are being heard.

The public’s voice is definitely being heard in this year’s rounds of meetings. It is enough to make some congressmen wish they had taken a taxpayer-funded junket to Europe instead. With cameras in every crowd, and You Tube postings within minutes of any outburst, the public is engaged like never before.

Is the anger genuine or orchestrated? Is the fear real or imagined?

I know that the voice I hear from my mother and her friends is full of fear. I know that the messages I get from business colleagues is full of anger.

The more I read about health care reform and its companion, health insurance reform, the more uncertain I am as to what is the best solution. Most Americans believe as I do that the system needs improvement. Is it having the public option or more private options? Google for some help in understanding the issue and you’ll get some 40,000 articles.

It isn’t an easy problem to solve. Congress doesn’t have an easy answer or they would have solved it long before having to face the ire of the public this August. Meetings are being shortened or canceled. Some change the format to only answer questions written in advance of the meeting.

I think the meetings are serving a purpose, no matter how uncomfortable they make those on stage. People know this is a complex issue. Now our leaders know that we are concerned. That isn’t a bad thing as they head back to Washington to finalize this bill.

We have a chance to participate in our own town hall meeting in Bainbridge on Thursday morning at the Kirbo Center. Rep. Sanford Bishop deserves the chance to answer questions without facing down an angry mob. At the same time, he has the responsibility to answer the questions that have caused such passion in the public.

Democracy isn’t always pretty. Take the time to participate in an old American tradition on Thursday and let your voice be heard.

We often judge our leaders by actions they take outside of politics. Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was know as “The Hammer” for the ruthless manner that he kept lawmakers in line. He eventually resigned from Congress in 2006 when he was charged with trying to violate campaign finance laws. Three years later his case has not come to trial. He currently has the job of many former politicians; he runs a political consulting firm.

This week it was announced that he will take on another job. He is one of 16 contestants on this season’s “Dancing with the Stars.” As unusual as that may seem, he is not the first politician to have this opportunity. The former mayor of Cincinnati, Jerry Springer, also performed on the show.

Also this week, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was released from the hospital after being beaten while trying to stop an attack on a grandmother and a small child. The mayor had just left the state fair. He had refused security because he was not on state business. In fact he had taken his daughter and nieces to the fair.

Mayor Barrett was beaten with a metal pipe. He had surgery on his shattered hand, gashes to his head and face, and two teeth knocked out. The mayor is in his second term, having received 80 percent of the vote in his re-election campaign.

At election time, it wouldn’t be that much of a challenge for me to know who I would want to represent me.

Dan Ponder, who can be reached at, is a former Seminole County Commission chairman and state representative. He currently is a Donalsonville businessman.