Lou Barletta and Town Hall Meetings: The Dramatic Saga Continues
By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer
If Lou Barletta has a wheelhouse, this is it.
A few minutes ago, the Congressman’s office sent out a press release with the headline, “Rep. Barletta blasts administration’s granting of amnesty to illegal aliens.”
It’s probably a welcome relief for the Barletta press outfit, which has spent much of the past week battling back an onslaught of criticism over the Congressman’s decision not to hold public town hall meetings.
First-term Republican Barletta defeated 13 term Democratic incumbent Paul Kanjorski in November in an strongly Democratic district. In his campaign Barletta hammered Kanjorski for not holding town hall meetings.
According to an editorial in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, following a 90 minute town hall meeting in October, Barletta said, “This isn’t campaign talk. These meetings don’t end after this campaign is over. When I’m congressman, I will continue to hold town hall meetings throughout the 11th District.”
This editorial, and articles like it, have been blasted out to reporters over and over by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other left-leaning groups.
It’s been only eight months since he took office and already Barletta has decided to suspend his town halls. He’s getting slammed for it.
Of all congressional Republicans, Barletta represents one of the most Democratic-leaning districts. The fact that he’d take lumps is no surprise. But this is the latest in an unpleasant narrative that Barletta has experienced – and contributed to – since January.
Barletta argues that the suspension is not about not wanting to talk with his constituents.
During his eight months in office he has held four town hall meetings – in Lansford, Wilkes-Barre Township, Stroundsburg, Bloomsburg and more. But these meetings were often disruptive.
In an interview with the The Times Leader Barletta said, “In the four town hall meetings I held, each one became a victim of targeted disruption by MoveOn.org… Members of that organization were told what to do to interrupt the meetings. There were near fist fights between people in the audience and the protesters. The police had to remove people on two occasions.”
Then, back in June, Barletta came under scrutiny following reports that his office prohibited the use of recording devices in public meetings after video of previous meetings ended up online.
This morning in an interview with WILK’s Webster & Nancy, Barletta claimed that the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org is harassing him, making town hall meetings hopelessly unproductive. Barletta said he isn’t interested in putting a forum together which is politically motivated rather than about addressing the issues of his district.
Asked by another interviewer to explain the difference between then and now, Barletta cited the case of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
“The behavior of these protesters has put myself, my staff and innocent people in attendance at risk,” he said. “Three days after I was sworn in (in January), Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona and 17 others were shot at a town hall meeting – six died including a 9-year-old-girl.”
Indeed, although raucus town halls are certainly not unheard of in 2010. In the summers of 2009 and 2010, conservative and Tea Party protesters organized appearances at town hall meetings on health care reform – sometimes with disruptive results. Threats were made and congressional offices were vandalized then, too.
The crux of the criticism – that Barletta criticized Kanjorski for skipping town halls in 2010 and is doing the same thing now – is likely to stick around.
“It’s hypocritical,” said former Kanjorski campaign spokesman Ed Mitchell. “But I can’t say I’m surprised.” Mitchell said Barletta’s new policy would “absolutely” have an impact in the 2012 election.