Wednesday, August 20, 2011 Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) (1st Congressional District) hosted a town hall meeting at the Northeast Community College Lifelong Learning Center in Norfolk, NE. Approximately 130-150 people attended this standing-room only meeting.
I’ve only attended one other town hall meeting in my life and that one was hosted at the same location about 2 years ago by Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (D). Town hall meetings and other local appearances by statewide elected representatives are usually held during the day and the necessity to work has always precluded my attendance. I made special arrangements to my work schedule to be able to attend this town hall meeting.
I must admit that I generally don’t concentrate much of my effort on local or statewide politics, frankly because it bores the snot out of me. After attending this town hall meeting I’m beginning to re-think my level of activity on the local and statewide level.
Part of my hesitance from “getting involved” stems from a despicable and life-altering experience I had working for the City of Norfolk almost a decade ago. I saw then, what the level of interest in my local community was in “doing the right thing.” It was nil. People sure enjoy bitching about the taxes they pay but VERY few of them really care enough to actually DO anything about it. They’ve got other things to do…like bitch about their taxes.
Back to this town hall meeting. I went into this meeting knowing a few things about Congressman Fortenberry that I wasn’t particularly pleased with (like his vote to increase the debt ceiling). However, I was really HOPING to come away from this meeting feeling reassured that the Congressman was the RIGHT person for the job. The exact opposite was my final reaction.
I must say that it took me several days to decide what my true feelings were about the entire experience. There were so many things that occurred in that meeting that frustrated and aggravated me on such a level I didn’t know possible that I had to take several days to form a clear understanding of it.
The main sentiment with which I came away from this meeting was this:
If these are the kind of people that are in Washington, D.C. “representing” us, we, as a Nation, are screwed. Forget a future for your kids, your grand kids and future generations that have yet to be born. NONE of them will know the country that you did. We are living through truly historic times, as we are witnessing Her final days and “representatives” like Congressman Fortenberry are contributing to Her decline.
Here’s why I’m so harsh on the Congressman: I found him to be cocky, a bit condescending and sometimes downright rude. He had his good moments…he told a couple of silly jokes, he thanked a nice family that had brought him an edible gift of homemade something-or-other and at times his demeanor seemed to be that of someone who really did “care.”
It was the times that the Congressman seemed aggravated by the presence and MILDLY forceful questioning of one man in particular that Congressman Fortenberry’s (referred to as “Jeff” from here on out) real personality seemed to come to the forefront. Jeff was visibly ticked-off about the man’s (whom I’ll refer to as “Brandon”) line of questioning and insistence that Jeff justify his vote to increase the debt ceiling. None of us got a worthy explanation to Brandon’s question. Jeff got ticked and told Brandon “I’ve already answered your question.” No. He hadn’t.
There was one other time during this town hall meeting that Brandon made the mistake of saying something. These moments, all shown in the video below, really ticked Jeff off. Jeff could be seen visibly sighing, tilting his head and raising his arms (and possibly rolling his eyes) in exasperation when Brandon made the mistake of addressing his elected representative for a second time. Jeff’s visible exasperation with Brandon’s questioning and his ONE other comment were completely uncalled for and difficult to understand.
What was Jeff’s problem with this ONE constituent? I can’t answer that. I can only react to it, as I’m guessing others at this meeting did too. Maybe it was the fact that Brandon didn’t appear to be impressed by the presence of Jeff. Maybe it was because Brandon tried to hold Jeff to a basic principle of answering his question, which, after all, was the reason we were all there. We weren’t there to hear a lecture from Jeff, as he subjected us to for the first 25 minutes of this town hall meeting. We were there to have a dialogue with our Congressman. Something Jeff wasn’t going to have anything to do with where Brandon was concerned.
Also, there were others who seemed to have NO limit on the amount of conversation that they were allotted by Jeff. However, Brandon was only allotted his one question and his attempted rebuttal which was brushed-off by Jeff. Later, when Brandon prodded Jeff to answer a woman’s question about Jeff’s opinion of the TEA Party Jeff said to Brandon, “Would you st…would you please stop? I already asked you once to stop interrupting.” No. He didn’t. That never happened. Jeff may have thought he did. He may have WANTED to tell Brandon to shut up, but he didn’t do it until this situation arose.
There were other times when people brought up inane issues, like the effect of the amount of pay that TWENTY Obama administration officials earn has on the nation’s debt. “That’s the problem, right there,” this questioner stated. Jeff really didn’t have much to say to these kind of suggestions. What could he? Well, he could have told the man the true nature of the economic issues that this country really faces. Instead, he just let the people believe that this was actually something that would or could lead to the decline of our country. I thought that was quite dishonest and misleading on Jeff’s part. In my book, allowing misinformation to perpetuate is not acceptable behavior for a Congressman. It is irresponsible.
There’s only one more thing that took place during this town hall meeting that I’m willing to spend any more of my time on typing out a description of and it is this:
At the end of the town hall meeting and as the majority of people had left or were on their way out the door, Brandon and a few other people (mostly Jeff’s staff/handlers) approached Jeff who was still standing at the front of the room speaking with others. I wanted to hear what was going to transpire so I, too, walked up to the front of the room with my video camera still recording. I didn’t hear it at the time but upon later review of my recording of this meeting one of Jeff’s large, male staff members could be heard saying to Brandon, “Are you going to behave?” Now, I have NO CLUE what that was about. My PRESUMPTION is that this was an attempt to intimidate Brandon. Brandon decided that it wasn’t worth his time or energy to remain waiting for Jeff to finish his conversation with others and he left without any further questioning of the Congressman.
Intimidation and disenfranchisement complete, Congressman.
I know of two people that will never vote for you again.
One more note, in the interest of full-disclosure: “Brandon” is a non-threatening, non-violent, knowledgeable member of our local 9/12 Group, as am I.
I’m tired of thinking and typing about this debacle. Here’s the video. Judge for yourself. Yes, it’s long. Jump ahead to about the 23:30 mark to skip-past Jeff’s lecture. During my editing of this video, in an effort to make MY opinion known of Jeff, I added MANY comments on-screen to this video. These are MY opinions and are not intended to represent the opinion of any other person or group. This is my video.
Here’s another video of Congressman Fortenberry having a “discussion” with a constituent who challenged the Congressman at a town hall meeting held this month in Lincoln. It seems this behavior is normal for Jeff. (This is not my video.):
If you care to read more about Nebraska statewide issues and politicians, the folks over at Grassroots In Nebraska (GiN) have done a TON of phenomenal work on a range of issues that should be a “must-read” for all Nebraskans.