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Texas Town Hall Meetings Get Rowdy

August 29, 2011

HOUSTON - With approval of Congress by the American public at a dismal 13 percent, representatives are buffering themselves from angry constituents. The August recess is normally town-hall-meeting season, but a recent survey found only 44 percent of U.S. House members are hosting public events, though they are taking place in Texas at a slightly higher rate.

To try to keep control of their meetings, some Congress members around the country are charging attendance fees, banning cameras, or asking police to remove demonstrators.

Republican Rep. Pete Olson of Sugar Land faced hundreds of Houston-area residents at two town-hall meetings this weekend. While the congressman intended to respond only to pre-screened questions, a vocally-rowdy audience was determined to push him beyond his main talking points: cutting the debt and deficit spending.

Pasadena resident Steven Halvorson, who is a volunteer with the Texas Organizing Project, attended both forums.

"His whole thing was just 'cut, cut cut' - that was all it was. And he said that we were just angry. I think people should be angry if they're going to lose their funding, if they're going to lose Medicare, if they're going to lose their Social Security."

Halvorson, who calls himself a progressive activist, says liberal proposals for more government investment in jobs and infrastructure have taken a back seat to the notion that balancing the budget is the best way to address the jobs crisis.

Halvorson however thinks that, as voters digest the consequences of cuts-only recipes, they are beginning to demand that alternative approaches be debated.

"This is the first time in a long time that I've actually seen us make an impact and get somebody to actually get frustrated and I think have to come back and answer hard questions. Because I don't know that he'll be able to keep going to these meetings and not answer some of the questions that the progressives are trying to ask."

Halvorson, who is a medical research lab scientist, disagrees with Olson's town-hall statements that federal stimulus spending did not save Texas jobs.

"I actually kept my job two more years because my boss was funded from stimulus money that kept me and a handful of our staff employed for another two years. Now we don't know what we're going to do."

Unless Congress passes another major jobs program, he predicts, many Texas jobs saved by government spending will be lost within the next year or two.

Rep. Olson plans two additional town-hall meetings in Sugar Land and Richmond this evening and Wednesday, August 31.

Town-hall survey results are at nolabels.org

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX