From the Editor

Can't take the heat?

Executive EditorAugust 22, 2009 

Democracy yelled this month. But some Democrats in Congress didn't want to hear it.

With Congress recessed, opponents of the Democrat health-care proposals flooded streets and assembly halls. At times, they've been loud, unruly and confrontational.

That has made some Democrats uncomfortable. Several Democratic members of Congress from North Carolina have declined to appear at meetings and take questions from the public.

Among them is Rep. Brad Miller, a Raleigh Democrat who represents the 13th District, which stretches to Greensboro. Miller said Friday that he hasn't held a town-hall style meeting in four years, partly because they were sparsely attended.

That wouldn't have been a problem this year.

He said he feared opponents of the Democrats' health plans would disrupt the meetings, "shout me down and talk over anyone else," as they have in some other states. "That kind of conduct is not democratic debate," he said. "It doesn't advance the debate."

Miller said he is talking with citizens in other ways. He is taking questions on radio and television and meeting with small groups, including opponents of the Democrat plans.

But that's not the same as taking questions face-to-face from an open-to-the-public crowd. With good security, ground rules and a skilled moderator, a public meeting can be orderly (one was held in Durham last week).

But this is the United States. If you want to stand up, identify yourself and yell at a government representative, you ought to be able to.

If you happen to be that government representative, no doubt it's not pleasant to take constituents' wrath.

But it goes with the territory. Any member of Congress, with a staff and reams of good information, ought to be able to answer questions and deliver a cohesive argument for why a piece of major legislation should or should not pass. If you can't hold your own with Joe Sixpack from Roxboro, should you be in Congress?

To their credit, some area Democrats did take questions in a public forum. Reps. Bob Etheridge, David Price and G.K. Butterfield did so. Those forums were held in areas -- or run by an organization -- friendly to the congressmen. But the bottom line is they took questions at meetings anyone could attend.

"Every member of Congress, one way or another, needs to do this," Price said.

When the pressure is on, you get points for showing up and taking the heat. From the people asking the barbed questions, an elected official might even learn a thing or two.

john.drescher@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4515

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