Bergman town hall less than ideal in format

It took him awhile — long enough that even some Republicans started wondering — but U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman finally got around to holding what was billed as town hall meetings last week. The Upper Peninsula session, at Escanaba’s Bay College, was one of two the freshman congressman and retired U.S. Marine Corps general held. The other was in Gaylord in the northern Lower Peninsula. The First Congressional District encompasses the U.P. and downstate’s northernmost counties.

The Escanaba gathering was attended by more than 300 people. We’re told the Gaylord meeting was also attended by a respectable number.

This writing is to neither support nor oppose any of the political positions voiced by Bergman. We’ll save that for future opinion pieces. It is, however, to protest the format under which the meeting was held. Whatever it was, it certainly was not a free-wheeling town hall meeting in the tradition of those held over the years in New England. It was a controlled — some might argue contrived — session that featured way too many armed police officers for comfort.

The Watersmeet Republican had drawn a significant amount of criticism since taking office in January with some claiming he was dodging town hall meetings because Republican congressional members, from sea to shining sea, have taken untold numbers of verbal beatings back home in their districts, as the new president rolled out his agenda.

In the Escanaba meeting, people were required to fill out written questions, which were carried in a box onto the stage by facilitator Dr. Laura Coleman, who is president of Bay College.

Coleman explained she would choose questions from the box and in doing so, would attempt to touch on multiple issues.

The old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” occurs to us at this point. It appeared to more than a few people in the audience Coleman was cherry picking questions on the representative’s behalf; for example, Bergman’s position on the Affordable Care Act, arguably the hot-button issue of the day, received as much weight as concerns about expansion of the Soo Locks, a project that has been discussed, on and off, for decades.

This did not sit well with a lot of people we observed.

And why were so many police needed? They were everywhere, on the theater stage, in the wings, outside the theater, in the parking lot. There was even a K-9 unit at the door. Although we doubt that it was intentional, we believe their presence was intimidating to many who attended.

The notion that Bergman, who flew helicopter combat missions in Vietnam, can’t stand up to constituents who are unhappy with things in Washington, strikes us as a lot of hooey. He didn’t earn three stars in a Marine uniform by being a shrinking violet.

In terms of format, this meeting (and the one in Gaylord, too) left much to be desired.

We heard a lot of complaints from constituents who felt muzzled and controlled — not the impact town hall meetings are supposed to have.

Here are some unsolicited suggestions for the next one: Use fewer police officers and let people ask what they want to ask, how they want to ask it.

Like it or not, that’s part of his job.

— Marquette Mining Journal