Baird fears foes may plan ‘ambush’
‘Telephone town hall’ will replace meeting
Thursday, August 6 | 11:13 a.m.
BY MICHAEL ANDERSEN
COLUMBIAN STAFF WRITER
Over 10 years in Congress, U.S. Rep. Brian Baird has stayed tethered to his district, flying back to Southwest Washington for more than 300 sometimes-bruising town hall meetings during Congressional recesses.
But this year, he's literally decided to phone it in.
Instead of appearing in person, where "extremists" would have "the chance to shout and make YouTube videos," Baird said Wednesday, he's holding what he calls "telephone town halls" instead.
Baird said he's using the new system because he fears his political opponents may be planning "an ambush" to disrupt his meetings, using methods Baird compared to Nazism.
"What we're seeing right now is close to Brown Shirt tactics," Baird, D-Vancouver, said in a phone interview. "I mean that very seriously."
The coming telephone conference call would be Baird's third this year.
His office used its Congressional allowance to buy the necessary software around the start of 2009, a spokesman said.
Here's how it'll work: if you happen to be sitting near a publicly listed Clark County telephone line on the right day at the right time, your phone will ring.
In order to avoid software problems, Baird's office says, the exact date and time will be kept secret from the public.
If you answer your landline, an automated message will ask whether you have a question for your Congressman.
Press *3, and you'll be asked your location and the subject of your question. Sitting at his own telephone at an as-yet-undisclosed location, Baird then will choose a name based on its location and the topic.
There will be no further pre-screening, Baird said. After the call is over, the recording will be posted on his Web site.
Baird said the phone interviews will include "a much better cross-section of the public" than some live town halls.
"There is this national movement in blogs and on the Internet to go to town hall meetings solely to attack people," Baird said. "One colleague of mine recently was hung in effigy at a town hall meeting. Others needed police escorts."
Last month, according to Politico.com, a protestor hung an effigy of Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Maryland, from a noose.
That event took place during an organized protest, according to Politico.
‘We are not nut cases’
Not all Baird's constituents support his decision.
Pam Benson of Larch Mountain, 62, said she realizes Baird disagrees with her on health care reform.
But the lack of town hall meetings makes her feel angrier and more helpless, she said.
"He's supposed to be our representative," said Benson, a purchasing manager for Portland Cascade Architecture and Engineering in Portland. "He's supposed to listen to us, whether he's on our side or not."
Benson said she doesn't understand why health care reform is moving forward when everyone she talks to seems to oppose it.
"We are not nut cases that disagree with this issue," she said. "There are a lot of very well-informed people that are against this health care thing."
It's enough to make a Republican like her paranoid, she said.
"It makes me feel that there is a conspiracy here to screw up the whole entire United States," she said with a laugh. "It's just too much, too fast."
For his part, Baird said live meetings will "probably resume" in September or October.
Baird said he has no way to be sure whether hateful protests would happen if he held live town halls while visiting the district next week.
"We'll have to see how this works out," Baird said. "If someone says you're going to walk into an ambush, you don't do it just to prove there's an ambush."
Michael Andersen: 360-735-4508 or firstname.lastname@example.org