My First Town Hall™, starring Pete Olson

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Last night I attended my first Congressional town hall, for my representative, Pete Olson, Republican from TX-22, covering suburbs and exurbs south of Houston. I’ve seen videos of town hall drama from 2010 on, but I don’t think I expected such a clown show in my own backyard.

When I arrived there was a school bus outside the auditorium building where the event was being held, with a couple dozen school age children and adults, mostly wearing matching tshirts. I assumed they were on a school field trip to experience first hand how our civic institutions work. You’ll find out later how wrong I was.

Upon entering the building we had to sign in, and if we had a question, had to write it down and give it to a staffer. Given that my question was going to be on a controversial social issue, I doubted Olson would ever even see the question, let alone answer it.

After being introduced by the mayor of Pearland, Texas, Congressman Olson began with a very dry joke about Johnny Manziel’s half-game suspension. I had never heard Olson speak, so I was unaware that he was potentially the least charismatic person in Washington. He seems like a nice enough guy, but he is a terrible public speaker. Mumbles, stammers, juggles words. Honestly, it gives hope to an introvert like me; if he can be in Congress, why can’t I?

After his awkward joke, Olson warned that he would not tolerate any outbursts or overtalking, that each person had the right to free speech, but no one person or group’s right overruled another. It would turn out to be a prescient, but futile warning. Olson used a Powerpoint presentation to make his initial speech, then said he would take questions after, and would answer via email any questions he didn’t get to in the 90-minute meeting.

Upon turning to the first slide, which suggested that Attorney General Eric Holder should be impeached, chaos immediately broke out.

After the din subsided, Olson went on with his presentation, which covered gun control, voter fraud, Obamacare, the NSA, and finally immigration. At this point it became clear that the busload of children and adults were not from a school at all. When Olson began talking about his opposition to the Senate immigration bill, they stood up and started walking toward the front of the auditorium and stood in front of him.

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They were eventually escorted out by Pearland police to the cheers and howls of the rest of the constituents. A young South Asian man was very vocal against them, yelling that they needed to “leave and come back with papers” like he did, also noting the similarity between their inability to follow immigration procedure and the designated Q&A procedure of the town hall. Touche, sir.

Conveniently after the large immigrant group had left, Olson’s staff handed out survey cards about what should be done with illegal immigrants, with four possible responses:

a) immediate path to citizenship without penalties
b) path to citizenship for military service
c) path to citizenship for success in school
d) send them back home

I chose “b”, “c”, and wrote in an “e” to suggest a path to citizenship for anyone after penalties. Apparently it was an either/or survey, because at the end of the town hall Olson announced the results, which added up to 100% between each response. Predictably, “d” got the plurality of support from the vocal Tea Party aligned constituency, though only just over 1/3.

Olson then answered many questions, about Benghazi, Obamacare, Syria, the NSA, the Justin Amash amendment, immigration, and Keystone XL. He didn’t get to my question and several others, so I eagerly anticipate his email response and will share that when I receive it.

(On that last tweet, I admit to possibly mishearing him, as he stumbled through his answer. He could have meant to prevent them being used on Israel rather than to give them to Israel. Either way, the crowd universally didn’t approve.)

Overall, the event was a heavily scripted, awkward affair, with frequent episodes of chaos and verbal sparring that would make cable news shows jealous. After witnessing local democracy firsthand, I think Sir Churchill got it exactly right:

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PS: For the curious, attached are the official materials distributed at the meeting, including the full slideshow, a summary of TX-22 statistics, and a bonus flyer that LaRouche Democrats were handing out in the lobby as we left.

TX-22 Facts

Olson Presentation

LaRouche Flyer

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