This is something of a disturbing trend. An alarming amount of congressional representatives have refused to meet with constituents in public town hall meetings, opting instead to limit their appearances to "pay-per-view" events, where constituents have to fork over cash to a local supporter of the representative in order to see them in person. Constituents hoping to get answers on jobs and proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare have been left to protest outside district offices and private events just to get a meeting. Sometimes, as in the case of Chip Cravaack, it works. But increasingly, legislators are calling the police on their constituents instead of listening to them. Rep. Paul Ryan, one of those purveyors of toll-booth democracy, has kept a group of unemployed workers at bay for weeks now. Last week, they began a sit-in at his Kenosha district office in hopes that their voices would finally be heard. Earlier this week, Ryan staffers banned cameras from the premises, and then yesterday, they summoned the police to shoo the sit-in participants away. "Due to an official complaint from the building's owner, only persons with business in the building will be allowed in" was the official word, so Ryan and his staff apparently consider citizens from the district as "not having business" at a district constituent services office. And yesterday in St. Charles, Missouri, staffers for Rep. Todd Akin (R-St. Charles) called the police to drive away a rally inviting Akin to a local town hall. Akin is notorious for holding tightly scripted town hall events with all questions preselected well in advance, and once had a man escorted out by police who dared to challenge him on the facts of his presentation. Yesterday was more of the same, as police were called in to push away pesky constituents who wanted to ask Akin why he voted to privatize Medicare. Staffers have also been extremely touchy about video recording. Yesterday, constituents tried to film a testy encounter with a staffer for Nevada Congressman Joe Heck. The constituents had been repeatedly asking when they could possibly meet with their congressmen, but when the staffer stonewalled them, they tried to videotape the exchange with a cell phone camera. The phone became yet another reason not to answer their questions. In Cincinnati on Tuesday, Rep. Steve Chabots (R-OH) ordered cameras to be confiscated at a town hall. Police took away cameras from two activists and held them until the end of the town hall, even though the meeting was a public event held in a public, taxpayer-funded space. Chabots also refused to take questions directly from the audience, instead only answering questions submitted in writing in advance. It's unclear why these people ran for public office, when they really seem to dislike the "public" part of the job.
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