Disagreement Can and Should Be Respectful
Sensenbrenner considers Town Hall Meetings an important part of his service
This is the latest in a series of regular columns from U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.
Last year, a media outlet dubbed me the “Town Hall King” because I hold more Town Hall Meetings than any other Congressman or Senator. While the title is amusing, I take my Town Hall Meetings very seriously and consider them one of the most important duties I perform.
Town Hall Meetings allow residents the opportunity to ask questions, share the issues on their mind and get help with a federal agency, which is why I think it’s important to hold these meetings on a regular basis. As standing practice, I invite local elected representatives to join me at these meetings as a resource for folks who have questions or concerns about state issues.
I truly believe that a civic-minded public is a cornerstone of a working democracy. I say this with the caveat that for democracy to truly work, as people voice their opinion, share their thoughts, and vote, civility must prevail.
For the first time ever, earlier this month in Wauwatosa I adjourned a Town Hall Meeting early because civility left the room. Despite repeated requests to show respect to speakers, other attendees, and library patrons, the room became chaotic. After 30 minutes of interruptions, and the noticeably growing unease of some people in the room, I was concerned someone might either be hurt or property would be damaged. It was unfortunate that those who came to the meeting and patiently waited to voice their opinion were unable to do so.
Government and politics can often make emotions and passions run high, however in my many years of holding these meetings I have always found the vast majority of people attending these meetings to be able to disagree without being disagreeable — to express their opinion while still respecting the counter opinion of someone else. In fact, even during last year’s intense health care debate we still had a respectful discourse at all my meetings.
There are a host of critical issues challenging our state and nation right now, and we’re not all going to agree on the best way to solve these challenges. But we can no longer kick the can farther down the road if we want our state and nation to become prosperous again — we need to talk these problems out, make a decision and move forward on that decision.
My new schedule of upcoming Town Hall Meetings will be posted in the near future, and I welcome all residents to these meetings. And those individuals who take the time to attend a meeting have my commitment that I will continue to do my best to ensure they are safe and hear a civil discourse in what I always hope are productive and informative meetings. We can disagree, but I hope that we can do so in a respectful manner.