LAKE MILLS — Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner had to bang a gavel several times to bring order to a raucous crowd at a town hall meeting Saturday.
But the gathering didn’t draw the level of protests that have accompanied other recent town hall meetings by Republican lawmakers across the country.
Sensenbrenner, of Menomonee Falls, and about 200 constituents gathered in the Lake Mills Community Center for one of two town meetings he held on Saturday. The other was in Delafield, and another is planned Sunday in Juneau. Sensenbrenner has held more than 40 such gatherings since Jan. 1.
While Sensenbrenner spoke and others asked him questions, attendees held signs reading “agree” or “disagree” as a way to make their positions known without disruption. But the meeting was not without its share of commotion.
Sensenbrenner banged a gavel on a folding table when cheering or booing disrupted his responses.
Question topics ranged from climate change to health care and from military spending to Social Security, but most of Sensenbrenner’s answers circled back to the federal government’s fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction.
He told the crowd:
- Environmental protections should not become so restrictive on businesses that they cut jobs.
- The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is not economically sound and will “crash and burn.”
- Military spending will be more successfully negotiated by President Donald Trump.
- Social Security, along with other entitlement programs, should be redeveloped to cut back spending.
As Sensenbrenner answered questions on the most controversial topics, specifically the Affordable Care Act and the Trump administration’s alleged involvement with Russia, some members of the crowd booed or jeered.
Ann Tharp, who moved to Lake Mills from Madison more than a year ago, said she attended Sensenbrenner’s town hall meeting because she “wanted to make sure he was still standing by Trump.” Tharp said it wasn’t a fair town hall because most of the comments and questions had a liberal bias.
“I think that a lot of people were going from one town hall to another to say the same things,” Tharp said.
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Sensenbrenner called the names of constituents who indicated on a sign-in slip that they wanted to ask a question. The topic of the question was not indicated on the slips.
Russia was on the minds of many attendees amid reports of Russia’s efforts to interfere with the presidential election and Trump’s alleged ties with the country.
Sensenbrenner said he is “outraged” by any foreign nation’s interference with another nation’s elections, but he does not believe Russia’s involvement had any impact on the results of the election.
“I have yet to find a person who changed their vote from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump because Vladimir Putin told them to,” Sensenbrenner said.
Many Republican members of Congress have avoided town hall meetings since Trump’s election but Sensenbrenner has a history of holding town halls — he said he has averaged about 100 every year since taking office.
“Just because there are controversial issues that come up is no reason for me to discontinue that,” he said. “I think people should be able to come and have a two-way conversation with their elected officials.
“People who disagree with me, I think, are entitled to have an explanation of why I take the position I do.”
Some legislators have opted for telephone town halls — including U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh. While telephone town halls can reach thousands of people at once, critics say handlers vet and screen questions.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, has not held a town hall this year.