Congressional Recess: Even Reps in ‘Safe Seats’ Face Tough Critics

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This is the first of two stories about what Colorado's Congressional delegation has been hearing from constituents during the summer recess.

Some members of Congress are already back in Washington as the discussion over Syria heats up, but next week, summer recess is over for all of them. Colorado's delegation has been busy holding town hall meetings all over the state, and even members in so-called “safe seats” haven't been getting free rides.

That was certainly the case at one recent meeting with Rep. Jared Polis. He easily won re-election last fall, but you wouldn’t have known that when he invited questions and comments from the forty or so people gathered at a community center in Loveland.

The Boulder Democrat got two earsful.

A disdain for Obamacare and distrust of plans to overhaul the immigration system dominated the meeting. Another recurring theme was a belief that President Obama is overstepping his authority, signing executive orders that bypass Congress. That point was made by a woman who spoke against new EPA regulations. This testy exchange was typical.

"Stop executive branch legislating," the woman said. "This is your job, and you’re letting the ... the executive branch legislate for you. And that’s shameful. This is your job but you refuse to do it."

Polis began to answer. "The way we rein in executive authority, the way it works under our constitution, is through funding. The president can’t do anything we don’t fund," he said.

But the woman interrupted. "Defund the EPA," she said, to a round of applause.

"Well, I’m not for that," Polis responded.

One man even mocked Polis’ knowledge of the nation’s debt.

"I just want to know from you, do you understand the basic concept that if we go bankrupt nobody gets anything? Do you understand that?" he asked.

Polis generally took it all in stride, calmly explaining process, outlining positions, and at times checking facts. He says he supports Obamacare but laments the inability of Congress to improve parts of it. He also stressed where he disagrees with his party. He opposes banning semi-automatic rifles, although he does support background checks for gun purchases. He upset some liberals by voting for the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan. If it had passed, it would have cut spending $3 for every dollar increase in taxes. Polis also pointed out that he disagrees with President Obama on issues like NSA surveillance.

"There’s this perception that I am somehow a rubber stamp for Obama. I’m not. I agree with him on many things, but I always try to make an independent analysis," the Congressman said.

Democrat Keith Cortella of Loveland says he wasn’t surprised by the topics that were raised or the tone of the speakers.

"That’s usually the way these things go, right? People come to give their gripes," Cortella said.

Cortella also said the views expressed during the meeting reflect who decided to attend, not the district as a whole. He pointed to the results of last fall’s election.

"We vote right? And he beat somebody that was what we’re hearing in here in the majority. So the voting people, it tells a story," he added.

Despite the tone of most of those who spoke, Polis did receive some applause and a few kind words. Some of his critics even praised him for facing tough questions.

After the meeting, Polis denied that holding town halls might be a little like eating your vegetables.

"Oh, this is great," he said. "I always love being here in Loveland, and it’s an honor to represent Loveland. We got a lot of good ideas, and I made some notes and hope to take them back and find some things we can work on."

With that, Polis rushed out the door, headed to Wellington, just north of Fort Collins, for another town hall meeting.

[Photo: CPR/PMack]