R.B.H. + J.A.G. + W.M. + F.D.R. + J.F.K. + E.M.K. + 9/11 Memorial = History recalled

By Russ Phillips

I have not posted since Sep. 30th because I have been traveling and visiting several sites relating to our government. This included five previous presidents, a previous senator and a memorial/museum in remembrance of the many lives lost in 1993 and 2001 when terrorists attacked the United States. The sites visited included:

The museums/libraries/homes are a most interesting and visual way to bring back to life a previous era and pivotal events in our nation’s history. I would encourage you to consider visiting our presidential libraries and museums.

‘Coming to the House of Representatives From Silicon Valley Is Like Going in a Time Machine’

Welcome to the woeful world of technology in Congress. Politico.com By Andrew Zaleski 9/13/15 Speaking in New York in June, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) recounted the story of her election as chair of the House Republican Conference in 2012. … Continue reading

Editorial: Bring back Congressional town hall tradition

U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski hasn’t had a town hall meeting in two years. It’s time to change that.

The Elkhart Truth


U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (Jennifer Shephard/The Elkhart Truth)

No more than a dozen years ago, the political landscape looked much different and certainly calmer.

Back then, local members of Congress, eager to keep in touch with their constituents, would return to the district for the annual August recess and host a series of town hall meetings throughout the district.

Those meetings were the standard approach for lawmakers to update residents in person on what they are working on in Washington D.C., and – just as importantly – a chance for residents to quiz the lawmaker about policy issues.

Often these meetings would attract a few dozen people at the most and the atmosphere was usually cordial. But circumstances began to change in 2009, when the health care reform debate took center stage and the tea party movement simultaneously took root. Suddenly, town hall meetings became almost caustic.

Add to that the use of social media, including YouTube, and many lawmakers soon learned the hard way that any misstep or angry confrontation can suddenly become the Internet’s latest viral sensation.

Fast forward to today. In the 2nd Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski has not conducted a town hall meeting in two years. The last one hosted by the Jimtown Republican was held in Rochester on the southern outskirts of the district and at least an hour-long drive from the most populated areas that she serves.

Despite the distance, more than 100 people, including many from Elkhart County, attended the meeting. The atmosphere remained civil as Walorski talked about her policy priorities and faced a few tough questions from the crowd.

In the time since, Walorski has continued to return to the district during the August recess, but has instead loaded up her public schedule with smaller, more orchestrated events themed around issues such as manufacturing, health care and veterans.

Still, something is missing. The give-and-take of ideas in a public setting has disappeared. In a time when the public seems more engaged and more opinionated about public policy, the need for congressional town hall meetings is even more necessary.

Walorski defends the themed tours and says those events have provided a chance to meet with hundreds of people in every part of the district. She also points to the use of social media as another avenue for constituency communications.

Adding more events to her August recess schedule remains a goal, Walorski said, but it also becomes a matter of logistics.

Certainly, we can’t blame this on logistics. It’s not hard to call a meeting and invite the public, though some thought should be given to security to keep both lawmakers and the public safe from potential physical harm.

Technically one could happen over coffee at a local restaurant or on a Saturday morning at a local chamber of commerce. Even during the contentious session earlier this year in the Indiana General Assembly, state senators and representatives showed up at Third House meetings in Elkhart and Goshen to field questions and update constituents. Even when it wasn’t pleasant, it was real conversation and remained civil.

As Sean Savage, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College, said in a recent article in the Elkhart Truth, taking pointed questions from constituents comes with the territory of being a member of Congress. It’s part of being elected by the people, for the people.

The idea of fielding tough questions “may be uncomfortable and difficult and embarrassing for the elected official. But frankly, that’s part of the job,” Savage said.

We encourage Walorski to work out the logistics next August – or sooner – and host a town hall meeting in South Bend, Mishawaka or Elkhart where her voters, including those who didn’t vote for her, can hear from her and ask her questions.

Walorski has been accessible and in front of the public, but returning to the open town hall format would show her commitment to fully representing the people of northern Indiana.

Some clamor for U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski to hold more town hall meetings

Instead, GOP lawmaker schedules theme-based ’tours’ that focus on specific issues and aren’t open to general public


U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski talks at a town hall meeting she held two years ago in Rochester. She has not conducted a traditional town hall meeting since. (Truth Photo By Dan Spalding)

(Related articles on Town Halls and Walorski will be found here and here.)

The Elkhart Truth (use this link to see “comments” from 21 individuals)
By Tim Vandenback

ELKHART — U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski regularly returns to the 2nd District and her Jimtown home from Washington, D.C.

She recently finished the last of three tours in the district focused on government regulation, health care and education.

“Right now, in this little block of time that we have, we want to make sure we get into every single county, and to all parts of the district, and make sure that we’re accessible to everybody in the district,” Walorski said Tuesday on her education tour. “I think we’re really accessible.”

What she didn’t do while in the district, however, was hold a traditional town hall meeting — where members of the public can simply show up and speak out about whatever is on their minds. In fact, it has been more than two years since the Republican legislator hosted her one and only town hall meeting — on Aug. 21, 2013.

While Walorski has taken part in her issue-themed tours, some grumble that such gatherings, typically involving visits with pre-screened constituents, aren’t enough.

“Congresswoman Walorski has done a manufacturing tour, a farming tour, an education tour. But she has yet to hold a town hall forum,” said Chad Crabree, secretary of the Elkhart County Democratic Party and a candidate for Elkhart City Council in November. “Why can’t I talk to the person the residents voted for?”

To be sure, Walorski will meet with constituents who hold a wide range of views. She or staff members, for instance, have met in her Mishawaka office on varied occasions with representatives from the North Central Indiana AFL-CIO Council, fielding the group’s calls for immigration reform and a raise in the minimum wage.

But Tony Flora, president of the labor group, says meeting organized groups like his that represent a defined constituency is one thing. Meeting with rank-and-file constituents who don’t have the backing of a larger organization like his — letting them ask their questions, air their concerns and have their say — is another.

Yes, town hall meetings have the potential to get unruly, he acknowledges. “On the other hand, the general public should have the opportunity to say, ’Let’s talk about these important issues,’” Flora said.

On the flip side politically, Dale Stickel, former head of the Elkhart County Republican Party, said Walorski’s predecessor, Joe Donnelly, a Democrat and now a U.S. senator, didn’t seem to have very many town hall meetings. The heads of the Elkhart County and St. Joseph County Republican parties, Mary Nisly and Roy Saenz, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.


Some in the national media announced the demise of the town hall meeting back in 2013, around the time Walorski held her last one in Rochester.

The New York Times, for one, reported  in 2013, that a push by tea party groups dating to 2009 to confront lawmakers at town hall events seemed to result in “fewer members of Congress now willing to face their constituents.” The article was headlined, “A former engine of the GOP, the town hall meeting, cools down.”

“I think, generally, politics has become, I don’t know, cruder, more outspoken,” said Sean Savage, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College in South Bend.

The upshot at a town hall meeting can be an “uncontrolled audience,” Savage said, and uncomfortable confrontations between angry constituetents and a lawmaker. Add the advent of social media and instantly uploadable video to the mix, and an awkward moment or inartful statement can be broadcast on places like YouTube for all the world to see.

Still, it’s not so clear-cut that town hall meetings, in fact, are on the wane as a political institution.

“It’s hard to measure that scientifically,” said Noah Wall, the national director of grassroots for FreedomWorks, a conservative group based in Washington, D.C., that pushes for smaller government. Many lawmakers have them, he said, but only publicize them locally, so it’s hard to gauge their frequency on a national level.

FreedomWorks pushed for town hall meetings across the country back in August 2013, when Walorski had hers, as part of the group’s push at the time for Congress to defund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The group still advocates for the town hall format, and Wall suggested lawmakers should have at least one per year in each of the major cities they represent.


Walorski defended the themed tours she typically conducts on varied topics as a means to connect with the public. She makes it a point to visit each of the 10 north-central Indiana counties within her district.

“The tours that we do have been so successful. We can see hundreds of people all over the district, north, south, east, west,” she said during the education tour stop at Roosevelt STEAM Academy. On her three recent tours, dating to Aug. 12, she visited seven businesses, two farms and 10 schools, not to mention a hospital, a health medical clinic and three other facilities on the health care tour. 

It doesn’t stop there. “People can say what they want…(but) if you look at our Facebook and Twitter and things like that, folks have a chance to say whatever they want to say,” Walorski said.

She hinted, vaguely, at the possibility of different sorts of district activities, or more of them, though not specifically a town hall meeting. “It’s just trying to make the logistics work, and we continue to work on packing more into the schedule when I’m home,” she said.

The Jefferson Center of St. Paul, Minn., which aims to promote citizen involvement in crafting of public policy, questions the value of town hall meetings. Typically, participants don’t represent a balanced cross-section of constituents, but rather, those who may feel strongly on an issue, said Andrew Rockway, program manager for the group.

Rather, the Jefferson Center advocates use of what it calls citizen juries, groups representing the demographics of an area that meet in controlled settings to get expert input on an issue and come up with recommended solutions.

Many other observers, though, are adamant on the importance of town hall meetings, allowing the public to interact one-on-one with their elected federal representatives, size them up personally. Even as Crabtree and Wall touted the import of civility, Savage said discomfort from pointed questions comes with the territory.

“That may be uncomfortable and difficult and embarrassing for the elected official. But frankly, that’s part of the job,” Savage said.

Indeed, worse than the discomfort a politician may experience by having a town hall meeting is the disconnect by not having one. Avoiding such gatherings is “a further distancing between elected officials and constituents,” he said.

(Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.)

What do they stand for? Good luck finding out

(You will also find links to the candidates’ websites and snippets of info on this website here. – Admin.)

A review of the GOP candidates’ policy websites discovers big gaps at the top.

By Darren Samuelsohn


Nolan D. McCaskill | Politico

Presidential campaigns once saw their websites as useful tools to tell voters where they stood on the big policy issues of the day. Sure, the information may have been a bit wonky, even riddled with bullet points. But Americans genuinely interested in the candidates’ ideas could get some details straight from each one on what they’d do if elected president on everything from Social Security to NATO.

That’s so 2008.

A POLITICO Agenda analysis of the 17 GOP campaigns’ websites found that nearly half lacked a specific “issue” page at all. The absence of a clear, one-stop spigot of policy information was especially notable at the top of the field. Front-runners Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker don’t have policy tabs of any kind. For the rest of the pack, the policy pages of their websites are largely afterthoughts, light on significant detail. There are some exceptions: Rand Paul, the libertarian idea maven, gets deep into the issues and pushes the bounds of where a Republican might go; Chris Christie offers multi-pronged plans on education, the economy and entitlement reform. But overall, what the Republican field has posted online on the policy front is far more a jumble of talking points, previously-published op-eds and random topics — Marco Rubio has a page simply titled “America” — than the kinds of details once considered essential to a serious presidential candidacy.

Campaign veterans say there are several reasons for the shift. For starters, websites are now used more as tools to raise money, sell swag and collect email addresses and other vital information from potential voters, donors and volunteers. As for all that nerdy policy? It can wait.

In part, that’s because many of the candidates aren’t well-funded enough to have staff to develop detailed positions on foreign and domestic issues. (Hence the crucial fundraising role of the website.) But cash is hardly a problem for GOP heavy hitters like Trump and Bush. For them, it’s probably more a matter of being “risk averse” where they “don’t want a lot of policy questions at this stage,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, a top economic policy adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. More than a year before the general election, when the big issues haven’t all coalesced yet, it can be far more damaging to be associated with the wrong position than helpful to back an easy one. 

In time for the Republican field’s first debate face-off Thursday in Cleveland, here’s POLITICO’s breakdown of the candidates’ policy websites: both what they stand for, and how much they’re putting out there for voters to consider.

Jeb Bush
Issue page? No
What’s online: The former Florida governor has a reputation as a policy wonk. His website? Not so much. Visitors will find a lengthy bio page to “Meet Jeb,” as well as a feature spotlighting the candidate’s latest tweets. He’s also got blog posts recapping recent events where policy has been discussed, like last weekend’s speech in South Florida to the National Urban League and topical essays like his “6 steps” on border enforcement and immigration. But there’s no clearly marked spot where voters can learn details about what Bush would do if elected.

Ben Carson
Issue page? Yes — ‘Ben on the Issues’
What’s online: This is more like a list of 10 topics of interest to conservatives — “Stand by Israel, Our Bulwark Middle East Ally” and “Keep Gitmo Open” — than an actual full-bore policy platform. The retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon keeps his explanations simple too. His education section is among the most detailed, coming in at five paragraphs and a call that “Common Core must be overturned.” On health care, Carson says he’d drop the Affordable Care Act; as a replacement he offers health savings accounts, “which empower families to make their own decisions about their medical treatment.” Each tab conveniently offers visitors a chance to “stand with Ben” by leaving their first and last name, email address and zip code.

Chris Christie
Issue page? Yes — ‘Taking on the Tough Issues’
What’s online: The New Jersey governor wins his party’s policy primary by posting the most detailed ideas of any GOP presidential candidate. Amid town-hall videos of Christie paying tribute to Ronald Reagan and trashing the current leadership in Washington are sections on entitlement reform, including a 12-point plan
 that calls for phasing out Social Security benefits for future retirees and raising the retirement age to 69; a 15-point plan on education suggesting using his work in New Jersey as a “model for reform to the nation”; a five-point plan on the economy that includes corporate tax cuts and lifting the ban on crude oil exports; and a foreign policy plan
 that sticks to typically GOP safe ground like ending sequestration for the military and passing tougher anti-terrorism and surveillance laws.
Ted Cruz
Issue page? No
What’s online: The Texas senator’s site does tout his “proven record” on several core conservative topics, like “The Constitution” and “Life, Marriage & Family.” But rather than spell out what Cruz would do as president, his site lists highlights from his political career in the Senate, as a Bush administration official and as Texas solicitor general. There’s also a little bit of field research, asking visitors to rank nine issues in order of importance —a doubly useful poll for the campaign, since it also collects names, email addresses and zip codes.

Carly Fiorina
Issue page: No
What’s online: Visitors to the former Hewlett-Packard executive learn plenty about who “Carly” is. What they don’t get is much in the way of insight into her policies. There is, however, a petition requesting email address and zip code as a way to register disgust with “career politicians” and to let it be known that “it’s time to put a citizen leader in the White House.”

Jim Gilmore
Issue page? Yes—‘Jim’s Growth Code’
What’s online: A pretty straightforward page from the race’s true long shot. The former Virginia governor offers up five steps that are “simply, squarely and precisely focused on the tax code and restoring America to a sustainable economic growth trajectory.” Among his ideas: setting up a 15 percent tax rate for all business income, and three tax rates for individual income. 

Lindsey Graham
Issue page? Yes – ‘Prepared to be Commander in Chief on Day One’
What’s online: The South Carolina senator’s policy site is presented like a set of Russian nesting dolls. It starts with three very broad topics —”Securing Our Nation”, “Securing our Future” and “Securing our Values” — that each come with general overviews into why Graham is best equipped to be president. From there, visitors can keep clicking for more layers of information about Graham’s foreign/military, economic and social policies. A couple examples: he’d put 10,000 U.S. troops in the Middle East to “defeat forces of radical Islam” and seek legislation that bans abortions after 20 weeks unless the woman’s life is in danger or she’s the victim of rape or incest.

Mike Huckabee
Issue page? Yes—‘Where I Stand on Today’s Issues’
What’s online: There’s a little bit of everything here. Some of the former Arkansas governor’s webpages are pretty simple. Under “Tax Reform” are two short paragraphs explaining why he’d abolish the IRS and enact a “FairTax.” Under “Spending & Debt” are promises to get rid of Obamacare, “secure the border & end illegal immigration” and a general call to “reject the failed Obama-Clinton politics that punish working families and encourage government dependency.” A tab in the issue section for the “Undecided Voter” leads to a page requesting vital info like name and email address —promising an email per week sharing insights on “where Gov. Huckabee stands on the issues.”

Bobby Jindal
Issue page? No
What’s online: The Louisiana governor is well-known in GOP circles for being something of a policy wonk. His website doesn’t reflect that. While there is a 730-word bio offering visitors a chance to “Meet Bobby,” as well as a list of Jindal’s “top achievements” in the statehouse, there’s nowhere to go to find out what he’d do as president. That said, his campaign does have a number of petitions (requesting name, email, zip code) to signal displeasure with everything from Obamacare to Planned Parenthood.
John Kasich
Issue page? No
What’s online: A late entry to the 2016 GOP sweepstakes, the Ohio governor has a website that still looks like a work in progress. It has plenty of biographical information about his record in Columbus and in Congress as the chairman of the House Budget Committee. But the most a visitor would find here about Kasich’s presidential plans is a brief note that he would “make balancing the federal budget a top priority and continue to fight for a Constitutional amendment to force Congress to do its job and balance the budget.”

George Pataki 
Issue page? No
What’s online: For starters, there’s a chance to “Meet George” and “Meet Libby.” Beyond that? No one-stop shop for the former New York governor’s stance on the big issues of the day. For visitors willing to sift through video links, however, there are plenty of Pataki media hits, in which he explains everything from why Congress should nix the Iran deal to why he’s not a big fan of the Common Core education standards.
Rand Paul
Issue page? Yes—‘Rand Paul on the Issues’
What’s online: The Kentucky senator gives Rubio some competition when it comes to the sheer breadth of areas he tries to cover online. At last count, Paul had 18 different subtopics, including a couple that break from the GOP norm, like “criminal justice reform” and “civil liberties.” Each click leads to a brief explanation into why Paul thinks the item is important; several include YouTube videos of the candidate himself. As for solutions, the website mostly touts bills Paul has introduced, like the RESET Act, which would loosen some drug laws, and a proposal to impose term limits on all members of Congress. 
Rick Perry
Issue page? Yes—‘Expanding Opportunity for All’
What’s online: The former Texas governor whose ‘oops’ moment defined his ill-fated 2012 White House bid is going for the studious look this cycle, thanks to a series of policy briefings in Austin (and some snappy new eyeglasses). But when it comes to his website, it’s all about brevity. Four big picture topics are listed as his platform: “Lower Taxes,” “Retire the Debt,” “National Security” and “Stop Special Interests & Big Government.” But only the “national security” section is longer than one sentence. It’s two.

Marco Rubio 
Issue page? Yes—‘See what Marco thinks about the issues’
What’s online: The Florida senator earns extra credit for being the most creative with his policy tabs. A page titled “America” opens by asking: “What kind of country will we be?” Several other pages are specific to geographic locations, like Cuba, Europe and Iran. The latter actually gets two pages, “Part 2” being a cut-and-paste excerpt from a FoxNews op-ed Rubio wrote in late April as the Obama-led negotiations heated up. Like Paul, Rubio is trying to be seen as a candidate of ideas. But also like Paul, his website’s policy tabs seems to be expressed in breadth more than specifics. 

Rick Santorum
Issue page? Yes—‘Rick on the Issues’ 
What’s online: A short series of explainers that mostly recap where the former Pennsylvania senator has stood on some bedrock GOP issues like immigration and “the sanctity of life.” His economic plan is one paragraph long, though it promises “in a few short weeks” to go into more details into on how he would “end the IRS as we know it.” It also asks for the visitor’s email address to “be the first to hear about Rick’s Economic Plan.”

Donald Trump
Issue page? No
What’s online: Fancy fonts, video highlights from the current GOP front-runner’s recent TV appearances and the latest tweets from @realDonaldTrump. Trump actually has talked about policy on and off over the years, though his actual positions have been hard to pin down—a pattern that continues in this campaign, and on his website, which is void of specific plans.

Scott Walker
Issue page? No
What’s online: There’s a chance to “Meet Scott” via a bio page subtitled: “Humble Beginnings. Bold Ideas.” On his news page are links to campaign statements slamming President Obama’s climate change regulations and Hillary Clinton’s Cuba policy. Visitors can also pick up a $299 personalized autographed copy of Walker’s latest book. But what they can’t find is anything definitive or substantive about what the Wisconsin governor would do in the White House.

My Question for the Republican Presidential Debate

The New York Times By Thomas L. Friedman, Op-Ed Columnist 8/5/15 If I got to ask one question of the presidential aspirants at Thursday’s Fox Republican debate, it would be this: “As part of a 1982 transportation bill, President Ronald Reagan … Continue reading

My phone call from “Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran”

By Russ Phillips

Yesterday I received a phone call from “Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran” (CNFI) and was asked, “Do you trust Iran to live up to the agreement?”

The caller said he would report my answer to my Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and then corrected himself and said Senator Joe Donnelly (IN). He did not mention Senator Dan Coats (IN), I assume, because he has already announced his opposition to the Iran Deal. I informed the caller I was very familiar with contacting my congressman and would register my sentiments directly to them.

Instead of answering the question, I asked several of my own. I wanted to know more about this advocacy group. After several of my questions the caller ended the conversation, still without my answer.

To help me be more informed about the issues on this topic I began some online research.

CNFI is “…dedicated to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability.” (Source)

 Evan Bayh, previously governor of Indiana and served two terms in the U.S. Senate, serves on the CNFI Advisory Board. (Source)

A recent Washington Post article, “Anti-Iran deal groups firing on all cylinders in massive lobbying push,” helps to understand the effort underway to undermine the Iran Deal.

The Historic Deal that Will Prevent Iran from Acquiring A Nuclear Weapon,” as presented by the White House and including a video (4:37) by President Obama addresses some of the most common criticisms of the Iran Deal.

For anyone seriously interested in this matter this is just a start. Best wishes in your journey of discovery.