Farr’s Friendly Fire
Low turnout doesn’t derail Congressman’s Town Hall meeting.
Thursday, July 8, 2004
After voting against the invasion of Iraq, Rep. Sam Farr walked out of Congress with his peers chasing behind him. They urged him to change his vote, saying that he could get away with it politically.
At a time when it was considered unpatriotic to disagree with the President, and un-American to not want to bomb any country looking at us funny, Farr retained his resolve in responding to his peers’ concerns.
“I can do it because I represent a constituency who feels exactly like I do,” Farr recalls saying as he made it clear there would be no changing of his vote.
A room of those very constituents burst into applause after Farr shared that anecdote with them at a town hall meeting held last week at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS). (Well, let’s say “burst” to the extent that a small group of 40 concerned middle-aged and senior citizens can actually burst.)
The crowd ranged from teachers to hotel servers to former military officers. A veteran of the Vietnam War and a Holocaust survivor were among those who got on the microphone to voice their concerns about the county and the country.
However, the meeting did not meet the Congressman’s expectations for attendance.
“There’s a saying in politics, ‘Get a small room and fill it with a large crowd.’ We did the opposite,” Farr joked about the number of empty seats in the auditorium.
County residents who did show up had a diversity of issues to bring to the table. But a few issues dominated the discussion: housing, water, immigration and Iraq.
Although there were questions raised about health care, prescription drugs, the veterans’ cemetery and cruise ships coming into Monterey Bay, those other four issues were what seemed to be on everybody’s mind.
The meeting was open forum and everyone who wanted an opportunity to speak was allowed one. The Congressman acted as emcee for the evening, passing the microphone around as far as the cord would stretch, until his staff had to start using the back-up mike for people in the upper seating.
Farr, who said that “open discussion is the basis for our democracy,” proceeded to take down notes on everything that was said, and then addressed each of the topics brought up by the audience.
Even though he has supported affordable housing and clean water, Farr had to remind people that he doesn’t have a vote on those types of community issues, and they need to bring those problems to county officials. The Congressman still spoke extensively about the housing opportunities on the former Fort Ord, as well as various environmental policies he has supported.
What really got the crowd riled up was when the discussion moved to the US occupation of Iraq, and judging by Farr’s tone of voice, the constituents weren’t the only ones riled up.
Frank Lambert—who said that he had been planning to see Fahrenheit 9/11 that night, but decided to come see his Congressman instead— introduced himself as a Vietnam veteran who is against the occupation of Iraq.
“We don’t even count the people we kill,” he said. “They have a right to live too.”
Farr said leadership is about getting results, and the most important question regarding the war is: “Did we get anything done.” His answer to that?
“We need better leadership in this country.”
Farr said he believes that he has never seen regular Americans more interested in their government. He did not state an opinion about what turnout for one of these town hall meetings would be like if Americans didn’t care about the government.