Rod Blum’s town hall vetting stinks

If you happen to have a spare cup of courage lying around, please pass it to U.S. Rep. Rod Blum.

Blum has agreed to four in-person meetings at public places in Iowa’s 1st District during the May recess. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that he and his staff are busy redefining “public” by instituting unnecessary roadblocks for those who want to hear from and speak directly to one of the four men who represent Iowa in the U.S. House.

Those who hope to attend are required to let the Congressman’s office know ahead of time. The registration process through Eventbrite requires submission of the applicant’s full name, email address and physical address. Upon arrival, Blum’s newly activated personal Stasi will be posted at the door to demand “papers, please” in an effort to guarantee only residents of Iowa’s 1st Congressional District are allowed inside. Those lucky few should leave backpacks, signs, banners and “artificial noisemakers” in the car.

As Blum explained to political reporter James Q. Lynch this week, he doesn’t know what to expect. Some of his Congressional colleagues have returned to the safety of their Washington offices with tales of yelling and heckling. No doubt Blum would have a much better idea of what he’ll be facing if he hadn’t chosen to purposefully limit his exposure to like-minded audiences.

U.S. Rep. Rod Blum talks with a constituent in his office in the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Mar. 22, 2017.
U.S. Rep. Rod Blum talks with a constituent in his office in the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Mar. 22, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Blum says rabble-rousing activists from other places have been making trouble at truly public events.

“I don’t want to waste time conversing with folks who are from Des Moines, for example. Or from out of state, that are from Chicago. This has happened at other town halls. I’ve talked to my colleagues on the House floor. People have come in from out of state.”

Interestingly enough, Blum didn’t mind cashing campaign contribution checks from those who live elsewhere.

Let’s also not forget this is from the same Congressman who proclaimed “real Americans” don’t care whether or not he holds public meetings; the same Congressman who insisted only those who want to “show up and yell” request he make himself available.

He implies vetting is needed so that he might experience “Iowa nice.” I would remind the Congressman that respect is earned, and, the last time I checked, the 1st District doesn’t control the state’s etiquette spigot.

Any elected official — Republican, Democrat or otherwise affiliated — who believes personally facing Iowans — nice or angry — is an option subject to restriction does not deserve the honor of his or her office. Lawmakers too afraid to fling open local gymnasium doors to the public need to be permanently reassigned to the protective confines of their own homes.

Restricting access to a “public” meeting creates more frustration within an already agitated public, essentially assuring the rowdy behavior Blum hopes to avoid will take place. To put it more bluntly, when you specifically prohibit “artificial noisemakers” you dare folks to collaborate using natural, biological options.

No doubt that would be an “Iowa nice” grievance difficult to rise above — not too terribly different or less odorous than the hoops Blum keeps leaping through to avoid Iowans.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on May 6, 2017. Photo credit: Stephen Mally/The Gazette