In the past, I've attended a number of the 23 public meetings with veterans that Congressman Walz has held since taking office in 2007, so I wasn't surprised to see an article in the Rochester Post Bulletin, Veterans' stories of trouble accessing VA care dominate forum.
Walz serves on the House Veterans' Committee and has put veterans needs high on his agenda for policy making and constituent outreach. And he's received national recognition for this commitment: this year, he's received the Silver Helmet Award from AMVETs and the Legislator of the Year award from the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers.
What did surprise me were a couple of paragraphs in political reporter Heather Carlson's article, detailing the response of Randy Demmer's campaign manager to the meeting:
The campaign of Walz's Republican opponent Randy Demmer questioned Walz's decision to hold a town hall on veterans' issues but not one on the economy. Demmer's campaign manager, Jason Flohrs, said Demmer agrees with Walz on veterans' issues. But he said he would like to see a town hall on an issue where the candidates disagree.
Flohrs seems fundamentally confused about the work of congressional offices.
I've checked with the congressional office, which issued the press release announcing the Rochester meeting, and this was not a campaign event. Rather, it was a chance for the congressman to meet with constituents--and a group of constituents directly related to his committee work in Washington.
Victim of his own confusion, Flohrs seems to think that it's the role of the congressional office--funded by taxpayer dollars--to contact the office of a political opponent and schedule official work based on points of disagreement between the candidates.
It is not.
That's what campaigns--funded by private contributions--are for. And indeed, the Walz campaign has since challenged Demmer, IP candidate Steve Wilson, and no-party man Lars Johnson to a debate on jobs in Rochester, and well as two others. The Demmer campaign responded by calling for eight debates, though with a caveat:
[Flohrs] added, "We said we're not going to do any that are only one topic specific."
Given how much Flohrs wanted a town hall--at taxpayer expense--solely on jobs and the economy earlier in the week, one wonders what changed. The about-face is positively Emmeroid in nature.
As for the vets, they don't seem particularly pleased with the notion that they should STFU --or that Walz should quit listening to them--simply because his opponent's campaign manager decided to politicize a town hall on veterans' issues.
In a letter in today's Post Bulletin,Walz forum solely about veterans, former state VFW commander Steve O'Connor takes Flohrs to task:
Thank you very much for the article "veterans vent frustrations with benefits claims process." I am very disappointed that John Flohrs of the Demmer campaign took the opportunity to make a campaign issue out of Monday night's forum.
Congressman Walz, since his election, has held one to three veterans forums each year to inform veterans of the actions Congress has taken to correct deficiencies in veterans' health care and other benefit programs as well as to solicit ideas to help correct existing problems and to present any new issues.
I highly doubt that any veteran, spouse or family member present viewed the veterans' forum as a campaign strategy by the congressman but rather as his usual followup with the veterans community.
In addition, I do not doubt that Mr. Demmer and Congressman Walz agree on veterans' issues. Almost all politicians agree on the issues, it's in the resolution of those issues where disagreement occurs.
Perhaps O'Connor protests too much--and all representatives and their staffs should follow the Flohrs's model and stop meeting with constituents about issues related to the committees upon which they serve.I
Instead, taxpayer dollars could be dropped in a system where public employees call the warring political campaign and let them set the agenda for public meetings.
Think of the possibilities. House Ag Chair Collin Peterson could tell Seventh CD farmers to go pound dirt and address whatever the heck is bothering Lee Byberg this week. Oberstar? Drop talk of transportation and find out what that opponent disagrees with you about.
On the other hand, Michele Bachmann might be coaxed off the phones, Fox News, planes to fundraisers in exotic California and into a public forum to talk about foreclosures, jobs, infrastructure in the Sixth as Tarryl Clark would like her to do.
Perhaps the Republican Party of Minnesota could start with that one--and not bother Walz or the veterans he to whom he listens.
Photo: Congressman Walz (standing) acknowledges vets leader Steve O'Connor (foreground, arm raised0 at the recent veterans town hall in Rochester. Photo via Rochester Post Bulletin.