It was 22 years ago when I assigned a young Golden City High School senior Peggy Brinkhoff to cover her first story at the Lamar Democrat, a town hall meeting held by Sen. John Danforth at the Horton Building in Lamar.
I went with her to take pictures, make sure everything went well, and because I have always had a great admiration for Sen. Danforth. It should have been a simple assignment, an examination of politics at its finest, a public servant coming home to hear what his constituents have to say.
It didn't quite work out that way.
I don't remember the particular issues now, but one young man, a recent graduate of Liberal High School, asked the first question in a rude and disrespectful manner and then kept challenging Sen. Danforth, primarily because he did not get the answer he wanted.
"Do people normally act like this"" Peggy asked me.
"This is the first time I've seen anything like it."
The young man continued to shout out questions every few minutes and I, and most of the people who attended the meeting, felt uncomfortable about the way it was going.
Looking back, I suppose it was a portent of things to come. And to give the young man credit, after Bubs Hohulin was elected state representative in 1990, he was consistent. He often treated constituents whose viewpoints did not coincide with his, with the same disdain.
The disruptions being caused at town hall meetings is not a way of creating a dialogure about important issues, it is a way to keep these issues from being discussed. I have no problems with those who feel strongly about issues encouraging people to pack the halls for the meetings; that is what America is all about. Shouting down elected officials and acting like a bunch of thugs is not. If your ideas are strong enough, you don't need to bully and intimidate to get your message across.
It appears Congressman Russ Carnahan was able to keep from having his meeting disrupted by packing the building with supporters of the Democratic health care plan, but that is no way to solve the problem. However, you can't blame him when you see the kind of behavior exhibited by the people who did not make it into the meeting: