Groups upset that leaders aren't publicly discussing controversial health plan
By Garren Shipley -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Conservative activists around the commonwealth would like a little face time with their two U.S. senators.
Activists want Democratic U.S. Sens. Jim Webb and Mark R. Warner to take some time to meet with constituents in an old-fashioned town hall -- something neither official had publicly scheduled as of Thursday afternoon.
With Congress considering a highly controversial plan to reform the U.S. health care system, town hall meetings have turned raucous in recent weeks.
Events that in other years would usually do well to draw a few dozen people have seen packed auditoriums with sign waving, shouting people protesting the proposed legislation.
Recent events have seen counter-protesters mobilized, making for an even more chaotic scene in many cases.
The Richmond Tea Party, a conservative group protesting expanding government programs, has put up billboards around Richmond, prodding the two men to meet with constituents.
"Wanted: Senators to hold real town halls. Apply next election," the billboards state.
A similar group in Hampton Roads is equally upset with Webb.
"We get lots of e-mails from frustrated Virginians," said Karen Miner-Hurd, of Virginia Beach, founder of Hampton Roads Tea Party.
"They are calling Webb and asking for town halls. They are being told that he's busy," she said.
"By not meeting with his constituents, he's telling us exactly what he thinks about us. Apparently we're an expendable electorate," she said.
Webb's office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment, but the senator's Web page does have a place for constituents to submit comments on the subject.
The senator was scheduled to visit Hampton Roads on Thursday and today, but none of the events are open to the public.
Warner did hold a telephone town hall on Tuesday that was said to reach some 40,000 or more Virginians, but not all callers who signed up on Warner's Web site were able to join the call.
The former governor defended his interactions with voters during an interview on WRVA-AM in Richmond on Tuesday.
"Of course I'm going to be doing town hall meetings," he said, adding that he's been meeting with groups and businesses about health care since he returned from vacation.
While current proposals may not be popular, something has to be done about health care or the U.S. economy may never fully recover from the recession, Warner said.
"The current health care system is not sustainable," he said, adding that health insurance costs are likely to double over the next decade.
"Medicare and Medicaid are going to explode the deficit over the next 10 years," he said. "We're not going to see a full-fledged economic recovery and I also think we're going to explode the deficit" without reform.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th, hasn't held a town hall per se, but has been meeting with numerous civic and other groups and taking questions.
"We've done Rotary [Club], Kiwanis [Club], Lions Club, [National Association of Retired Federal Employees]," said Dan Scandling, Wolf's chief of staff. "We've been all over the district."
Wolf will also be holding three tele-town halls where residents can question the congressman directly.
The valley's other voice in Congress, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, will be holding town halls in several locations, including one at Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater on Sept. 5.