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Posts published in “Day: September 10, 2007”

They all spoke

Not to over-revisit the infamous Brian Baird town hall meeting at Vancouver . . . but apparently a revisiting, from one who was there, may be useful in forestalling some revisionism.

Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a bullet-point column out today on how "Freedom of speech takes a beating." Exhibit one was the August 27 Baird town hall, at which the Democratic congressman, who recently spoke in favor of keeping American troops in Iraq for a longer time, took strong criticism from several hundred of the folks back home.

At it, Connelly writes, "the congressman [was] shouted down by an angry anti-war crowd. After a trip to Iraq, Baird had deviated from the party line by suggesting that the 'surge' is showing results. Baird is now being bombarded in radio spots aired by MoveOn.org. . . . Didn't Baird have a right to make his case?" Later, he wonders, "Consider, for instance, had Baird been challenged by an intelligent question from the crowd, along the following lines" - having to do with the persistence of the insurgency in Iraq, and ending with, "What's your answer, Mr. Baird?"

The column doesn't make clear whether Connelly was there. We were, and can say this much:

Baird did make his case, outlining it in some depth in the opening 15 minutes or so of the meeting, and expanding on it in response to questions; the audience sat quietly as he made his initial points, and only occasionally hooted at him later.

He was shouted at on several occasions, usually by individuals barking a short slogan, but he was not silenced; he handled the meeting with skill and grace (both tested severely) and maintained control of the proceedings. When he had something to say, he spoke; when he wanted to cut off a rambling monologue, he did (on several occasions), and the crowd accepted that. A number of questions were asked, and Baird answered them. The session was highly emotional, and emotions were expressed along with more intellectual responses, but it did not degenerate into chaos.

The sloganeering was accompanied by some intelligent questions, and comments too - remember that town hall meetings are supposed to be occasions not only for questioning the congressman, but also for telling the congressman what one thinks, even if in a less than perfectly formulated style. Baird accepted both kinds of discussion. And when the scheduled time ran out, Baird extended it to continue the talking. And emoting.

In fact, everyone got a chance to say their piece. It was hot and intense, but at core it was a congressman having a serious heart to heart with his constituents, reporting back to the district and getting comments from the voters. How that constitutes a case of beating up on freedom of speech is simply perplexing; it seemed to us then and still does more like a case of freedom of speech in action, exactly the sort of thing the nation's founders would have hoped for.

With Potter out

Tom Potter

Tom Potter at his announcement

Maybe the beard really was the tipoff that Tom Potter was ready for a change. Now - with Potter's announcement that he won't seek a second term next year - Portland will have another open-seat mayoral contest; will it draw 23 candidates like the last one did, or was that just pent-up ambition? (We suspect the latter.)

There's another comparison to be drawn, what with Council member Sam Adams' widely assumed candidacy for mayor, and presumed front-runner status. We recollect how four years ago another council member named Jim Francesconi was the presumed mayor-in-waiting, far better funded and substantially better organized than anyone else, and wound up getting his clock cleaned by the long-ago police chief who'd never run for office before, but who charmed the city over the months of campaigning. so we think it wise to presume nothing but that, a year and a half from now, someone new will be in the mayor's office.

Potter probably could have won a second term in a walk, despite some criticism for being too laid back, not aggressive enough in pursuit of a larger vision. There's something to that; but maybe those political and policy pieces have gone together. But cities (states, nations) go through phases, and need different things at different times. Potter's campaign in 2004 didn't suggest a wildly ambitious program, but rather some re-commitment to rebuilding linkages with people around the city, to avoid the ambitions of city hall from rolling over people and groups around town. He has maintained largely that kind of atmosphere - along the lines of what he had proposed - and it may have given the city something of a welcome breather after 12 years of the harder-charging Vera Katz. Maybe the time is cycling around again for something a little more ambitious.

Nice idea. From Potter's no-run speech: "I also want to make it easier for others to run for elected office. I will be working with the rest of council to establish City Hall 101, a series of classes to make the process less mysterious by helping candidates understand how City Hall works and the basics of establishing effective campaigns, including public financing."