By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
In this age of increasingly faster communication, not all American voices are being heard. Republicans in Congress think their constituents’ opinions and suggestions have been drowned out by the noise of Democratic activists backing the majority party’s agenda in Washington, D.C.
To turn up the volume for Coloradans in the political conversation, 6th District Congressman Mike Coffman introduced the House Republican Conference’s new online communication tool — “America Speaking Out” — at a town hall meeting on Wednesday evening at the Ken Caryl Baptist Church in Littleton.
“This new initiative is about doing what Washington has not been doing — that is following the will of the people and listening to what you have to say,” said Coffman.
He said that the Web site is also designed to solicit voters’ solutions and encourage the exchange of ideas and opinions — regardless of party affiliation. Suggestions are reviewed by visitors, who also can add comments, with “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” ratings.
The site does not reveal names or e-mail addresses; however, it does allow members of Congress to view the comments posted by voters across the country or within their district. It also tracks voters’ opinions of the most critical issues facing the country.
The most pressing issues now, Coffman said, are concerns about the “growing debit and extraordinary deficit spending.” If the trend continues, he said, it will implode into a larger problem — and adversely impact the defense budget.
After a demonstration of the AmericaSpeakingOut.com Web site, Coffman opened the floor for comments or suggestions from more than 60 constituents attending the town hall meeting.
Most of them voiced concerns about the needs to improve the economy, increase jobs and secure the borders.
Of the latter, Coffman said that neither President George W. Bush nor President Barack Obama “has had the will to secure our borders. It’s very disappointing.”
Coffman said that he supports Arizona’s new law to thwart illegal immigration.
“Our economy sucks right now,” said a man, who lives in Centennial and works for a mechanical contractor.
“The number one issue is the need for jobs,” he declared and asked that the government do more to keep that pressing topic alive in the media that seems “distracted” by other crises such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
That comment led to a brief but animated discussion about job creation. The majority of folks said they are adamantly opposed to creating more government jobs, but they support generating employment opportunities in the private sector. Coffman agreed, and said that’s the only way to revitalize and strengthen the economy.
The suggestions were added to the list of town hall goers’ concerns and ideas that were written on a large tablet propped on an easel on the church alter.
Gerald Jones of Aurora called for an audit of the Federal Reserve.
“We have no idea what’s going on behind these closed doors,” said Jones of the Federal Reserve that has been exempt from audits under the U.S. Code.
Coffman said that he’s a co-sponsor of a bill introduced by Texas Congressman Ron Paul that would require the Government Accountability Office to audit the central bank before the end of the year.
“I have a concern about open communications in America,” said Kathy Holderith of Ken Caryl Valley North Ranch. She called for ensuring the First Amendment rights of free speech on the Internet, radio, television and phones.
Holderith was concerned that The Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present opposing views of an issue, might be revived and proposed in legislation. The doctrine was a policy of the Federal Communications Commission from 1949 until 1987, when it was abolished. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly voiced support for reinstituting the doctrine; however, Obama has voiced opposition to it.
Coffman said he would oppose government intrusion of the free flow of information and commerce that could lead to an “abuse of power.”
Past lawsuits contesting the doctrine have been viewed differently; however, the Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine violated free speech. (The doctrine is separate from the Equal Time rule that requires media to give equal time to opposition candidates in a political race.)
The constituents’ list of suggestions included eliminating federal taxes on phones, passing a balanced budget amendment and a deadline to balance the federal budget, exploring and expanding technology for alternative energy sources, separating commercial banking from investment banking, creating a fair playing field for foreign trade and providing incentives to keep jobs in America rather than being lost to countries abroad.
It was also suggested that the Congressional Budget Office allow the minority party to challenge the assumptions of financial impacts made by the majority party.
This was the first in a series of Coffman’s town hall meetings — and one of many being held by members of Congress in their districts.
Constituents who go can share their views with Coffman, and appear individually on camera to air their thoughts on America Speaking Out’s Web site.
“I strongly encourage every Coloradan to participate,” said Coffman, who also seeking re-election.