BERLIN–Rep. Glenn Grothman met with about 50 of his constituents at Berlin City Hall on Tuesday evening, but the exchange was not fulfilling for either side.
“I was disappointed in his lack of preparation and lack of data,” said Maily Kocinski, a 39-year-old mother and teacher in the Beaver Dam Unified School District. “I think he heard people but didn’t listen.”
When asked what he would do to protect the environment, the Republican congressman responded by saying that “our air and drinking water is wildly cleaner than when I was a child. There is no comparison.”
Audience members reacted with dismay, to which Grothman said, “I should have brought statistics along, but it’s not hard to find. Things are much cleaner than they used to be.”
Most of the people at the town hall meeting expressed dissatisfaction with the direction of the country under Republican rule. They raised issues like foreign aid, immigration, health care reform, online privacy, abortion and the environment.
In an interview, Grothman, who describes himself as very conservative, said he was expecting to hear criticism from the audience and indicated he would take their comments with a grain of salt.
“I think in general [voters]have a positive opinion of what is going on in Washington,” he said. “When you have structured meetings like this, you have more people who are asking government to do more. So it’s really two different Americas.”
Before Congress moves further on healthcare, Grothman thinks it will take a serious deterioration in local insurance markets to motivate members to compromise. He expects that downturn to occur over the next several months.
Erik Leveille, a 46-year-old professional musician from Oshkosh, described how Obamacare has made a “positive impact” on his life after he spent more than a decade without health insurance. He asked Grothman to take action to stabilize the health insurance market without waiting for more problems to develop.
“I would ask that you, the Republicans, the Democrats, look at ways to intervene, to help insurance companies and … not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Leveille said. “Would you consider that?”
Leveille’s question drew applause. But Grothman, after denying that he was taking a wait-and-see attitude, shifted to a philosophical discussion about the high cost of medical care and ways to reduce it without saying what he would do in the near term.
Many of his questioners thanked him for holding the town hall meeting, and Grothman described the attendees as “nice people.”
But the citizens who were expressing their views Tuesday are “not a cross-section,” Grothman said. The feedback he got is “valuable, but it’s not typical,” he said.
“I’m going to take it to heart, but I also take into account what I hear when I talk to the average person in the coffee shop.”
Those in attendance said it was important to speak up even as they expressed disappointment at the reaction they got. “You have to ask, ‘At what point does his responsibility to his constituents include everybody?’” Kocinski said.
Photo: Rep. Glenn Grothman holds a town hall meeting in Berlin, April 11, 2017. Copyright Miles Maguire.