Oregon congressman laments loss of civility

January 9, 2010

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader expressed dismay Friday about a tea-party-style protest that disrupted his town hall meeting at the Salem Public Library earlier this week.

Loud and angry protesters drowned out discussion at the Wednesday night meeting, shouting questions and chanting.

“I’m sympathetic that people are concerned,” said Schrader, D-Ore. “These are challenging times. We inherited a huge mess. This Congress is taking on huge issues which create great uncertainty in all our lives.

“However, saying that, though, I think it’s a shame there’s a certain level of civility that’s disappearing, at least in this area.”

He noted that the majority of the people at the meeting were not involved in the protest and that they ended up sitting quietly while the protesters carried on.

“I’d say maybe a little more than a third would stand up and do the chanting and all that sort of stuff,” Schrader said. “There were a great many others who did not. I figure probably some more of them also agreed with them but were just a little more civil, if you will.”

Schrader added that such behavior doesn’t make much impact on the way he votes in Congress.

“The way to get me to pay attention isn’t by yelling and screaming at me,” he said. “That’s probably not good positive reinforcement for me to listen to your message.

“As an old planning commissioner from Canby for 15 years, I try to listen past the emotion and try and get to the kernel of things, but you’re not going to influence me by a higher volume. I’m a pretty analytical guy. You’re probably not striking a responsive chord with me.”

The representative said tea party protests are not a regular occurrence at all of his town hall meetings in Oregon. People from a wide spectrum of political opinions attended a meeting in Oregon City this week, but no disruption occurred.

Schrader voted for the House version of the health care reform bill, and he said Friday he does expect his vote to be a campaign issue.

“I expect everything I do to become a campaign issue, at the end of the day,” he said. “I thought I explained things pretty well — why I ended up being a yes vote on the House version.”

Schrader said he supported the House bill once cost-containment measures were included and strengthened. He said that cost containment will be a key issue in voting on the final bill.