WASHINGTON — More than 4,000 people dialed in Wednesday night to Rep. Don Bacon’s first “telephone town hall” as a congressman.
Over a little more than an hour, the Nebraska Republican took about 20 questions on immigration, national security and a slew of other topics.
Lawmakers have been using such telephone-based town halls for years to keep in touch with people back home, but Wednesday’s session had extra weight given Bacon’s statement earlier this year that he was not planning to hold in-person town halls open to the public at large.
The reason, he said at the time, was that he wanted to avoid potential disruptions of those gatherings from activists organized by groups such as Indivisible.
He took a different tack Wednesday, however, telling The World-Herald before the telephone session that he now plans to eventually hold those kind of in-person town halls open to anyone.
Bacon added that before he does so, he wants to ensure they can be conducted in a way that people are respectful of one another and that a small minority does not monopolize the microphone and shut out others.
“I have to admit I’m put off by people who think they can just take over the mic, because it says that right on their ‘Indivisible’ web site: ‘take the mic and don’t give it back,’ ” he said. “That’s not something I just want to walk into. I think it’s not the Nebraska way. I think it’s disrespectful for the big group. I think people should be able to speak their opinions and then allow someone else to speak their opinions.”
Bacon’s earlier comments about not holding town halls had brought criticism from some constituents who suggested he simply didn’t want to face sharp questions about the big changes afoot in health care, taxes and other areas.
Bacon said Wednesday he’s never been afraid of facing people who disagree with him.
“I don’t care about people yelling at me or shouting,” he said. “I’ve been on the receiving end of mortars and rockets. It’s more about being respectful to everybody else in the room.”
Bacon said he has been attending many events around the district hosted by companies and civic groups and will continue to do that.
And he said he’ll be doing telephone town halls like the one Wednesday night.
There weren’t any real fireworks during the session, although questioners pressed him on various issues, such as an independent investigation of President Donald Trump and Russia, health care and climate change.
The freshman congressman said he shares concerns about Russian interference in U.S. elections and pointed to ongoing investigations by the congressional intelligence committees. He noted his membership in a bipartisan climate-change group and applauded growth in renewable fuel sources.
He touted provisions in the House Republican health care plan, including provisions that protect those with pre-existing conditions, allow young people to stay on their parents’ plans, prohibit lifetime caps on coverage and ensure gender parity in insurance rates. And he committed not to move forward on the legislation until its costs and coverage impacts are clear.
In many areas, including education and the minimum wage, he said he’d look to the state and local level to drive the issues.
The political diversity of the district was on display with some of the questions.
One person, for example, asked about the burden on small banks from federal requirements, while the next question focused on the danger to consumers of rolling back financial regulations.
Bacon stuck by his position that those regulations could use some revisions but said he would not eliminate them entirely.
“We have to have regulations,” Bacon said. “I just think we have to be careful about not doing overreach.”