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Erik Paulsen's usual 'Opie' charm doesn't play well at town hall meeting

His old pals at the Minnesota Legislature used to call U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen "Opie," that by-gosh, by-golly son of the sheriff on the "Andy Griffith Show" in the 1960s.

The nickname is apt. Not only is Paulsen a by-gosh sort of guy but even has an "Opie" look about him.

But these aren't exactly "Opie" times, and the 3rd District Republican congressman was having a little difficulty charming his audience with his homespun style at Tuesday's town hall meeting.

Separating himself from Washington
Certainly, from the beginning of the hour-long session before about 40 or 50 constituents, he tried to make it seem as if he's different from all those others in Washington.

"As I was coming over here," Paulsen said, "I couldn't help but reflect on the debt ceiling — how poorly that process was done; how broken the process is. … Elected officials have become so uncivil. That's why it's so nice to be back in Minnesota. Please be polite and civil to each other."


Paulsen then went through about a 20-minute spiel in which he bemoaned high unemployment, noted that 1 in 7 people are on food stamps and talked about how he believes in programs for "the neediest."

Rep. Erik Paulsen
paulsen.house.gov
Rep. Erik Paulsen

Then, in the gentlest of tones, he took off on the standard Republican Party talking points.

The problem, he said, is there are too many government regulations and that American corporate taxes are too high. He also noted that "American can't continue to spend more than it takes in." He's concerned about whether his four daughters will have the same opportunities he's had.

"How many of you carry pictures of your children and your grandchildren in your wallets?" he wondered.

He was Opie big time. He spoke softly, and he spoke respectfully of President Obama on a couple of occasions.

But then, it was the audience's turn, and constituents' questions indicated we don't live in Mayberry anymore.

Perplexing answers
Some, in perplexed tones, were confused by the congressman.

One gentleman in the crowd raised this question: "American corporations are sitting on record amounts of cash. Why would anyone think that funneling more money to them through tax cuts will create jobs?"

This question got more applause than anything Paulsen said all night.

"I kind of want to see our corporations compete," Paulsen said.

That didn't seem to satisfy the people who had come to the town hall.

"GE had huge profits and paid zero in taxes, but that doesn't seem to be creating jobs," another audience member said. "Yet you're not in favor of stimulating middle-class spending [Paulsen has opposed extending payroll tax reductions]. You said that's a small thing. But you want corporate tax cuts for the job creators? The job creators aren't creating jobs."

Paulsen nodded his head in understanding, and he tried a little two-step.

"I'm not for empty promises," he said. "You know, I'd rather have a long-term solution."

He went on to say that "everything should be on the table." He said that one of the problems in Washington is that "too many are just seeking short-term solutions."

There was a lot of head-shaking from many in the crowd about the answer. But there was rage from one man, who was tired of the suggestions that corporations and the rich aren't paying their fair share.

Without so much as raising his hand, Joe Arwood, a first-term city council member from St. Bonifacius who has announced that he's running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate, yelled out in disgust at the tone of the questions.

"Don't you people realize that the top 1 percent are paying 40 percent of the taxes?'' Arwood yelled.

Paulsen ignored the outburst; others looked back and wondered who the red-faced fellow was.

Pinning Paulsen down
After that little burst, the forum returned to people trying to pin down Paulsen on where he stands.

A woman from Orono said she was distressed by the oaths various pols take, citing Grover Norquist's no-new-taxes pledge that so many have signed. She wondered how Paulsen felt about that?

"I, ummm, haven't signed any pledges this year," he said. "I signed [the Norquist] pledge, umm, back in about 1996, I suppose. I'm not a big fan of raising taxes, I'll be honest about that."

After the town hall, he was asked to be a bit more specific about the no-new-tax pledge.

He wasn't.

"I signed it in about 1996, I guess,'' he said, as he shuffled away.

A young man, Aaron Zellhoefer, who said he was gay, wondered why Paulsen had opposed gays serving in the military.

Paulsen said that at the time he was opposed, he was waiting for the report of the generals.

So now that gays and lesbians are allowed to be open and serve, how does Paulsen feel? Zellhoefer wondered.

Paulsen mumbled something about "process" and tried to move on.

But Zellhoefer wasn't about to let him move on too easily.

He asked the congressman how he feels about the marriage amendment Republicans pushed through the state Legislature.

"That's something everyone gets to vote on," said Paulsen, with a smile.

Zellhoefer wasn't impressed.

"He didn't answer my questions," he said.

Exactly.

Elusive stands
For almost an hour, Paulsen did his best not to answer questions.

He "wants everything on the table," he wants more civility, he wants to "preserve Medicare and Social Security" for future generations, and he wants to see regulations cut without harming the quality of the air or water.

By the way, although many in his caucus don't want to fund public radio and television, he's an MPR member and he thinks they do a really good job of raising money, he noted.

The questions kept coming. At one point, Paulsen suggested he supports the idea of a federal balanced-budget amendment.

"Let's imagine we have that," a woman said. "What happens to the balanced budget if we're suddenly fighting two wars and have a large number of natural disasters like we have this year."

"The devil's in the details," said Paulsen. "You've got to allow some flexibility."

When someone asked why he supported the extension of the Bush tax cuts, Paulsen put the blame on President Obama.

"I was surprised he [Obama] wanted to renew them," Paulsen said.

There was stunned silence and then some snickers. A couple of people tried to call him on that remark, but time was running short and Paulsen had a couple of other people he wanted to hear from.

"I really want you to share your ideas," he said.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (36)

Just a note about Joe Arwood's facts:

He's basically right if he's talking federal *income* tax, but not all federal taxes ... that's 28.1 percent. See:

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/apr/18/michele-b...

Whether 28.1 percent is too much is up to you. However, it's worth noting that the top 1 percent have 24 percent of the income:

http://www.slate.com/id/2266025/entry/2266026

And around 40 percent of the wealth:

http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105

The 40% he named, whether accurate or not, is not the point, (and is clearly not enough). We are all in this together--everyone helps everyone. It all starts this way: "We The People", not "We The Productive People", not "We The Fortunate People".

When did we become so mean?

Those that have, help. Those that have more, help more. Parity doesn't consist of exact amounts when members of a community help out.

And don't tell me that a $100million donation by someone such as a Koch brother is great generosity. Relative to the giving patterns of lower and lower middle income people, that kind of donation is piddling. The greatest donors in the US relative to wealth are the poor and the close to poor. (Jesus' widow's mite parable warns us about mistaking that 40% as being generous.)

I think that the people paying nearly 40% are the folks just under the top 1% and who are getting bad tax advice... The top 1%, and a lot of the top earning corporations, are paying significantly less, or nothing at all.

Sounds like Erik is dealing with some cognitive dissonance.

The percentage of income taxes paid by the rich is a reflection of the bottoming out of the tax base. That said, as Davids Brauer and Leonhardt point out, the income tax is less than one fifth of total taxes collected and less than half of all federal taxes. So they pay the majority of a fifth, for which they are outraged.

What a shame that Jim Ramstad retired and this turkey won his seat. But my question is about the Joe Arwoods of the world. Why are they so protective of the handful of people who own most of the country's wealth? Are they looking forward to becoming one of them? They whine about 'class warfare'. What class do they think THEY are?

I'm glad nobody paid attention to this red-faced goof, and that people were able to express their frustrations even if Paulsen was oblivious. I'm in Bachmann's district, otherwise I would love to have been there.

MinnPost is going to see its integrity pummeled if it prints more stories like this one-sided yellow masterpiece. Grow is a longtime professional and he obviously knows better than this. He does nothing but quote antagonistic forces.

It is obviously a purposely savage hit. Does everyone at MinnPost realize how Grow is dragging them into the ditch of irrelevancy? No newsgathering organization can afford to do this in the long run. Perhaps the editors at MinnPost know this, and more about their market model than I do. Maybe people nowadays only want to read what they agree with. It's sad to see so many reporters go down this path, tired of pathetic editors who rant about balance.

Actually to clarify even more on Bauer's clarification, the wealthy pay 40%-50% of the actually dollars, and they pay that despite paying a lower percentage of their income. This is a mathematical artifact, not an equity measurement. What it tells you it that our level of wealth disparity has reached incredible proportions. 10% of a million dollars will yield more than 10% of $100,000. The top 10% in this country now capture almost 50% of all the revenue, and they have captured 90% of all the new revenue generated in the two decades. The only way to get the top ten percent to pay only 10% of the tax dollars would be to eliminate their income tax altogether, or to flatten all income levels so they don't make much more than the other deciles. I've written and extensive analysis of this on my bog:

http://pudstrand.fatcow.com/blog/?p=8

Basically this republican argument that the wealthy are paying all the taxes infers a bogus notion of unfairness. If they don't know better it's a failure to apply basic arithmetic, if they do know better it's simply a lie. They don't pay that much because we're gouging them, they pay that much because they make so much.

Yes, Mr. Brauer I was speaking of just Federal Income Tax. Corporations that are currently benefiting from loopholes and paying nothing should be held to account and made to put some skin in the game. I do not support corporations paying $0 in taxes to the Federal government or more importantly not paying anything to the American people. It is in the end supposed to be the government of the American people.

I do openly apologize for not raising my hand and waiting my turn as I should have.

"Opie' charm?

...more like "I-like-to watch" Chancey Gardener of "Being There" movie (1979)

President "Bobby": "Mr Gardener, do you agree with Ben or do you think you can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?"

Chance the Gardener: "As long as the roots are severed, all is well. And all is well in the garden."

#6 - This was a standard Minnpost hit job, but this is the first time I remember the author resorting to name calling. But name calling might be the extent of Captain Stubing reporting ability.

Paulsen is all that's wrong with Congress.

Mediocre, "Opie-ish" non-thinking conservatives (and there are plenty of same on left).

Does anyone really think Paulsen -- who has always held government jobs -- can contribute anything of value in trying to solve the problems in our country?

Mr. Olson (#6): Just wondering if you attended this Town Hall. If so, did the event progress differently and did Paulsen answer questions other than how Grow characterized them here?

Back in the '70's, Friendly Bill Frenzel originated the 3rd District GOP billboard color scheme handed down first to Jim Ramstad and now to Erik Paulsen.

The colors remain bright and eye-catching, but the Members Of Congress whose inevitable re-election they represent have become progressively poorer copies of the original.

Friendly Bill liked to say that his constituents were electing him for his judgement. Erik Paulsen comes across like an empty vessel.

About a year and a half ago, in the middle of his first term, I spoke one-on-one with Rep. Paulsen for five minutes at a reception during a bi-partisan policy event. My questions to him were softballs served up to elicit a window in on the experiences and observations of a freshman member of Congress. He answered my questions as though he had not thought once about any aspect of his personal experiences in his first year of office.

My little window in did not impress.

I have never been more frustrated with my state representative. Erik campaigned on reasonable politics but has operated one of the meanest right wing agendas in the state.

He has never allowed me to meet him face to face & the one time I received an invitation his aide said things that were ridiculously untrue.

He has voted against all child friendly legislation yet claims to want better outcomes for poor children. He is in fact for his own empty promises and blatantly in your face dishonest when pinned down to give answers to hard questions.

I agree with Lance. Grow didn't even get the attendance right; there were 26 people there, not 50.

Did you know that 50% of Americans pay $0 Federal income tax?

http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/Donald-Marron/2011/0728/Why-do-half-of...

I think that is more a crime than 1% paying 40%, and yet not a peep from the "pay your fair share" crew.

Joe talks about "having skin in the game" and I agree; what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

I suspect that a large percentage of those paying nothing are also consuming an outsized proportion of government services...time they put something back.

It's only fair.

Lance, I hope you let Fox and Rush Limbaugh and Murdoch in on the same insight.

As a constituent, all I ever get from Paulsen is a robocall asking me if I want to listen in on his Town Meeting.
He just votes party ine and only appears at election time.

Mr Swift - if we let the irresponsible Bush tax cuts expire, more Americans will pay taxes.

The fact is that the actual constituency for the most right of the right end of politicians is about 25% of the voters. The only way to get re-elected is to muffle their message.

Of course, politicians like Paulsen needs to do a soft-shoe routine when questioned at these open meetings. The same with Cravaack, Palin, Bachmann--when you get down to it, with specific details, most Americans disagree with them.

And so, God's warning messages become a "metaphor". "All things are on the table", even if they really aren't. Talk around the issue, don't answer specific questions.

Did you really expect one of the Republican "young guns" would be a straight-shooter? A western style, stand and draw? Their style is more like a knee-capping from a car.

The questions asked at the Towb Hall meeting and quoted in the article were hard, but they deserved good answers. Sounds like the performance of the Congressman was less than steller, but very much like his performance in congress: vague, sometimes incoherant because he is not on point and following whatever the party line is. Never mind that it is more important to do what the party thinks rather than do what the people who are sort of represented think.

Swift says: "Grow didn't even get the attendance right; there were 26 people there, not 50."

Isn't that interesting. Mr. Paulsen has a town hall meeting that he announces 2 days before it is to occur, the announcement being during a holiday week-end.

Could it be possible that he hopes few people will show up and even fewer will ask him questions??????

Curious to hear what Mr. Arwood has to say about Mr. Grow's recounting of the Town Hall. Does it ring true?

Mr. Swift (#15) cites a CSM article stating that 46% of Americans pay no income tax. What he leaves out:

1) Federal income taxes are about half of the total federal tax take. Those 46% may or may not pay other federal taxes; they almost certainly pay some state and local taxes. Can this accurately be described as a free ride?

2) Using numbers from the article, just over half (approx. 53%) of those not paying federal income tax do not because their taxable income, after standard deductions, is so low. Everyone gets these deductions as a minimum, and likely much more if they itemize. Put another way, NO ONE pays taxes on the amount theses people make; seems perfectly fair to me.

3) Most of the other half are either slightly less poor than the 53% above but receive additional deductions to help care for children (15%) or receiving untaxed social security benefits (22%). So we could force additional payment from these folks, but it is highly likely that the need would emerge elsewhere.

4)The remaining 10% apparently have really good accountants.

Swift in #15 is right, my two rotten kids are contributing nothing to the government. It's all about take, take, take with them. Those darn kids and their unfunded wars.

I take Swift's post to say that he was one of the 25 people there. He states it as fact.

"Hey, Opie, did you start that war in Iraq without saving up your allowance to pay for it? You're in big trouble young man."

"But Pa, Where am I gonna get a trillion dollars? Barney, how many zeros are in a trillion anyway?"

"Well, Opie, Otis Nordquist says there aren't any, at least none we need to worry about. If you'd just do your homework and quit asking such darn fool questions Mayberry would be a much better place."

I agree with the summary of the meeting (I was there). I doubt Erik's different from any politican. He has his talking points and his spinmeisters around him, and every question leads back to a prepared talking point. There's no integrity in the process at all - I can't imagine that anything he heard in this or any other town hall meeting would change his voting because politicians vote with the party line most of the time - certainly on anything controversial - and therefore it's hard to see any situation in which we can really consider our representatives to be that, as envisaged by our founders. They listen to the people they want to listen to, and ignore the others. There are enormous penalties for lawmakers who go against the party orthodoxy, especially in the new GOP.

I have to agree that his characterization of being surprised at Obama extending the Bush tax cuts as if it was anything but the only option given GOP intransigence was literally breathtaking. As in - you could hear people drawing a breath when he said it. For the most part the meeting was pretty mild with only a few rude shoutouts that appeared to be "conservative".

Of course you seeing a hefty dose of flat out dishonesty with Paulson's performance as well. This is the part where a Tea Party block voter pretends to be a moderate... just don't go into details.

Getting back to this tax rate thing, yeah the reason a significant percentage of the population may not pay federal income taxes (although they are withheld, and the social security tax is not refunded) is because their income is too low. This is a sign of a crappy economy, not an unfair tax code. When 50% of your population doesn't make enough to pay more than $11,000 in income taxes it tells you wages and salaries have plummeted. It also tells you how big the income gap has gotten.

Of course the real fallacy is the implication that the wealthy are paying for a government they don't use, or that they're paying for everyone else's government, this notion couldn't be more ridiculous. While the top 10% may not use food stamps, or live in subsidized housing, they reap trillions of dollars worth of other benefits from government- everything from stadium subsidies to land and mineral right's subsidies. A well functioning and relatively un-corrupt court system and law enforcement system is worth trillions a year in copyright and trademark protections alone. Remember, these people used to have live behind castle walls and have private armies, now all they do is pay taxes and dial 911.

The last time I counted heads, just before the meeting started, there were 36 in attendance - and more came in after it got going.

So take Mr. Swift's pronouncements as they should be taken.

I tweeted during the event, and blogged afterwards, here:

http://mnprogressiveproject.com/diary/10016/paulsens-town-hall-gosh-shuc...

To me, the "highlight" of the event is as I posted:

***
Back to the highlight - Paulsen talked about the long time it takes for a manufacturer to get FDA approval for devices; that because of this, manufacturers were going to Europe to speed up taking new product to market.

So this guy gets the microphone, and basically says: "Hey! I'm in the medical device industry, and the reason it takes so long is the FDA is shorthanded. How about we hire some more workers to speed the process up?"

"Um, gosh, shucks, the graphs; ummm... well, I, ah....."
***

But that doesn't fit into the GOPer narrative.

Which is: cut gov't past the bone, and then complain when gov't can't function.

You know; drown in in the ol' bathtub....

It's like I always say: Republicans run on the platform "Gov't doesn't work!" -- and once in power, they prove it.

So, you're saying that Paulson said as you quote "Um, gosh, shucks, the graphs; ummm... well, I, ah....." is that right, Johnson?

Or is the version that you made fit into your narritive?

Given the standards used to write the story in the first place, I guess we shouldn't expect care be taken with the comments either.

Also, I wasn't there, but spoke to someone that was and asked him to make a count; he said 26, but he's not in lawncare so I'll cede to the math expert.

As John Dean has said "Republicans are good at campaigning, Democrats are good at governing." One of the few honest Republicans from the Nixon era. (For those of you who are too young or don't ant to remember he was Nixon's White House Counsel who revealed the existence of the "White House Tapes" when he was under oath during the Watergate Hearings).

I'm sorry if some of you think this is off point but Rumsfeld and Cheney got their start under Nixon and seem to have resurfaced later with the same view that "If the President does it, it isn't a crime." Sound familiar???

The Republican Austerity program was already tried once in the 20th century, in Nazi Germany, where the population was looted beyond their means of any reasonable standard of living. When the Nazi banker Hjalmar Schacht told Hitler that they had no more cuts available in Germany, he invaded Russia.

Read the new book just released called "Treasure Islands" by a London Financial Insider. He documents how major American banks and corporations have moved their financial operations to off shore islands modeled on London banking practices.

The solution to this madness is to pass HR 1489 to restore FDR Glass Steagall banking bill, and separate commercial and investment banking. The major opposition to this bill is led by Wall Street's major protector: Barack Obama.

What I fail to understand is that attitude of so many Republican Congressspeople that complain about how government is somehow bad. Yet, Paulsen has been an employee of gvernment for how many years?
I respect Doug Grow and feel he has earned his place in Mpls. journalism through hard work and many years of covering events like this one.
Paulsen is out of his leaque in the U.S. House. He is a follower and not a leader.
His weak and non answer about gays in the military and siging pledges to Norquist, instead of his constituents points that he is owned by Norquist.
Yes, it is a shame that we lost Jim Ramstad only to have him replaced by this light weight yes man for the Norquist side of the Republican Party.

Mr. Swift, you can change the subject and raise technical points like where the quotation marks are but it doesn't change the device maker's point: Cutting regulatory staff doesn't increase efficiency, it does increase the length of time to approval. The alternative, throwing the devices out on the public relying on the good intentions of the mega corporations that produce them is simply denying the greed of those same corporations. Stay on point, Mr. Swift and the point is that Erik Paulsen is a professionial politician, not a homespun harmless soft-spoken nice guy. His values are the values of the Tea Party. Not answering the question on the wisdom of extending the Bush Tax Cuts was more than cowardly. Doug Grow was never considered a liberal durring his time in the main stream press. Reporting the truth does not make him a dirty rotten progressive.

Of course the other thing Republicans are refusing to acknowledge is the fact that tax cut are expenditures when they generate deficits. It's the typical Republican magic plan, cut taxes and wait for the magic to happen. Magic is the biggest problem Republicans have, they can talk about jobs but since there's no such thing as magic they don't materialize. Paulson's stuck because the Republican plan is to wait for someone else to solve the problem, which means they have no plan, it's a non-plan. Fourtunately it sounds like people are finally waking up to this reality and asking the questions they should have asked BEFORE they elected guys like Paulson in the first place.

"Doug Grow was never considered a liberal durring his time in the main stream press."

(!?!)

Was Joe Arwood there to make Dan Severson look like a substantive opponent for Amy Klobuchar? Though the angry red-faced man yelling out falsehoods seems to be the GOP's idea of an ideal candidate these days.

Mr Arwood is just another in a long line of angry white wingnuts. Although I give him points for apologizing, it's clear that his outburst was where he really lives. Were he my councilman, I'd take that into serious consideration. There's virtue in knowing when to keep your big trap shut.

The low taxes government lines the GOP does not want to hear:

If you make $20,000 and get taxed 10% your take home is $18,00

If you make $$2,000,000 and pay 50% tax your take home is $1,000,000

Which guy do you want to be the low tax guy or the high tax guy? and don't change the subject just answer the question!

PS: What's not fair, you are taking home $992,000 more than the low tax guy over 55X?

The moral of the story: Be happy to pay very high taxes, it means you are really making a lot of money, start living and enjoying your great success instead of complaining about it.