Erik Paulsen town hall meeting turns testy

The hot night started a little cool for Jim Meffert.

Meffert, the Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District seat, was headed into the auditorium at Edina’s South View Middle School for Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen‘s town hall meeting when he crossed paths with the incumbent.

“How you doin’?” Meffert asked Paulsen.

It seemed like an opportunity for the two to shake hands. Instead, Paulsen did a double-take and turned away, muttering to one of his aides, “Oh, Meffert’s here.”

Meffert’s appearance at Paulsen’s event was a bit of political theater aimed at bringing some attention to a race that is largely being overlooked by the media, at least until the big gubernatorial primary is over.

Jim Meffert
Jim Meffert

The theater was helped along by the DFL, which paid for someone to stand outside the school wearing a dog costume. On the front of the costume was a sign that read, “Erik Paulsen, Michele Bachmann’s lap dog.” A DFL representative handed out a sheet of paper claiming that Paulsen has voted with Bachmann 93 percent of the time.

Members of Women Against Military Madness also were outside the building, handing out a flier calling for Paulsen to streamline the budget by cutting military spending.

Few people entering the school seemed to be upset by either the dog or the WAMM members.

Anyway, after the chilly meeting with Paulsen, Meffert took a back-row seat. He had no intention of asking his opponent any questions.

As it turned out, he didn’t have to. Many in the crowd of more than 100 people came armed with hostile questions, which didn’t surprise Paulsen at all.

“It’s always the same,” said Paulsen of the town hall meeting format. “People wouldn’t come if they didn’t want to engage. They’re frustrated. This is a chance for them to bring their frustrations to me.”

Rep. Erik Paulsen
Rep. Erik Paulsen

The angriest questions regarded the perceived difference between Paulsen the candidate and Paulsen the congressman.

The feeling of many clearly was that Paulsen runs as a moderate — like his predecessor Jim Ramstad — when he’s in campaign mode but votes like a conservative when he’s on the House floor.

“You ran as a moderate,” said a woman who said she was from Edina. “But you’re behavior suggests otherwise.”

She asked three questions:

1. Did Paulsen act as a host at a Sarah Palin-Bachmann fundraiser?

2. Has he accepted contributions from MN Forward, a new business-oriented political action organization?

3. Did he vote against extending the hate crime bill to violence against women and gays?

The questions, asked angrily, got a big round of applause.

Paulsen tried to dance.

“In terms of being a moderate,” he said, “I voted with the president a third of the time. … I see myself as solution oriented.”

The woman didn’t like the dance.

“Were you a host at the Palin-Bachmann fundraiser?” she yelled.

“You’re asking a question you know the answer to,” Paulsen said.

“We’re you a host?”

“It was a Republican Party event,” he said.

“Did you vote against the extension of the hate crimes bill?”

“I did,” Paulsen said. “I believe judges should have discretion in sentencing.”

There were, of course, a few questions more friendly to Paulsen.

A man from Eden Prairie, for example, bemoaned high taxes.

“Increases are going to hit me hard,” the man said. “Sometimes it feels like the government is saying, ‘Those of you who have done the right thing, too bad.’ What can we do? I was in the military. I worked hard. It doesn’t matter.”

Paulsen felt the man’s pain, saying to him that tax increases would be a very bad idea in a sluggish economy.

But quickly a woman from Plymouth argued with both the congressman and the Eden Prairie man.

“Why all the complaining about taxes?” she asked. “Taxes are the price I pay for a civilized society. Taxes paid for my education. My streets. My bridges. Why do people feel the way they do about taxes?”

She suggested that taxes be raised to the levels they were in the Reagan years and said that then the national debt, which Paulsen harped on, wouldn’t be a concern.

“I don’t believe you should penalize success,” Paulsen said.

He was asked why he doesn’t support cap-and-trade legislation on energy.

Paulsen responded that you can’t raise taxes in a bad economy and can’t penalize entrepreneurs.

There was a huge cheer when Paulsen was asked about the military budget.

“It’s the elephant in the living room,” a man from Edina said, “and yet, you don’t talk about that when you talk about the budget problems. You’ve voted for every military bill.”

Paulsen didn’t think he had voted for every military bill.

For more than an hour, Paulsen was on the defensive as Meffert sat in the back row watching the session unfold.

Paulsen voted against the health care bill, though he was quick to say, “It’s not a slam-dunk either way.”

He consistently dropped names of Democrats he’s worked with as a way to show that he’s a moderate. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. John Kerry, Rep. Tim Walz, Rep. Collin Peterson all got mentioned by Paulsen.

But two-thirds of those gathered didn’t seem impressed.

“You want to keep the Bush tax credits for the rich, but you voted against extending unemployment benefits,” said a woman from Edina. “How can you explain that?”

“I voted for unemployment when it was paid for,” Paulsen said. “But this last time, it wasn’t paid for.”

There were hoots.

But Meffert didn’t bat an eye. He soaked it all up. After it was all over, he respectfully pointed out he differs with Paulsen on a number of issues. But he was surprisingly empathetic about the tone of the evening.

“I expect hard questions of anyone who stands up there,” said Meffert in a nod to his opponent.

Then, he laughed. Paulsen’s not alone in getting the hard questions.

“I get them every time I go out door-knocking,” 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 (14)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 08/03/2010 - 11:11 am.

    My major complaint with Paulsen is that after the Third had such a long tenure with Ramstad, we became used to have not only a moderate represent us (more reflective of the district), but someone willing to break from the lockstep of the Republican “machine”. Paulsen has shown he is not an independant thinker, but merely another cog in Republican obstruction, and another “mouthpiece” for the party line. Even as a Democrat, I would love to see some gutsy GOPer step out from the darkness of the Republican negativeness, and be a voice not only for moderation, but non-partisan progress. There is a huge space in that party for such an individual. Paulsen is clearly not up to that role by temperment or courage. The country desperately need this now — but it is now obvious it will not come from our current Representative in Washington.

  2. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 08/03/2010 - 11:20 am.

    I live in the Third Congressional District so I heard alot of campaign messages from Erik Paulsen when he was running for office. He liked to compare himself to Jim Ramstad. Paulsen would be more truthful if he compared himself to Michele Bachmann. This district voted for Ramstad for many years. I don’t think a Michele Bachmann could ever win in this district. I hope people look at Paulsen’s voting record and realize on election day that he does not fit this district.

  3. Submitted by Beth Dhennin on 08/03/2010 - 12:35 pm.

    I most strongly agree with the two earlier comments: Paulsen has been attempting to ride on Ramstad’s reputation as a moderate, but in reality, fits the Palin/Bachmann mode…For shame!

  4. Submitted by donald maxwell on 08/03/2010 - 12:47 pm.

    Paulsen’s current campaign continues the pattern he set in the last campaign.

    In the final days of the campaign he sent out flyers grossly misrepresenting his opponent (a Marine Iraq veteran who graduated from Armstrong High School) as a recent immigrant. It was a classic xenophobic piece complete with subtle racial slant, including photos with the opponent’s face suitably darkened.

    During his tenure he has repeatedly sent out obviously expensive campaign pieces pretending to be reports to constituents, all at taxpayer expense.

    Now he is conducting a telephone campaign pretending to be a survey, which finally devolves into a series of grossly misleading attack questions about Meffert.

  5. Submitted by Jean Schiebel on 08/03/2010 - 12:47 pm.

    It is sad that people aren’t paying attention to this race..Paulson is just as radical as Bachman..he just doesn’t do it in a crazy way.

  6. Submitted by Grace McGarvie on 08/03/2010 - 12:50 pm.

    I was the woman from Plymouth mentioned in this article. I wish I would have added: “the main cause of deficits is plunging revenue — the federal government’s tax take is now at its lowest level as a share of the economy since 1950.” & “The current top federal marginal tax rate on income of 35 percent is well below the average in U.S. history, and is near the lowest it has been since the 1930s. The top rate was as high as 90 percent in the 1940s and 1950s, dropped to about 70 percent in the 1960s and 1970s and to 50 percent in the early 1980s.” & “the U.S. has the lowest effective tax rate among the industrialized democracies, especially for those at the top of the heap” & “That information is according to a USA Today analysis of data that found while government spending has significantly increased, taxes have fallen to what the newspaper called ‘exceptionally low levels.’ Which helps to explain, if any explanation were really needed, why our national deficit and debt are at mind-boggling numbers.” {from editorial Tuscaloosa News -Published: Thursday, May 13, 2010}. Yes, the deficit is bad and the increasing interest payments on our debt are frightening. The cure – increase the rate, particularly on those making over $250,000.

  7. Submitted by Brian Simon on 08/03/2010 - 01:31 pm.

    Erik who?

    I’m shocked the Dems aren’t targetting this district. It should be an easy pickup.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/03/2010 - 01:33 pm.

    If he is re-elected, Randi, do you intend to boycott businesses in the district? And if not, why not?

  9. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/03/2010 - 02:31 pm.

    Paulsen basically has a lifetime job until he is voted out which may not be likely. Adam Smith would be appalled as a student he saw indifferent professors and the casualness they brought to the job.

  10. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/03/2010 - 03:03 pm.

    The same also goes for Ellison, McCollum, Oberstar, Kline. The Rochester district seems the only place where’s there is political parity.

  11. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 08/03/2010 - 03:06 pm.

    As Joe Biden likes to say, “This ain’t your father’s Republican party!”

    Jim Ramstad was indeed old school and definitely had integrity and independence.

    The same cannot be said for Mr. Paulsen. He is indistinguishable from all those assembly-made, robotic republicans running around out there these days.

    In 2008, I did not vote for Paulsen, and I did not care for the sleek, motor-mouthed Democrat candidate either. Instead, I opted for the unknown IP candidate.

    This time around, the democrats seem to have a likable feller running.

  12. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/04/2010 - 04:34 am.

    The hecklers at that town hall weren’t upset with Paulsen because he’s not “moderate” enough, whatever that is. They’re upset because he’s not a democrat.

    If Paulsen starts voting for the nonsensical democrat legislation in congress just to show he’s not part of the republican “machine” (lol), the republicans and independents in his district will show him the door and he knows it.

  13. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 08/04/2010 - 08:36 am.

    Paulsen at least deserves some credit for showing up at what sounds more like what a “town hall” events should be like. Unlike the Michele Bachmann staged events where the place is packed with bused in pro-life fanatics.

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