Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Town Hall in Small Town America

Here Comes Mr. Jordan… 
A Town Hall in Small Town America
photos and words by Cindy A. Matthews

A town hall for Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH) took place outside on President's Day, a pleasant winter's morning in the central Ohio town of Marion. The sun by 10:30 a.m. had burned away the morning's fog which blanketed the rural areas of Ohio's fourth congressional district. We drove fifty miles through the fog from our town to see our congressman and to ask him questions about the ACA and other topics. Others had driven more than two hours one-way to the town hall in what qualifies as one of the most gerrymandered districts in the United States.

The scene that greeted us in front of the Warren G. Harding Home Presidential Site was simply inspiring. A crowd of 300+,  featuring individuals of all ages, genders, races and physical abilities, packed the front lawn of President Harding's modest late-Victorian era abode on Mt. Vernon Street. An accurate crowd estimate is hard to give since the myriad of signs springing up on poles made for a forest of color and blocked my view of the edges once we had immersed ourselves into the group. Chanting and cheering had already begun when we squeezed in closer to the front porch to find a good spot to observe. 

The energy soared as Congressman Jordan exited the front door of the historic house in shirt sleeves only. Picture this: February 20th in Ohio and it's 60 degrees Fahrenheit--no one is wearing a parka or snow boots or more than a "Make America Great" cap. (As an aside, I experienced several snowstorms and bitter cold in February while growing up in Ohio in the 1970s. Does this spring-like weather two months early mean there's no such thing as "climate change" as Jim Jordan and the Republican Party claim?)

The questions about the Affordable Care Act revealed Jim Jordan's position for better or worse on health care. He stated at one point that "health care is bad for business." Business people making big profits are more important than saving lives or preventing the suffering of his fellow Americans in the representative's opinion. He also stated he did not like how his able-bodied 27 year old son had to pay higher private health insurance premiums because other people's young adult children are sometimes sicker with diseases like M.S. or cancer. It wasn't "fair" since his son is "healthy" and shouldn't have to subsidize other "non-healthy" Americans' health care.

A woman standing next to me with a child in a wheelchair said, "Obviously, Mr. Jordan does not understand that people do not choose to have cancer or M.S." The booing and jeering began. Mr. Jordan's self-centered position did not go over well with vast majority of the crowd, so he made sure one of his supporters (wearing an NRA cap) carrying a "Defund Planned Parenthood" sign got a chance to praise the congressman for his anti-abortion position. Mr. Jordan, in turn, stated he was proud to have voted to remove all funding for abortions from any government aid the U.S. provides throughout the world.

A brave sixteen-year-old took a chance to speak his mind. He wanted to know what the congressman would do to make sure there is clean water and a healthier Ohio for his generation in which to raise their families. Mr. Jordan stated he doesn't believe the Environmental Protection Agency is necessary. The young man afterward told me he lives in Jim Jordan's home county in Ohio where the fossil fuel industry has left polluted streams and rivers. Without the EPA to hold these industries accountable, where will their clean drinking water come from in the future? Mr. Jordan's lack of concern could be interpreted that he simply doesn't care since he has moved on from his fossil-fuel-fouled home county and lives a comfortable life elsewhere.

There were many questions that simply did not get answered, as one second the congressman was standing on the front porch of the Harding home and the next he had vanished back inside. Many of the crowd grumbled this had been a typical town hall for Jim Jordan--he comes in late and leaves early before any of the tough questions are voiced. He chooses the Warren G. Harding site because it looks "presidential" and good on television. Mr. Jordan tries to tie his own "small town America" image to the one Harding affected in 1920 when he announced his candidacy from the very same front porch. (For anyone not familiar with the scandal-riddled, short presidency of Warren G. Harding, Laton McCartney's The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country  makes for excellent reading. You can read a fantastic review of its main points in the article below Town Hall Helps.)
Janet Garrett and the 16 year old who asked a great question.

After the town hall abruptly ended, we were invited to a short meeting of like-minded individuals at the Marion Public Library located just around the corner from the historical site. There we discussed how unsatisfied we have been at the lack of leadership on Mr. Jordan's part and how he seemed to follow the Tea Party faction's talking points without listening to the actual questions or concerns of his constituents. Much frustration was expressed over how health care is seen as a for profit pursuit instead of a human right, in direct contradiction to the Hippocratic Oath. 

Two individuals who plan to run in 2018 against Jim Jordan spoke briefly--Janet Garrett of Oberlin and Andrew Mackey of Union County. It's heartening to see progressives  ready to unseat the Tea Party congressman. They want to work on tackling the Ohio fourth district's toughest problems, namely providing help for those suffering from opiates addiction, gaining permanent health care coverage and building affordable homes for all who have suffered under the cloud of NAFTA and the neglect of elected officials like Mr. Jordan.

photo by Adrian J. Matthews
Town Hall Helps
Now that we've shown you what a town hall can be like, here are some helps and articles to give you an idea of how you can take action at a town hall or similar event near you. Let us know how it went--please send in your stories, photos, drawings and poetry about your experiences. Our Revolution Continues is a blog about you, the ordinary American who expresses a progressive viewpoint. Please share it! 
Email: thebernieblog2016@gmail.com 

An extensive listing of  Congressional town hall meetings this month:

The Teapot Dome Scandal Redux?
by Adrian J. Matthews

Almost one hundred years ago Big Oil decided it would use the United States government to make massive profits at the expense of the environment. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

By the time the 1920 elections rolled around, Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s presidency had been tarnished by the United States’ unwilling involvement in World War I. The country was in a mood for change, and the Republican Party aimed to supply it. Strong GOP contenders for the presidential nomination emerged. They included war hero General Leonard Wood, Herbert Hoover, and Governor Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts. Another candidate with less favorable odds was Warren G. Harding, a little-known senator from Ohio.

Enter two fabulously wealthy oilmen, Harry F. Sinclair, owner of the Mammoth Oil Company, and Edward L. Doheny, a man known as "The Rockefeller of the West" and owner of the Pan American Petroleum Company. These were men with prime resumes for corruption and graft who decided they could stand to become richer yet. Their opportunity came at the Republican convention, held that year in Chicago. Sinclair was already a major donor to the Republican Party and had tremendous influence as a consequence. Doheny’s reach extended from his oilfields in California to deep into Mexico, where he meddled freely in politics to preserve his oilfields from seizure by the Mexican government. They, and other interested oilmen, compiled a list of requirements they’d want from a Republican government, should it be elected. At the top of that list were the incredibly lucrative Navy reserve oilfields –

Wyoming’s Teapot Dome and two oilfields in California, Buena Vista and Elk Hills.

Rejecting the other candidates for various reasons, Sinclair and Doheny worked and spent hard to transform Harding from an obscure outsider into the nominee for his party. They succeeded. In the election Harding became the 29th president of the United States. Thanks to their substantial campaign contributions, when Harding formed his cabinet he agreed to allow Doheny’s old buddy, Albert Bacon Fall, to become Secretary of the Interior. Needless to say, Doheny had an ulterior motive for this placement.

Fall was a man of the West through and through. He had been a prospector and mine owner, and he owned the sprawling Three Rivers Ranch in New Mexico. Articulate, volatile, bullying and vindictive, Fall was elected to the US Senate in 1912 and for years ran New Mexico as a virtual private fiefdom. Under his watch graft and corruption became endemic in the state, yet such was the Republican party’s power in New Mexico, Fall remained unchallenged.

Once appointed, Fall immediately began work on his side of the arrangement. As the name implies the Naval reserve oil fields were intended for use by the United States Navy in future wars, and as such came under the control of the Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby. Fall found Denby to be agreeable and pliant. After a little persuasion the Navy reserves were transferred to Fall’s control and then leased to Doheny and Sinclair, in return for which Fall received his nice payoff.

Just as an indication of the wealth these oilfields generated, the Teapot Dome field was worth $495 million in 1920 dollars. The equivalent value today would be almost $6 billion.

It should be noted that Fall cared nothing for the environment. His attitude was one which is still seen in the West today – first come, first served; take what you want and all you want. If there’s nothing left for the next guy, too bad. At the Teapot Dome inquiry he would later utter something that epitomized his attitude. “Sir, if you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake and my straw reaches across the room, I'll end up drinking your milkshake.”

Fall was all for opening up every resource and exploiting them until they ran out. He is on record as saying, “I don’t know how succeeding generations will do it. Maybe they will use the energy of the sun or the sea wave – but they will live better than we do.”

Unusually prescient and ultimately flawed. The environmental impact of the pollution caused by Big Oil is having a terrible effect on humanity, and future generations look unlikely to live "better than we do" – if they live at all.

Fall hated the new conservation movement with a passion, since in his view it deprived him and his rich oilmen buddies of those juicy natural resources. Again, this resonates with what we see today, with the imminent disbandment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the checks, however limited, it places on industry. Fall frequently butted heads with Harry Slattery, head of the Forestry Commission, who was suspicious of Fall’s machinations where the Naval oil reserves were concerned. Slattery had succeeded Theodore Roosevelt’s disciple Gifford Pinchot, the first conservationist to have a major influence in government, and was justifiably worried for the future of the country’s natural beauty.

Slattery had cause to be alarmed. Fall’s plan would be nothing short of

devastating where the environment and Native American rights were concerned. On Fall’s agenda were the opening up of the reservations, the forests, and the whole of the Alaska Territory to exploitation by private industry. He’d already struck at the Navajo Reservation in the Four Corners area. In June 1922, he decreed millions of acres of Navajo land to be public lands. In effect, it gave the oil companies the green light to exploit the area as they pleased. All royalties gained from the oilfields would fill the coffers of those cash-starved Western states and the Federal government – but nothing would go to the Navajo tribe. (Standing Rock, anyone?)

It was no secret in Washington that Fall aimed to bring the US Forest Service under his purview, but Fall had made another enemy in the shape of Henry C. Wallace, the powerful Secretary of Agriculture. Wallace detested Fall and his plans to exploit the nation’s natural resources. With Wallace’s pressure brought to bear, Harding backed away from any idea of giving Fall the Forest Service and distanced himself.

Fast forward to the modern day, and we still see the tremendous influence Big Oil has in government. Corrupt practices abound.
(If only today's recently auctioned-off Wayne National Forest could be kept safe from the frackers.)
President Trump recently signed legislation to repeal a regulation that would have required energy companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments. That this is no new thing under the sun can be seen when we compare it with Edward L. Doheny’s direct meddling in Mexican affairs. The legislation signed off by Trump is the first time in sixteen years that the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been used to repeal a regulation and only the second time in the two decades during which the act has been law. 

It’s part of the aggressive deregulation effort that Trump’s administration and the GOP Congress are undertaking to roll back Obama-era rules on fossil fuel companies, financial institutions and other businesses that they say have "suffered" for the last eight years. The regulation was meant to fight corruption in resource-rich countries by mandating that companies on United States stock exchanges disclose the royalties and other payments that oil, natural gas, coal and mineral companies make to governments. At a signing ceremony in the Oval Office, Trump said the legislation is part of a larger regulatory rollback that he and congressional Republicans are undertaking with the goal of economic and job recovery.

The corruption goes further. When Trump signed off on the budget conferring tax subsidies on Big Energy companies, standing by his desk in the Oval Office was House Speaker Paul Ryan. Recent senatorial disclosure documents show Ryan and his wife, Janna, own stakes in four family companies that lease land in Texas and Oklahoma to the very energy companies that benefit from the tax subsidies in Ryan’s budget plan. These energy giants stand to profit directly from the $45 billion in subsidies and tax breaks.

Also present in the Oval Office was House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas). Hensarling in May 20, 2014 in a speech to The Heritage Foundation said:

Crony capitalism is something different. With crony capitalism, success is arranged through government-granted favors to those with the best political connections. “Crony capitalism” slows economic growth and redistributes income. It can breed corruption and undermines the legitimacy of both government and free enterprise. It is what I call the Washington insider economy. But regardless of its name, for generations it has been a threat to our conservative principles.
In looking at how much Ryan and his family stand to gain from the budget deal signed by Trump, it’s hard to find a more breathtaking example of "crony capitalism." Yet Hensarling remained silent on the issue. In fact, he himself received $61,350 in campaign contributions from the oil industry.

That Trump is wedded to the idea of Big oil and Coal can be seen in his planned

destruction of the EPA. “We’re bringing back jobs big league. We're bringing them back at the plant level, we're bringing them back at the mine level. The energy jobs are coming back,” Trump continued. “A lot of people going back to work now.”

There’s no mention of the fact that the EPA (A Nixon-era Republican creation) has been consistently de-funded, decried and denigrated by Republicans since Reagan. Lacking the budget for inspectors, those "56,000 rules" have largely gone unenforced, to the lasting detriment of the environment.

Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s pick to run the EPA, is bought and paid for by the oil and gas industry. Since 2002, he’s received more than $314,000 from fossil fuel companies. There goes any control over Big Oil and Coal’s financial arrangements. There also goes any control over their impact on the environment.

Almost one hundred years have passed since the Teapot Dome Scandal broke upon the United States. Back then dedicated public representatives like Thomas J. Walsh did their level best to uncover the corruption and see that those responsible were punished. To a large extent they succeeded, although the scandal failed to prevent Republican Calvin Coolidge becoming President in 1924. It seemed the voters of the United States were largely indifferent to the affair.

Now it seems corruption in high places has gone into overdrive with President Trump in the White House.

I was in the crowd outside the Warren G. Harding Home Presidential Site in

Marion, Ohio, when Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) spoke from the house’s front porch at the town hall meeting held there on President's Day. Jordan’s ties to Big Oil and Coal are well known. He voted yes on opening the Outer Continental Shelf to oil drilling. He voted yes on barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, and no to several measures to cut oil company subsidies and impose environmental controls and emission limits. He also voted no on removing oil and gas exploration subsidies.

As Jordan spoke to a largely skeptical crowd, I looked at the relatively modest late-Victorian home. I couldn’t help but reflect on the Teapot Dome Scandal and the role its former owner had to play in the affair. Back then corruption was kept quiet and was seen as a matter for shame. Now? It’s running rampant, thanks to the new Trump regime in the White House and the GOP control of Congress. The corruption is blatant, although the people responsible are beginning to realize that thanks to the wake-up call Bernie Sanders delivered to the nation their corruption is now being noticed and criticized. 

Jordan’s demeanor grew increasingly grim as he faced the crowd who called him out for his support for the abolition of the ACA and his active destruction of environmental controls on Big Oil and Gas. He broke off the meeting abruptly to duck through the front door of the Harding home, leaving his constituents feeling angry and disappointed in their representative.

With the likes of Trump, Ryan, and Jordan in charge of government, I fear for the future of this country and the planet as a whole. It’s only the active and rising public awareness of the activities of Congress and government that gives me hope.

Bio: Adrian J. Matthews is an armchair historian who sees many parallels between the Harding administration and the current one.
Here is a map of Ohio's Fourth Congressional District 
(for those who are curious how gerrymandered it is.)


  1. Look at the photo of Jim Jordan. He stood on that porch in his shirtsleeves, in the middle of February - in Ohio - and proceeded to deny climate change is real. SMH...

    1. Really. How can anyone deny climate change when it's shirt sleeves weather in FEBRUARY at that latitude? Ridiculous! I remember those "I survived the blizzard of '78" t-shirts living in northern Ohio. We definitely were NOT standing outside in shirt sleeves during that February!

      I'm still not getting the corporate media's "these are all paid protestors" stance. Jordan's district is HUGE and spread out and people drove a long way to get to Marion because they had to--not because they were "paid". Did those ladies in wheelchairs do this because they're "paid"? They're using the ACA and wanted to make sure it's not going away they said. If the teapartyers think we're worried about losing our health care because we're "paid" then they're more out of touch with reality than we feared.

  2. I noticed at the time Jordan spent much of the occasion addressing the small party of Defund Planned Parenthood supporters to his right. Whenever he did answer a question it was in the form of waffling and platitudes. The man's useless as a representative of anything but Big Business and his pocketbook.


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