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Mike Nowatzki, Published August 11 2009

Dorgan not worried about North Dakota protests

Sen. Byron Dorgan said Monday he’s not worried about protesters bogging down his series of town hall meetings today through Thursday, saying, “That’s just not the way North Dakotans are.”

Protests over health care reform have disrupted meetings across the nation, prompting Democratic leaders in Congress to accuse the opposition of staging a campaign to misrepresent the legislation and prevent members of Congress from having a civil dialogue with their constituents.

Republican leaders have countered that Democrats are attacking people for their differing opinions instead of answering tough questions about the proposed reforms.

Dorgan said he’s been conducting town hall meetings during the August recess for years and doesn’t expect any difficulties during this small-city tour.

“There’s an old saying: ‘When everyone in the room is thinking the same thing, nobody’s thinking very much,’ ” he said. “And so I’ve always welcomed a diversity of thought. I think it’s healthy. And North Dakotans always do that very respectfully.”

Still, the buzz about the meetings was enough to prompt Dorgan’s office to contact the city of Casselton to express concern that his visit there at 11 a.m. Wednesday “wouldn’t be the environment that needs to happen for a good discussion,” said City Auditor Brandy Pyle.

Dorgan will be at the fire hall for only an hour, so there won’t be a lot of time for questions, Pyle said.

“I think they are a little concerned about it, but I’m hoping it won’t happen,” she said of protests.

In an e-mail Monday reminding residents about the meeting, Pyle wrote that it will be a friendly discussion – with the word “friendly” underlined.

Scott Hennen, the Fargo-based, right-wing radio host who has urged listeners to attend the meetings and make their voices heard, said he’s encouraging people to “be respectful and ask questions.”

“I’m not worried about people being anything other than North Dakota nice,” he said.

Hennen, who believes media coverage of disruptions at other town hall meetings has been overblown, said people are engaged in health care reform and other issues “at a level unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time.”

“People are revved up right now,” he said. “They are thirsting for information. They want answers to these questions.”

The other two members of North Dakota’s all-Democrat congressional delegation aren’t planning any town hall meetings – at least not in person.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., will hold a series of “tele-town hall” meetings on the health care issue, allowing people to call in and ask questions, spokeswoman Melanie Rhinehart said. The scheduled hasn’t been released yet, she said.

“He just hasn’t done these traditional town halls for years, as far as I know,” Rhinehart said.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is planning a number of meetings across the state with community leaders and health officials in the coming weeks, spokesman Sean Neary said, adding Conrad finds it “more effective to have meetings on specific topics.”


Dorgan’s schedule

The following is Sen. Byron Dorgan’s schedule, including town hall and farm shop meetings, in North Dakota this week.

Today

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528