Walsh's town halls bring supporters, critics together

Nearly a year into office, outspoken Republican Congressman Joe Walsh continues to regularly hold town hall meetings throughout his 8th Congressional District.

And the Tea Party advocate from McHenry explained why - even after his combination of anger and enthusiasm has sometimes drawn negative publicity.

"I am asked all the time, 'Walsh, why do you keep doing these things? Why do you keep holding town halls?'" he told a crowd of about 65 supporters at Warren Township Hall in Gurnee Saturday. "The dirty truth is most congressmen don't like to do this."

He said the explanation and apology he had to give after a video showed him shouting at one constituent at another event in Gurnee earlier this month is exactly why most politicians concerned only about their image fear such public access.

He said he'll never apologize for getting angry sometimes, but that he will apologize for letting his respectfulness slip, as he admitted happened on that occasion.

Walsh said he strives to bring all sides together on the revolutionary debate now happening in the country, but that mutual respect is the only way it will all work.

During Saturday's town hall, he put both a Tea Party supporter and an Occupy Wall Street supporter on the spot to say something they found positive about the opposite movement.

"I like being with and around people who disagree with me," Walsh said. "I find it interesting. I get angry at Republicans and Democrats who don't regularly get in front of their constituents."

He said many of his fellow politicians have to remember that they're public servants and that the public's concerns - not re-election - are the top priority.

Jim Walz of Gurnee is a repeat attendee of Walsh town halls, even though he disagrees with the congressman on such issues as the protection of Social Security and Medicare.

"We need a social safety net," Walz said. "I think when people get to a certain age, they deserve a certain amount of dignity.

"But I give (Walsh) all the credit in the world for doing this stuff," Walz said of the town halls.

Walsh said he too believes Social Security should be retained for those who need it most - but that he wants to reverse its evolution into a middle- and upper-class entitlement. He most strongly opposes those who advocate doing nothing to either Social Security or Medicare and thus endangering both programs.

"To me that's ignorant and it's almost criminal," Walsh said.

He added that in spite of all he'd advocate cutting - the federal Department of Education, subsidies for big oil companies, even a military presence in Afghanistan - none would solve the country's budget problems if health care costs can't be controlled.

"More and more of us are living longer and longer, and who is paying for that health care?" Walsh asked. "That's the single biggest part of our budget and it's the fastest growing. Until we have the courage to do something about that, we're falling off a cliff."

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