Posted: April 2, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The voters are restless. The congressional delegation is practicing avoidance.

It is spring break on Capitol Hill. The Congress is in recess, or as the members prefer to call it, "district work period," all the better to insinuate the Puritan work ethic has nothing on them. There will be no stopping to smell the cherry blossoms.

The spring recess customarily is a time for town hall meetings and other such congressional visitations, but they are going the way of torchlight parades since the proliferation of birthers, healthers and tea partiers.

Mike Castle was the early warning system. He was on a YouTube video that went viral just as voters went vitriolic.

Castle, the Republican congressman in his ninth term, was in Sussex County last summer for a town hall meeting that attracted a birther, known as "Crazy Eileen," who confronted him with her own plastic-wrapped birth certificate, a tiny U.S. flag and her denial of presidential citizenship.

There was no chance Castle and the birther were ever going to sing "Kumbaya" together, not with its own African tendencies. There was still a way out, though, with a collective recitation of the good old Pledge of Allegiance.

"I had a number of members come up to me and say, that's it for me, no more town hall meetings," Castle said.

The town hall meeting was ugly. It offers good reason for politicians to rely on local moderators, familiar with the resident citizenry, to select the questioners. The moderators are much more likely than the politicians to be able to screen out the likes of Crazy Eileen, Joe the Plumber, OctoMom, the White House party crashers, Wizard of Oz or the Cheshire Cat.

The moral of the story is, do not look for much in the way of town hall meetings this spring recess, especially not with so much venom over health care still out there. As a matter of fact, do not look for much in the way of the Delaware congressional delegation.

The senators are about as silent as the "e" in "hide."

It says something that Ted Kaufman, the Democrat appointed to Joe Biden's old seat, would rather spend his time traveling to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan -- countries where he has to wear a bullet-proof vest -- than going to, say, Trap Pond.

Tom Carper is normally as prevalent as pollen this time of year, but never mind. This week he has Democratic political business to take him away from Delaware, and next week he is said to be "traveling out of the country," which is usually congress-speak for visiting a war zone.

Kaufman has no intentions of ever running for election. Carper is not up until 2012. In contrast, Castle is asking the voters to send him to the Senate this year, so camouflage really would not do.

No town hall meetings, though. Castle is sticking with safe havens, particularly for health care.

Castle went to one Thursday. He appeared at the Claymont Community Center for an event sponsored by Healthy Delawareans Today & Tomorrow, a three-year-old statewide project that provides treatment to the uninsured. Its primary organizers are the state, AstraZeneca and the United Way of Delaware.

The gathering drew about 75 people, but it was all speeches, no questions. Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, was there to play peacemaker.

"This really is where Delaware shows off at its best," Markell said.

"We just went through this big, big debate in our country on health care. What I so much appreciate about this Healthy Delawareans coalition is that everybody who's involved didn't wait. People here said, we have people who have needs."

Castle had his say. Like the other Republicans, he voted "no" on health care, but he is not part of the "repeal" crowd.

"There is nobody in our state who should not receive health care," Castle said.

"As you know, we've had a major contentious piece of legislation in Washington dealing with this issue. I thought there were some downsides to it in terms of cost and other ways it could have been approached. The bottom line is, that is the law of the land today, and if it is the law of the land, we have a responsibility to carry it out as well as we can."

All was good humor. There was state AFL-CIO President Sam Lathem taking care to praise AstraZeneca President Rich Fante for his company's outreach -- "If you can't afford drugs, they will help you" -- and getting ribbed for it by United Way President Michelle Taylor.

She quipped, "I think you want to clarify which drugs."

With the speakers including Markell, Lathem, Fante and Taylor, that would be Big Government, Big Labor, Big Industry and Big Community Organizer.

If that crowd can meet under a flag of truce, no wonder a congressman figures it can be safe for him to show up, too.