WAUCONDA – When controversy erupts, public figures can hide or face their critics.
U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh seems to have chosen the latter, facing his constituents for the first time after the debt ceiling battle and allegations that he failed to provide child support to his ex-wife, by energetically leading the first of 10 town hall-style meetings Thursday night at the American Legion in Wauconda.
Walsh didn’t shy away from touching on the personal stuff. In fact, it was one of the first topics he addressed before delving into the issues.
“After I won last year, my ex-wife filed a lawsuit against me,” he said. “For the past eight months I have been trying to work it out privately and legally and haven’t been able to. Let me say this – virtually everything in that [Chicago] Sun-Times piece was wildly and off-the-charts inaccurate. When I go to my grave a year or 10 or 100 from now, there’s only one thing I want on my tombstone, ‘He tried to be a hell of a dad.’ My kids have been my life. … This is different because this is personal.”
“What I’m going to do is privately and legally do whatever I can to refute what was alleged about me and clear my name.”
With the exception of Wheaton resident Greg Drinan, who told Walsh he considered the congressman a “deadbeat,” the issue was not raised again.
After clearing the air, Walsh addressed questions from the audience. With the fear of a double-dip recession lingering and the revelation of a more than 500-point loss from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, meeting attendees were looking for answers as to how Washington plans to right the ship.
In a crowd mostly made up of Walsh supporters, a vocal minority headed by Ellen McShelly of Island Lake needled the congressman from the other side of the aisle.
“I don’t understand why you can’t compromise at all for anything,” McShelly said. “We need jobs, we don’t want this stubborn stuff, we want to fix things.”
Walsh responded that compromise isn’t necessarily the ticket out of the mess.
“There always is compromise,” he said. “But this president and Joe Walsh have two very different ideas on how we bring jobs to the economy. [President Barack Obama] believes we need to borrow money and big government needs to stimulate the economy. My belief is simple. Get government the heck out of the way. because right now, if we all got up and left this room and asked any small business in the area ‘why aren’t you hiring?’ they’ll say the same thing. ‘They’re regulating me and they’re spending money.’ Business owners are scared to death at what Washington is doing.”
Not everyone was satisfied by this response, and some questioned the freshman congressman for repeatedly voting “no” on a debt deal to avoid a federal default.
“The government is like the Titanic,” said Bob Paolella of Deer Park. “You’re not going to turn it around. What you don’t want it to do is run it into the iceberg. I think you made the wrong decision. You should have voted for the plan and then we would’ve turned the Titanic a little bit. Next year we get a new president and turn it a little more.”
To Paolella’s comment, Walsh said that he never was convinced that the government would default Tuesday.
“I never bought the notion that come midnight on August 2, the lights were going to go off,” he said. “I think [Obama] was trying to scare us. Nobody in that town wanted to default. There were some of us that didn’t believe it was going to happen on August 2. We thought, if it takes us a few more days, let’s get it right.”
He continued saying that the bill that was passed almost went far enough, and while it might cut spending by one or two trillion dollars over the next 10 years, the government still would incur another seven to nine trillion in debt.
Many in the crowd seemed ready to stand up and fight alongside their congressman.
Debra Nicholas of Ingleside was one of the first to enter the meeting and sat within feet of where Walsh stood in her front-row seat while he spoke.
She wore a black t-shirt with the words “Tyranny Response Unit” written in white across the back. Nicholas is part of the 912 Patriots, a group whose mission is to protect our Constitution.
“We voted for [Walsh], we stand by him and we come to all his town halls,” she said. “Our president is a tyrant and we’re going to fight to lower taxes.”
After the meeting came to a close, Walsh stuck around and mingled with attendees.
“I’m trying to get people to take a long view, that this is going to take a while,” he said. “Right now it’s going to be sort of a standstill, but this is good.”
Walsh’s next stops
Brown Bag Lunch Town Hall
• When: 1 to 2:30 p.m. today.
• Where: Fox Lake District Office, 50 E. Grand Ave., Fox Lake.
• Note: Constituents are invited to bring their own lunch for a town hall discussion in Walsh’s Fox Lake District Office.
Woodstock Town Hall
• When: 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
• Where: Woodstock North High School, 3000 Raffel Road, Woodstock.
Barrington Town Hall
• When: 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Langendorf Park, 235 Lions Drive, Barrington.
Palatine Town Hall
• When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday.
• Where: Harper College, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine.
Winthrop Harbor Town Hall
• When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
• Where: VFW Post 7448, 1112 Sheridan Road, Winthrop Harbor.
Northern Illinois University Town Hall
• When: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
• Where: Carl Sandberg Auditorium, Normal Rd. and Lucinda Avenue, DeKalb
Lunch with the Congressman Town Hall
• When: 1 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
• Where: After the Fox, 1406 N Riverside Drive, McHenry.
Lunch with the Congressman Town Hall
• When: 1 to 2:30 p.m. Aug. 12.
• Where: Johnny’s Chop House, 1500 Main St., Antioch.
McHenry County Town Hall
• When: 10 to 11:30 a.m., Aug. 13.
• Where: McHenry County College, 8900 Route 14, Crystal Lake.