Little room for dissent at president’s forum

A few people who didn’t support President Bush’s Social Security reform plan snuck into his town hall meeting on Monday.

But they didn’t last long.

“We went in and sat down, and a half-hour later we were escorted out,” said Alex Young, 25, who is involved in an anti-Bush group known as the Denver Progressives. The group has a Web site and has protested Bush appearances in the past.

“They definitely seemed to know who we were,” Young said. “They have this pretense of having a conversation about Social Security, but they’re very selective about who they let in. They didn’t say you have to be a registered Republican to get a ticket.”

The 1,000 people at the event were outspoken in their enthusiasm for the president. It was impossible to pick out anyone not participating in a standing ovation for the president’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tickets for the audience were offered to anyone who’d signed up for Congressman Bob Beauprez’s e-mail list, said Beauprez spokesman Jordan Stoick. He said 1,500 tickets were distributed.

“We have no way of knowing what party affiliation they are,” Stoick said. “We have no way of knowing who we’re inviting.”

But the first three people questioned by a Rocky Mountain News reporter all received them through their positions as a Republican county commissioner, a Republican state central committee member and a Republican National Committee member. The next two said they got their tickets from Beauprez’s office.

But audience members didn’t get a chance to ask questions anyway.

In other cities where Bush has had such events promoting his Social Security plan, a pro-Bush group called FreedomWorks has arranged a number of the speakers and audience members. Newsweek reported that at Bush’s Tampa, Fla., meeting on Social Security, one-third of the audience were members of FreedomWorks and at least five of its activists have appeared on stage with Bush in various cities.

In February, the Fargo Forum reported 40 people with tickets to a similar Bush event were barred at the door. Among them were a Democratic campaign manager, critics of Bush or the war in Iraq, university professors and high school students. But if Bush wasn’t trying to persuade doubters in the audience on Monday, he was lobbying a less-than-committed member of his own party: Beauprez.

Beauprez has stated publicly that private accounts are only a small piece of what’s needed to fix Social Security’s coming shortfall of funds for the promised benefits – even though that’s the sum total of the president’s plan so far.

Stoick said the rest of the president’s plan has not been announced and that Beauprez is still “listening to folks.”