Going into his Feb. 16 "town hall" on Tucson's eastside, Rep. Jim Kolbe had to know it was going to be a contentious meeting.
On that same weekend, millions of folks around the world, including a healthy number here in Arizona, were taking to the streets to protest the upcoming war with Iraq--and Kolbe is standing firm behind President George W. Bush on that front. The economy remains stuck in the tank, nebulous terrorism alerts are in the news, and immigration continues to be a hot-button topic.
But Kolbe probably didn't expect the Sunday afternoon meeting to be this contentious.
More than 200 people packed into the Udall Recreation Center on East Tanque Verde Road--seating was set up for only 180 or so--with the vast majority being middle-aged or older. For what it's worth, the crowd was almost completely white.
But many of these older white people were pissed off at the state of affairs, and they let Kolbe know it.
The issue drawing the most ire was foreign affairs, specifically Iraq and North Korea. In his opening remarks, Kolbe made it sound like war with Iraq was a done deal, at least as far as he was concerned.
"The Congress of the United States has taken its action on this," he said, referring to last fall's vote to support the president taking action should Iraq not comply with the United Nations resolutions. This remark drew muttering from the anti-war partisans, who seemed to be even in number with Kolbe supporters.
Kolbe said that North Korea was as big of a threat as Iraq, if not bigger, because the poor country has only one real source of income: selling weapons to others.
"We have got to find a way to make sure those weapons don't get into the hands of others," he said.
Iraq and North Korea took up the majority of the time in Kolbe's question-and-answer session, and probably would have taken up all of the time had Kolbe allowed it.
When asked whether war with Iraq would make the United States safer, Kolbe gave answers in politician-speak: "I can't say that with any certainty, but I can say that without it, it will make us more vulnerable."
One person asked whether the anti-war demonstrations would have any effect on his views or the president's views. Kolbe walked the party line.
"I don't think they'll have an enormous impact on his decisions," he said.
This response clearly upset the left-wing, anti-war faction. One person stood up and asked what Kolbe would do to "deter" President Bush, a question that drew a healthy amount of applause.
"It should be obvious to you that I am not going to try to deter the president on this," Kolbe replied, drawing an equivalent amount of applause.
Immigration was the second-hottest issue with the crowd. This time, Kolbe upset some of the more right-wing members of the audience by saying that the globalization of markets is here to stay.
"Globalization is a fact of life, and nobody's going to be able to reverse that," he said to someone who asked about jobs that were leaving the country.
While speaking in support of guest-worker legislation, Kolbe had to deal with some angry people--one bola-tie-wearing elderly man in particular--who wanted the border with Mexico militarized, and more check points set up.
"This is an invasion!" the man yelled.
Other topics, including Social Security reform and the high cost of prescription drugs were also briefly discussed before the hour-and-a-half town hall came to an end and Kolbe was rushed by a number of people who wanted to continue the discussion.
As the aging white crowd filtered out, only one thing was clear: As the country heads to war, many folks are mad as hell. And as a result, Kolbe--and the rest of the members of Congress--have their hands full.