published Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Chattanooga area residents sour on federal closures

Poll
Who do you blame for the shutdown, Democrats or Republicans?
  • photo
    Vicki Maturo protests against the government shutdown outside a federal building in Los Angeles.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Annoyance and anger are common responses among Chattanooga-area residents to the federal government shutdown -- mirroring polls that show Americans oppose the suspension of a wide range of federal services by a ratio of about three to one.

"The people that I voted for that allowed this to happen -- I probably won't vote for again. Over the last five years, we've had such a difficult time with [the economy], to allow that to happen is almost criminal," said Bob Campbell, a 59-year-old engineer from Hixson, as he walked downtown.

Not one person spoke in favor of the shutdown when a dozen Times Free Press reporters, photographers and editors conducted an informal "man on the street" poll to gauge area residents' mood on day two of the national interruption of federal services. Yet advocates maintain that the shutdown is worth it if the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, can be stopped.

Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, called the shutdown "a good thing and ... a noble effort."

The shutdown has shuttered such local federal facilities as Chickamauga Battlefield and the Chattanooga IRS office, and it promises to worsen the longer it drags on.

"My wife and I like to go to the Chickamauga Battlefield sometimes and check out the museum and some of the monuments," said Talley Cagle, a 27-year-old Catoosa County man who enjoys history. "It's a shame that people can't do that right now. Best I can tell [it's] just because some politicians are being spiteful."

American voters oppose by 72 percent to 22 percent Congress shutting down the federal government to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, according to a poll done by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., that got noticed partly because U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a shutdown opponent, tweeted a link to it.

According to a poll done by CNN and ORC International (formerly Opinion Research Corp.) only 27 percent of Americans think shutting down the government for a few days is a good idea, while 68 percent of Americans think it's a bad idea.

"All the polling data that I have been able to review suggests that people are disgusted with the process," said University of Tennessee at Chattanooga political science professor Stephanie Bellar, who teaches classes on American government and the U.S. Congress. "I'd be surprised if you find five people who thought it was the right thing to do."

"It sends terrible signals to the market," said Bellar, who worries that Congress may have another showdown over upcoming negotiations to raise the debt ceiling, the amount of money the federal government can borrow to cover its debts.

Who's to blame?

While those who spoke with the Times Free Press agreed the shutdown was bad, they were divided about who to blame.

"It's everybody in Washington," said Jim Toland, a 53-year-old Dalton, Ga., attorney. "They all have personal interests that they are looking after. Some of it's about policy, but a lot if it is about personal interest."

Bobby Parker, 60, owner of Parker's Brainerd Gulf at 3660 Brainerd Road, described the leadership in Washington as being "kind of childish" in light of the government shutdown. "It's kind of like, 'It's my ball, and you can't play with it.'"

He said in Washington neither the Democrats nor the Republicans come together on issues. Each side says "we're coming together," he said, but then they don't.

"It's amazing to me you can't come to some kind of terms with each other where each one of you saves some face," Parker said.

Steve Wild, 41, an environmental engineer who lives in the Brainerd area, blames the tea party.

"Clearly, the blame for the government shutdown can be laid directly on the shoulders of the tea party Republicans in the House and Senate, who are holding our entire economy hostage unless they get their way -- defunding Obamacare," Wild said. "The time for negotiation was when the law was being crafted, not now. They're behaving like petulant children, all at our expense."

Meanwhile, West, the Chattanooga Tea Party president, blamed Democrats.

"There has been zero effort on the president's part and on [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid's part to negotiate," West said. "If a shutdown is what it takes to defund and delay Obamacare, that is a good thing and that is a noble effort. [Obamacare] is a cancer which is a permanency. The government shutdown is not permanent. It will open back up."

Practical concerns

The shutdown has affected local people trying to do business with the federal government.

"Guess I'll be spending the day on the phone with the IRS now rather than waiting for hours at the office in person," Jill Scheib wrote in an email to the paper. Scheib discovered on Tuesday that the tax office was closed when she went there to retrieve a special identification she needs to file her taxes, because her identity was stolen last year.

Ben Condra, 18, of Bridgeport, Ala., thinks the shutdown and the political squabbling make the nation "look bad."

"It's nonsense," Condra said as he stood behind a table filled with tomatoes, yellow squash and other produce he and his "papaw" brought to Marion County to sell near City Hall in Jasper, Tenn., Wednesday.

Retired librarian, Sarah Lambert, age 69, felt the same way.

"I think it makes the nation look inept, to put it mildly, and that it can't manage its affairs," said Lambert, who was pulling weeds in her St. Elmo yard Wednesday morning. "We've been the greatest nation in the world. Other people, I'm sure, can't understand. 'Well, how come you can be in this state?' Doesn't make sense."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@yahoo.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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