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Published: Wednesday, 6/23/2010

Latta slams an alleged threat on President made at town hall meeting

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) on Tuesday referred information about an alleged threat to President Obama that was made at his town hall meeting in Fremont on Monday to the U.S. Secret Service.

The person who made the statement, Robert Voska of Green Springs, said he was not referring specifically to the President, but said he regretted his remark and should not have said it.

The alleged threat voiced at the meeting and Mr. Latta's delayed reaction also drew a condemnation from Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, who said he planned to contact both the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice yesterday.

"It's shocking that a member of Congress would sit silently in a meeting as constituents suggest that Democratic leaders should be 'shot in the head.' And it's appalling that the same congressman would refuse to make clear whether or not he believes President Obama was born in America. Congressman Latta's deafening silence is a sad reminder of the vacuum of leadership in the Republican caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives," Mr. Redfern said.

Mr. Latta said his back was turned to the audience and that he was writing on the white board at the time the remark was made.

"Following last night's America Speaking Out event, it was brought to my attention that someone in the crowd suggested inflicting physical harm to the President of the United States," Mr. Latta's statement said yesterday.

"I categorically condemn any notion of inflicting physical harm, or making threats, to the President or any elected official. We live in a great nation where change is made at the ballot box," he said, according to the statement.

Mr. Latta's spokesman, David Popp, said yesterday, "We are turning over the appropriate information to the United States Secret Service and cannot further comment on the matter."

Kevin DeWine, the Ohio Republican chairman, did not return a call seeking comment.

Rich Iott, the Republican running against U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), said, "certainly that kind of discussion is inappropriate."

"Regardless of what one's personal views might be, in a public forum you have to be circumspect about what you say. There's an appropriate way to say, 'hey, I disagree with you'," Mr. Iott said.

"It sounds like Bob handled it very well by not reacting to it and just turning over to the authorities that deal with that sort of stuff," Mr. Iott said.

Miss Kaptur said, "I condemn in the strongest terms any advocacy of violence, including death threats against the president of the United States or any public official, or harm to any innocent person."

She said she hosted a telephone town hall meeting Monday night with 1,000 participants and "every single person on our call was civil and respectful, and that is in keeping with the spirit of America."

Miss Kaptur's spokesman, Steve Fought, said residents in Erie and Lorain counties were invited in the telephone conference call based on demographic, not political, considerations.

David Jackson, a political science professor at Bowling Green State University, recalled there was a flurry of reports of threats against Democrats who voted for the health-care bill earlier this year, and said the "coarsening" of public debate has been a topic of discussion.

"There's enough impediments to public service where you shouldn't have to face a threat to your life just because of how you voted," Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Latta was conducting an America Speaking Out meeting in which the House GOP caucus is collecting ideas and opinions to help develop an agenda for change. About 100 people attended, and more than 15 people went to the microphone to make statements on issues ranging from anger at the federal government to questions about federal policy on veterans' benefits and Native American recognition.

The "shot in the head" comment came after a woman told Mr. Latta that "the man they put in as President and everybody he put around him" are following a radical agenda to "break" the country and should be viewed by Mr. Latta not as peers but as "the enemy."

The speaker was urging Mr. Latta to "get them impeached, ... get them thrown in jail," when Mr. Voska added, in a loud voice, "shot in the head."

Mr. Voska, 47, a tool and die worker who said he is unemployed, told The Blade Monday night and again yesterday that he was not specifically referring to the President but rather to "all of them."

"You take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. They voted for health care. That's unconstitutional. They should all be impeached for that. They should be tried, convicted, and because they're elected officials, I don't know if jail's good enough for them," said Mr. Voska.

Contacted by phone yesterday, he said he spoke before thinking in suggesting shooting anyone.

"I should not have said that. That was a mistake. I regret saying that," Mr. Voska said.

The same woman who suggested Mr. Latta treat his colleagues as enemies also expressed doubt about whether Mr. Obama was born in the United States.

The suggestion outraged one man in the audience who said he admired Mr. Obama and demanded that Mr. Latta state his opinion as to whether Mr. Obama was American or African.

Mr. Latta did not answer the question directly but said later he had no reason to doubt that Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii, as Hawaiian officials have affirmed.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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