SALEM - U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, described protestors outside his office open house in Salem as more like a cheering section because they're asking the same question he's asking of the administration.
"Where are the jobs?" they chanted over and over again while holding signs asking that same question.
About 30 to 40 people gathered on the sidewalk to protest on State Street outside the congressman's district office.
Salem resident Chrissy Heineman said they weren't affiliated with any one group, but said they're "just a bunch of folks who live in the area, union and non-union, who are just fed up. Just a bunch of concerned citizens."
The Salem News received several notices about the protest from Anthony Caldwell, the media relations liaison for the The Service Employees International Union District 1199 covering West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.
"He needs to be voting for his constituents, not for big business. We put him into office and we can take him out," Heineman said, adding they weren't happy with his vote in favor of the debt ceiling deal.
She claimed that a town hall meeting was supposed to be scheduled for Monday night in Salem and that it was canceled, but no notice about any kind of town hall meeting had been sent to area newspapers.
When asked about the claim, Johnson said no town hall meeting had been scheduled. One was already held in Salem when he first took office and he's been trying to hold more of them in areas where none have been held. The next town hall meeting is set for Thursday in Monroe County. The Sixth District includes 12 counties all up and down the Ohio River.
Salem resident Bill Gray said Congress wants to tax the middle class, but the people can't afford to pay more taxes because they don't have jobs. He said it's a vicious circle.
Tom Underwood, a representative of the Laborers International Union of North America, out of Warren, said he was there trying to get support for the Senate version of the highway bill, saying nearly half a million jobs could be lost if it doesn't go through.
The group of protestors tried to enter Johnson's office, requesting to speak with him, with Heineman saying he wouldn't talk to them, although she did say he agreed to speak to one or two of them, but not the whole group.
"We don't do things behind each other's backs. It's all or nothing - we stand together," she said.
A pair of Salem Police officers responded after receiving a call about too many people out front. They said the group members just needed to keep the sidewalks clear and remain peaceful, which they had been doing.
Johnson said he would have been glad to meet with some designees for their group, but there was limited space inside which couldn't accommodate the whole group.
"I'll meet with anyone when we can sit around the table and have an adult conversation. I'm not going to get into a shouting match on the street corner," he said.
He said he's willing to meet with them, but an all or nothing approach isn't going to work. Compromise was built into the country's system from the get-go.
The open house attracted about 100 visitors, some who received invitations and others who walked in off the street, with representation from both Republicans and Democrats. Jim Beardsley, a dairy farmer from Damascus, said he just stopped in to talk with Johnson about "trying to get the country back from the people that have it now."
In an interview with the Salem News, Johnson touched on the need for jobs and a need to change what he called "the job-killing policies of this administration" and the refusal of the Senate to take up the House's jobs bill. He said they need to create some economic certainty so businesses can feel confident about investing in jobs and not worry that the government's going to raise their taxes. He said they need to reel in the regulators.
When it comes to the debt and the economy, he said tax reform is needed to help taxpayers keep more and give incentives to businesses to grow.
He said the right people are on the committee to make the $15 trillion in cuts that need to be made in the wake of the debt ceiling legislation. He said there will be some tough decisions in the future, but the committee is a step in the right direction.
Johnson described Social Security as a complex problem, but said he wanted to make one thing very clear.
"I will not support any cuts to Social Security and Medicare for current seniors and those within 10 years of their retirement," he said.
Johnson said what the country needs is a national vision for energy independence, saying if the president handled that the way President Kennedy handled space exploration, it would do a lot for the country. The country needs to send a message that it's not longer going to sit on the sidelines when it comes to energy, striving for independence from foreign entities.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org