Minnesota voters weigh in but get busy signal

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ and JIM SPENCER , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: July 26, 2011 - 9:34 PM

They answer Obama's call.

WASHINGTON - A lot of Minnesotans took President Obama's advice about the debt ceiling and called their congressional representatives. But not all of them could get through.

Congressional switchboards reached capacity at times Monday night and Tuesday, prompting callers -- including the Star Tribune -- to get busy signals throughout the day.

Internet servers also crashed. Many constituents trying to reach their representatives through their websites were steered to a central congressional Web page stating: "Site unavailable."

Several district offices in Minnesota also got visits from MoveOn.Org and other groups opposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

The office of U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., was besieged by calls, e-mails, letters and faxes.

"That's what they're supposed to do," Cravaack spokesman Michael Bars said. "People are pretty fired up on both sides."

Bars said Cravaack's office received 835 communications in a day and a half, about the same number of calls, e-mails, letters and faxes it got all of last week.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., reported 632 calls and e-mails by 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. More than half were from people contacting her for the first time, said McCollum spokeswoman Maria Reppas.

"The majority of them overwhelmingly support Obama and cited his call to action," Reppas said.

The office of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a candidate for president, noted "unusually high traffic" that crashed the office's website. "We are working with our Web server and hope to be fully functioning again soon," Bachmann spokeswoman Becky Rogness said. "In the meantime, Congresswoman Bachmann appreciates all the calls, faxes and Facebook posts she is receiving on this issue. The majority of constituents are clearly saying that it's time to get Washington's spending binge under control."

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., received "several hundred more calls and e-mails than usual," said spokesman Ed Shelleby. "The vast majority," Shelleby said, urged Franken "to support a balanced approach to reducing the deficit" through spending cuts and revenue increases. That, said Shelleby, is a position the senator "has long advocated."

By 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, constituents had placed 1,002 phone calls and sent 1,253 e-mails to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. Her staff said that was twice the normal volume, and that the vast majority said they wanted a debt reduction package passed.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., reported seeing three times the constituent contact as normal, including phone calls and e-mails sent by people who said they couldn't get through the jammed phone lines.

Others in the state delegation reported only slight increases in call volume. "The phones were only ringing the first two hours of the work day. They've really tapered off," said Tom Erickson, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn. "We're getting more calls than the average July day, but a lot less than we got during the Obamacare debate."

Troy Young, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., also noted that while calls were "higher than normal," the volume did not match the peak of the health care debate in March 2010.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said that while the day was "pretty quiet," his Rochester and Mankato offices received visits from groups concerned about potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.

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