On Wednesday evening Congressman Goodlatte sprang another one of his surprise “telephone town halls” on his unprepared Sixth District constituents.
Fortunately Bill Hamilton was able to record most of it.
A questioner in Lexington asked about Goodlatte’s practice of holding his “telephone town halls” with no advance notice.
Question: I was just wondering if you were going to be planning town halls on a regular basis or a set time for these phone town halls? It’s just that I happened to answer the phone tonight, that I did not know you were planning on ahead of time.
Goodlatte: Well, the answer is, we do them on a regular basis. We have lots of different ways for people to communicate with us, including every month at a set time we have an open door meeting in Lexington where people can go and meet with a member of my staff and pass along their concerns about issues. And I respond to all of those. We also have Facebook. We also have my website. We also have an e-newsletter that we send out every week. And there are at least, you know, ten different ways that people can contact me and either seek help with a government agency or ask questions about an issue that is before the Congress. But we have found that these telephone town hall meetings provide for an opportunity for a very civil discourse as opposed to what you’ve seen around the country where people turn town meetings into mob scenes and have cardboard cutouts of elected officials and all kinds of other things that kind of demean the process and take away from the people who show up and really want to have a serious discussion about the issues facing the country. So we will continue to have the telephone town hall meetings and we will continue to look for other ways. We meet with people individually all the time, every week. We visit schools and hospitals and businesses to talk about issues that are of concern to folks in those places. And we’ll continue to be accessible. We also receive over a thousand emails a week, in other words unique individual contacts, from people who have just simply reached out directly to my office, or they call one of my offices at the numbers that I gave out earlier, and I’ll give them out again later as well. So we want to be as accessible as we possibly can. We want to promote a dialogue where we have a constructive conversation about the issues. So thank you very much.
You’ll notice Goodlatte never responded directly to the question about scheduling regular town halls or having set times for “telephone town halls.” Instead he talked at length about how “accessible” he is and about all the other ways he meets people and receives their views.
The problem is that lots of constituents have contacted him in recent weeks asking for meetings (individual, small group, town hall) and he doesn’t respond. As for questions about issues: if he does answer, it’s usually in the form of a generic letter that doesn’t deal with the constituent’s specific concern.
Goodlatte seemed to rule out in-person town halls for fear of “mob scenes” and “cardboard cutouts.”
If Goodlatte was referring to the cardboard cutout of himself featured at a recent meeting in Vinton, it was only there because he himself wasn’t.
And does Goodlatte really have such a low opinion of his constituents that he thinks any town hall meeting would turn into a “mob scene”? He might want to consult with his House Republican colleagues Justin Amash of Michigan and Mark Sanford of South Carolina.
Amash has faced some impassioned constituents at town hall meetings in his district. But he believes the meetings are valuable and plans to continue holding them. He responded to a tweet from President Trump about “liberal activists” organizing “angry crowds.”
“I think it is critical that members of Congress hold in-person town halls like this,” Amash said. “There aren’t enough of people on either side of the aisle who do it.”
Sanford and Republican Senator Tim Scott actually cosponsored a town hall meeting with the grassroots progressive group Indivisible Charleston, at which they faced challenging but mostly polite questions about the Affordable Care Act and other issues.
As Sanford remarked afterwards:
I’ve long believed that in many cases, a dissenting viewpoint is more important than one that agrees with you. You learn a lot more in contrasting an idea than having somebody simply say I’m with you. So I think the back and forth is important to the Socratic process of ultimately getting to the bottom line and hopefully truth at that bottom line.
I thought it was a meaningful interchange. There’s certainly some energy at the front end. But, you know, you go – I think we went about three and a half hours all told. And by time, you know, you move past hour one and some of the, you know, again, pent-up energy that was built into that, I think we really had a meaningful exchange where people, at a heartfelt level, told me why certain things were important to them, why they mattered as they did. And I think that that’s what you’d want in any town hall exchange.
Goodlatte might want to give it a try.