Town hall meetings with constituents: From Frank Capra movies to “Parks and Recreation,” they’re often depicted as the lifeblood of democracy.
But there aren’t many open town halls happening this time around. Perhaps that’s because lawmakers have seen what happened to colleagues like Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who faced a boisterous crowd at home earlier this month. It was a scene reminiscent of what Democrats faced in 2009 from Tea Party members during President Obama’s first year in office.
But this unwillingness to hold town hall meetings isn’t stopping town hall meetings from moving forward altogether. In fact, there was one just this weekend in the Central Texas city of Dripping Springs with Republican Roger Williams. The congressman himself was represented by a literal cardboard cutout.
Austin American-Statesman chief political writer Jonathan Tilove was there. He reports these town halls without representatives are becoming one strategy of the group “Indivisible” – which he describes as people who were frightened by the outcome of the presidential election and frightened by President Trump who have now become very active.
“The idea is that you’re supposed to try to connect with your local congressmen and, one way or another, the town hall meeting is supposed to be the venue that most exposes that member of congress to constituent pressure,” Tilove says.
But Tilove says lawmakers are discovering they are “damned if they do and damned if they don’t” go to these meetings. Chaffetz was damned when he was heckled by a large crowd but it also doesn’t look great for lawmakers if they don’t attend town hall meetings. Still, Tilove says, that’s the route most representatives from Texas are choosing so far – including US Rep. Roger Williams.
“I think the price of going would have been TV news reports and headlines suggesting that he had faced a very hostile crowd,” Tilove said.
But, Tilove says, avoiding the town halls also has consequences.
“I think you energize those people and make them feel even more righteous in their cause,” he says.