by Karen Whitacre
As conceived by the framers of the Constitution, the U.S. House of Representatives was created to be the voice of the popular will of the people and members were to be directly elected by the people. However, a Representative’s ability to effectively act on behalf of the people could be questioned if he or she appeared unwilling to meet directly with them, especially after a seismic political paradigm shift.
Since his re-election in November 2016, U.S. Representative Dave Brat of the 7th District of Virginia has yet to conduct a town hall meeting with members of his constituency, despite numerous requests that he hold one. Rep. Brat has said he is too busy to hold a town hall; that he will need to get through the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency before he can come up for air. Yet, he has a Town Hall appearance scheduled with colleague and fellow Freedom Caucus member Congressman Paul Gosar on February 23, 2017 in Gold Canyon, Arizona. That’s a great opportunity for the constituents of the 4th District of Arizona, but not so great for us.
The necessity of a face-to-face town hall right now is obvious – a lot will be changing in regard to how the federal government functions and what role people can expect the federal government to play in their lives. People are concerned about pivotal issues – the repeal of the ACA, the future of the public school system in the United States, and the possible privatization of Medicare, Social Security, and the Veterans Administration. But, Rep. Dave Brat doesn’t have the time right now…
So, how is it possible that Rep. Brat is unable to meet with his constituents, but Rep. Bobby Scott of the 3rd District was able to hold a town hall on 12/12/16 to address issues concerning the Affordable Care Act? Or that Rep. Donald Beyer of the 8th District spoke at a public forum on Martin Luther King Day this year and discussed civil rights issues with constituents? To be fair, Rep. Brat held a 45-minute Facebook Live Town Hall on 1/31/17. Rep. Scott Taylor of the 2nd District did the same thing, holding his Facebook Live Town Hall on 1/30/17, but he then also scheduled three in-person townhalls in Virginia Beach on 2/20/17, in Peninsula on 2/21/17, and on the Eastern Shore on 2/22/17.
Rep. Gerry Connolly of the 11th District regularly holds Telephone Town Halls, but is out and about in his district meeting with constituents so consistently that a staff member said, “You can’t tell the difference between his calendar when we are in session and when we are not.” Rep. Robert Wittman of the 1st District also holds regular, not impromptu, tele-town halls and a staff member said that he meets with constituents practically on a daily basis.
What about the Representatives that just were elected? According to a staff member, Rep. Thomas Garrett of the 5th District plans to hold a town hall within the next 4-6 weeks. Similarly, newly-elected Rep. Donald McEachin of the 4th District plans to hold a public event at his district office called “Opening Our Doors to The Community” during the month of February 2017. “He is home in his district every weekend,” said a staff member.
While town hall meetings are not on their upcoming calendars, Rep. Morgan Griffith of the 9th District and Rep. Bob Goodlatte of the 6th District have reliable public outreach strategies, such as traveling office hours and Open Door Meetings, respectively.
However, when times are tumultuous, constituents need explanations of changing policies and reliable, authentic communication with their U.S. Representatives. While Rep. Barbara Comstock of the 10th District also employs Mobile Office Hours, her constituents made it clear that staff members were not enough. As recently as last weekend, an email mistakenly said she would be appear with staff at two town halls to address constituents’ concerns about the repeal of Obamacare and the Trump Administration’s travel ban. She did not show up and the reaction was outrage.
Rep. Brat was just elected in 2014. He ousted Eric Cantor because constituents found Cantor inaccessible and out of touch. Clearly, much has changed in the political landscape since 2014. Since November 2016, the things I hold dear about being an American have been called into question. Since Trump was inaugurated, I’m fairly certain the Earth’s axis has shifted. Still, there appears to be one constant, the 7th District still finds itself in need of a responsive and transparent U.S. Representative.