The office of Representative Bill Flores has announced that the long-awaited Town Hall meetings with the congressman scheduled for April will be conducted via teleconference. We are a diverse group of Mr. Flores’ constituents who believe this is unacceptable.
In person town hall meetings, where representatives receive real face time with large groups of voters, are a bedrock of our democracy and an important visual reminder of the representative process itself. There is something about standing physically in the presence of those you represent, speaking unscripted and on the record about the work of governance, that simply cannot be replicated in a remote setting.
The town hall meeting format received a renewed interest at the end of last decade, as Tea Party groups arose to challenge their Republican representatives to stand up to the agenda of President Obama. They have continued in recent months, this time through Indivisible groups around the country expressing opposition to President Trump’s agenda. Both groups could not be more diametrically opposed to each other in their policy aims, disagreeing on everything from taxation to the very Constitution that our nation was founded on.
But they have this in common: Both believe our representatives in Washington have become too calculating. They manage their image and ration their words in ways that serve only to get them reelected, all while legislating under the watchful eyes of their Big Money donors. They avoid having to answer any uncomfortable questions in front of cameras in favor of the sterile branding of marketing advisors. Mr. Flores has gone on record saying that the purpose of conducting this week’s series of town halls via teleconference is to open up participation to the maximum amount of constituents possible. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in political showmanship to find this explanation suspect, at best.
In light of lively, in-person town hall meetings around the country occurring since last fall’s election, the real purpose of this is crystal clear: To manage the moment in a way that is most favorable to the congressman, that mitigates the anger and frustration that many in the district are feeling right now.
Citizens from across the political spectrum are fed up with this.
On the surface, it may appear that we simply want an opportunity to jeer and deride our congressman, behavior that has unfortunately been a hallmark of many recent town hall meetings across the nation. While this may be the goal of a few on the fringes, it is not the primary reason for our frustration. Instead, we believe it is in the real and often uncomfortable exchanges, in front of cameras and citizens from all sides, that both our representatives and our neighbors see how complex and messy governing actually is, and how every act of legislating affects people with flesh and blood.
Congressman Flores is to be commended for his private meetings over the past few months with constituents from across the political spectrum. But private meetings and artificially “public” town halls aren’t enough. Neither allow for real, on-record conversation, complete with questions, pushback, and the give-and-take necessary for a healthy democratic process. We lament that he has done this, and request that before the end of the week he announce scheduled, in person, on the record town hall meetings for the August recess.
Citizens of the 17th Congressional District