Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Democratic legislators host town halls; Republicans hide at home

Town hall meetings are a patriotic celebration of democracy in action – a coming together of citizens with their elected representatives to discuss important issues of the day – and last weekend, many Democratic legislators hosted open public meetings with their constituents.

Republican legislators, meanwhile, decided to take a paid weekend off.

Although the legislative session includes the weekends, during which floor sessions are common, they also traditionally set aside a weekend after the mid-session "cut-off" to offer members a chance to head back to their districts and hold meetings with their constituents.

Here's a sampling of the Democrats who took advantage of the opportunity to get in-person feedback from their constituents:
  • Senator Derek Kilmer of the 26th LD held meetings across the Kitsap Peninsula (Bremerton, Port Orchard, and Gig Harbor) with his seatmate Representative Larry Seaquist (video)
  • Senator Chris Marr of the 6th LD held meetings in Spokane (video)
  • Speaker Frank Chopp, Sen. Ed Murray, and Representative Jamie Pedersen of the 43rd LD held a meeting at the First Baptist Church
  • Representatives Eric Pettigrew and Sharon Tomiko Santos, and Senator Adam Kline of the 37th LD held a meeting at the Zion Prep Academy
  • Senator Joe McDermott and Representatives Eileen Cody and Sharon Nelson of the 34th LD held a meeting at the High Point Community Center
And, of course, as we reported earlier, there were townhalls at Crossroads and Kirkland City Hall. The former was hosted by 48th District Democrats Rodney Tom, Ross Hunter, and Deb Eddy. The latter was hosted by 45th District Democrats Larry Springer, Roger Goodman, and Eric Oemig.

Meanwhile, most Republicans simply decided to take a couple of paid days off.

It turns out that when it comes to communicating with their constituents, less is more for Republicans in Olympia. It’s not that they don’t want to talk to them of course; they’d just rather not deal with too many pesky questions.

Republicans would rather hold “virtual” town hall meetings, engineered like talk-radio, where constituents get to call in and have their questions screened by a moderator before they are given the luxury of actually asking them.

It turns out that no fewer than ten members of the House Republican Caucus are scared to meet with their constituents face-to-face. From the HRC Website:
  • Rep. Barbara Bailey to hold tele-town hall meeting Tuesday, Feb. 2
  • Rep. Jaime Herrera to hold tele-town hall meeting Thursday at 7:10 p.m.
  • Schmick to host telephone town hall with constituents Jan. 28
  • 7th District representatives to host telephone town hall Monday, Jan. 25
  • Dammeier invites constituents to his tele-town hall meeting Feb. 4
  • 12th District legislators to hold tele-town hall meeting Jan. 21
  • Angel to host telephone town hall meeting
  • Parker plans telephone town hall with constituents
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not averse to using what Rep. Jan Angel (R – Port Orchard) refers to as “this new technology.” I think telephones are awesome.

And I think a virtual town hall meeting is a great way for our elected representatives in “the other Washington” to leverage technology to get around the scheduling and cost involved in flying home to communicate with constituents in person.

But many of the state legislators who are hosting virtual town halls represent people just an hour or two away from Olympia. I’m willing to bet that most of them manage to go home for the weekend, yet somehow can’t – or won’t – find the time to sit down with their constituents for a genuine conversation.

And to make matters worse, they’re only going to be on the phone for an hour. Exactly how much feedback do they expect to hear from constituents in one hour?

I listened in on Rep. Angel's virtual town hall meeting last week. It included screened questions from about a dozen callers and a couple of push-poll questions that listeners could respond to by pushing a number on their touch-tone phones. The results were given in percentages versus raw numbers, obstructing the actual number of people who were participating.

Republicans are spinning this as “Residents can talk to their state lawmaker from the comfort of their own homes,” but that’s not what this is really about. It’s about them hiding from their constituents behind the façade of a “virtual town hall.”

Just think of it this way: Republicans are “virtually” listening to their constituents. It’s like they “virtually” care about what the people of our state have to say.


Blogger JAG said...

Further investigation is needed regarding your stay at home poll. Some of the legislators you mentioned have and are having public in person town halls as well as utilizing "new technical" methods to reach their people. Also, the telephone town halls can reach thousands of people even though only a few can get their calls in during the one hour event. However, in the in person town halls only a few of those attending get to ask questions as well. This communication issue you mentioned is not a party line problem as you are projecting it to be. We have good and bad representatives on both sides of the isle.

February 26, 2010 3:23 PM  
Blogger JM said...

I also agree with JAG. I think it is very disingenuous to point to Republicans as "hiding" when House Republican members held traditional town hall meetings in Ellensburg, Moses Lake, two locations in Spokane, Woodland, Battle Ground, Ferndale and Federal Way, just to name a few.

Yes, in addition, House Republicans have been holding telephone town hall meetings throughout the session, not just on Feb. 20th, because it has allowed them to reach far more people -- normally around 400 on the telephone as opposed to maybe a 10th of that at traditional town hall meetings. And, oh by the way, many traditional town hall meetings only last an hour to an hour and a half.

Also, there has been no attempt to obstruct the numbers of people participating in the telephone polls. Frequently, those numbers are given out and they usually range around 200 to 300 voting, depending on how many people are on the line. Just to note, the percentages do reflect people's feelings on the issues, even if they don't reflect Democrats feelings on them.

And before you go criticizing Republicans for doing virtual town halls, Democrats have been doing the same, including Marko Liias, Brendan Williams, Deb Wallace and Kevin Van De Wege. By your logic, were these Democrats also "hiding?" Or maybe the reality is that most Democrat legislators, except for those who held the traditional town halls you listed above are "hiding" from their constituents who are angry about the I-960 suspension and the coming TAX INCREASES, as opposed to MOST House Republicans who have actively sought input via both virtual and traditional town hall meetings, as well as through e-mail and other communication means.

By the way, it would have made no sense for Rep. Angel to hold separate in-district town hall meetings on the same day as Seaquist and Kilmer. And she was not invited by Seaquist and Kilmer to join them, nor would it have been appropriate for her to crash their party. The Angel virtual town hall was held several days earlier and many people participated. Those who did not have the opportunity to ask a live question were given the opportunity to record it on a voice mail afterward, and those calls were later followed-up.

So with all due respect, on this issue, you really don't know what you are talking about and have no credibility to criticize.

February 26, 2010 11:32 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Actually, I think I have considerable credibility to comment on this issue.

As a former communications specialist with the Legislature on the staff of the Senate Democratic Caucus, one of my responsibilities was to organize, promote, staff, and conduct follow-up on exactly these kinds of events. I've seen Legislative Town Halls first-hand in Stanwood, Coupeville, Puyallup, Bremerton, Port Orchard, the Key Peninsula, and Gig Harbor - all in swing Legislative Districts with a wide diversity of political thought and comment.

The live Town Hall events I've attended typically include the presentation of twice as many questions as the telephone variety, and offer another quality - transparency.

How many people "attended" the virtual town hall event hosted by Rep. Jan Angel? Is there any way to independently verify the how many people participate, or tried to ask a question and never get selected by the moderator?

With a live event, it's clear as day. A legislator can't claim that hundreds of people attended their event and agreed with everything they said unless it's true, since audience members and the local media can see for themselves.

As for the idea that Rep. Angel - or any other legislator - couldn't hold a competing event, that's just an excuse for some legislators in swing districts to play it safe. Her seatmates held three events on Saturday - how was it not possible for Angel to hold even a single event on Friday night or Sunday afternoon?

Rep. Angel is more than willing to attend "safe" live events hosted by local organizations such as the Gig Harbor Womens' Republican Club and local chambers of commerce, but has repeatedly avoided participating in more open public forums such as rallies to save local state parks and to fight for better funding for state ferries - both subjects she professes to support, and which her seatmates Rep. Larry Seaquist and Sen. Derek Kilmer agree with and participate in.

Again, I don't think there's anything wrong with adding virtual town halls into the mix of tools that legislators use to provide access to their constituents - as long as these are a compliment to and not a substitute for genuine access.


March 1, 2010 7:21 AM  

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