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Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Town Hall Dearth Continues

Next week’s congressional recess is formally called a “constituent work week” by the House. That name implies the traditional recess activity of hosting town-hall meetings and fielding questions from constituents.
But now, more and more lawmakers are ditching face-to-face meetings in favor of “virtual” ones held over the telephone or Internet. Whether this is an achievement for participatory democracy or a way for lawmakers to avoid potentially unpleasant interaction with angry voters is debatable.
“Let’s just say I know of a number of members who eagerly avoid real town halls and substitute them with tele-town halls,” offered Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who says he holds about 30 live events annually. He also does some gatherings by phone.
He is not the only one to notice a trend, although detailed data is somewhat elusive. No House official claims to track such information.
Virtual town halls have a couple of advantages:

  • They avoid the disruptions and security risks that may come with live town halls.
  • They potentially allow more people to participate. 
But there are disadvantages.  In a real town hall, voters can see how their elected officials handle pressure and whether they actually know their stuff.  In a virtual town hall, staffers can screen out challenging questions and ply unprepared lawmakers with talking points.