In my 13 years in the Legislature I probably hosted over a hundred town hall meetings all over the 48th district. Sometimes they were cavernously empty. Sometimes they were like what former Rep. Israel describes below – raucous. Sometimes this was organic, like the time my Republican seatmate Rodney Tom and I hosted a joint appearance during the recounts of the hotly contested 2004 gubernatorial election. Sometimes they were more like AstroTurf, with organized groups of constituents (or non-constituents) trying to turn the meeting into a rally for whatever point they were trying to make.
I loved them either way. You got to hear what people cared about, and they got to see if you were listening. They also got to see if you had done any of the actual work of representing the district. Did you understand the issue? Had you thought about it enough to have an opinion about what ought to happen? Could you talk cogently about both sides of an issue and explain how you got to your position?
Town Hall meetings are a staple of American democracy for just that reason. You represent people. They have a right to tell you what they think, even, or perhaps especially if you don’t agree with them. Sometimes they just want to yell at you. I never felt physically threatened.
My favorite was one I didn’t even attend. I watched Congressman Brian Baird (on TVW) stand on a stage in front of hundreds of angry constituents who were upset about his vote on one of our interminable wars in the middle east or Afghanistan. He had a position, and the people in the crowd didn’t like it. He took questions for hours until the crowd ran out of talk. It was hard. I didn’t agree with him either, but I respected the hell out of him for standing up for what he thought was the right decision.
Doing staged events like the telephone town halls isn’t the same. We did those sometime. They reach more people. We would get thousands listening in. After the first one we did I remember thinking how easy the questions had been and saying something to the staff who were handling the calls. The person running it looked at me like I was out of touch and told me she had screened out the “frequent flyers” with crazy questions. It’s easy to do – there are more questions than there is time and nobody can tell you’re doing it. We tried to be more balanced in the questions we took in later ones, but I’d be astounded if politicians do that in general.
Town hall meetings are important. Talking to, and with your representatives at all levels of government about what you want is the only way you’re going to get anything close to it.
Thanks for the 4000-5000 folks who listened to a segment of our telephone town hall last week. There were a lot of questions asked. If you have an extra hour and want to listen to the recording of the questions I answered here it is. I said I’d answer questions left on voicemail at the end, and we had the following two that we didn’t get to:
520 – When will Construction End? (Ever?)
According to the WSDOT website, the Eastside portion (405 to the lake in Medina) of the project will be finished in the summer of 2014. I think this means that “Cars will be able to drive on it, and most major construction will be done.” I expect there to be some finishing work afterwards, but the major construction should be finished.
Sen. Rodney Tom will join Rep. Ross Hunter and Rep. Deb Eddy in a town hall meeting Wednesday, Jan. 4, to discuss the 2012 legislative session.
The 48th District lawmakers will solicit constituents’ concerns and priorities and answer questions from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the council chamber room of Bellevue City Hall at 450 110th Ave. NW, Bellevue, WA 98009.
For more information, Michael Althauser, 360-786-7326
The 2011 legislative session is now halfway through. State Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue) and Reps. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) and Deb Eddy (D-Kirkland) invite Eastside residents to a Town Hall on Saturday, March 12 for an update and discussion on the budget and other legislation of interest.
When: Saturday, March 12 at 10:30 a.m.
Where: Redmond City Hall (15670 NE 85th Street)
For more information, contact Hunter’s Legislative Assistant Marilyn Pedersen at (360)786-7936.
Washington State Legislature Sen. Rodney Tom, Rep. Ross Hunter and Rep. Deb Eddy
48th Legislative District
Eastside residents invited to May 18 town hall with local legislators
May 5, 2010
State Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue) and Reps. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) and Deb Eddy (D-Kirkland) invite Eastside residents to a Town Hall on Tuesday, May 18 for a recap of the 2010 legislative session and a look ahead at upcoming work on the 520 project, education reform and more.
Residents are encouraged to come with questions or ideas about other issues of interest.
When: Tuesday, May 18 at 6 p.m.
Where: Bellevue City Hall (450 110th Ave. NE)