No one denies that congressional town hall meetings lately have become riotous affairs, brimming with constituents angry, confused or defensive about the state of our nation, just as we saw in 2009 and 2010. But any federal lawmaker — Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative — who skirts personally facing his or her constituents when they’re most riled up or afraid does not deserve the honor of representing them.
This paper has defended Republican Congressman Bill Flores from attacks on both the right and left, but there’s no defending a congressman who, when the political environment becomes volatile, dodges the people in his own district. This is the time when lawmakers must demonstrate leadership — articulating their vision, explaining their votes — and, most important of all, hearing out their constituents’ concerns, hopes and fears so they can better represent them.
Amid a series of town hall meetings nationwide in recent weeks where constituents have angrily criticized elected representatives and senators — many of them Republican — Flores this week announced he would stage only telephone town hall meetings this month plus a radio call-in. That’s inexcusable given that the congressman seems quite able to personally show up for adoring audiences such as those offered by like-minded Republican groups.
In a statement Tuesday, Flores claimed that, because of the great interest in town hall meetings, he opted to use “a medium which allows us to reach the maximum number of participants by connecting with thousands of constituents at each event.” Given constituents’ reactions on his Facebook page, most weren’t buying it. One said she was “saddened that you see some of us as a threat and not your constituents.” Another raised a different possibility: “I get the feeling Flores only considers the people who voted for him to be his constituents. This is the wrong attitude to have as a public servant.” Yet another asked that Flores reconsider: “Holding a telephone town hall makes it appear that you don’t want to face your constituents in person, and I am sure you would not want to allow that impression to stand.” A Flores defender responded by suggesting these people are “national socialist worker party members.” Right.
Some Republicans spin the idea that all these town hall spectacles are mayhem orchestrated by paid protesters. We don’t know of other venues, but that’s not only hogwash locally but an insult to many Central Texans. Even if paid protesters were in the mix, lawmakers should have sufficient resilience, courage and bark not only to endure the slings and arrows but also to refute criticism if unfounded.
This newspaper condemns all those who would attend a town hall meeting with the goal of disrupting the event. We condemn all those who seek to drown out constituents who want more information and insight from their elected lawmakers. We condemn all those whose sole mission is to heap embarrassment on lawmakers brave enough to show up and face the people they represent.
And we condemn any lawmaker who lacks the integrity to personally face constituents in the most trying of times. And these are the most trying of times.