Yes, Republican lawmakers, it can be done. You can have a town hall that is (mostly) civil and (mostly) respectful of everyone’s views.
Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador scheduled a town hall last night in the Meridian Middle School auditorium. Nearly 800 people showed up and, as the Idaho Statesman points out, precious few of them were Labrador supporters.
What transpired over the next three hours was a credit to Labrador and the people of his district.
“I don’t mind if you boo me or yell at me,” Labrador told the audience to begin the night in the Meridian Middle School auditorium. “That’s part of the process. But let me answer the question.”
People quickly lined up dozens deep at mics in the aisles. Setting what was to be a mostly combative tone for the night, the first questioner asked about Republican efforts to abolish the Department of Education, the second about President Donald Trump’s tax returns. Labrador was booed for answering: “I don’t think there’s anything in the law that requires the president to provide his tax returns.”
Most of the evening’s questions focused on Trump, health care programs and funding, and social programs and agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency that might be cut in Republican-controlled Washington, D.C. Questioners were predominantly left-of-center and there seemed to be few supporters from Labrador’s conservative base in attendance.
But apart from being boisterous and occasionally shouting out, attendees were respectful, if rarely on the congressman’s side. In spite of that, Labrador added an hour to what was to have been a 90-minute appearance, and was still fielding questions at 9:30 p.m., three hours in.
“I’m super popular tonight,” he said at one point after another chorus of boos.
So what gives? Are leftist Idahoans more polite than leftists elsewhere? Are they less passionate?
This short Twitter clip gives a hint of Labrador’s style, which may have had a calming effect on the audience:
— Bill Dentzer (@DentzerNews) April 20, 2017
Labrador’s willingness to hear people out is not unusual. Other congressmen made it clear at their town halls that they were there to listen, only to have their events end in a chaotic mess of screaming constituents and the congressman walking out.
Perhaps there wasn’t the well-funded, highly organized leftist attempts to deliberately blow up his town hall, as has been the case elsewhere. If so, you can expect his town hall next week to be a different story.
But for one night, in a small town in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, a glimmer of American democracy was glimpsed in action. Passionate people making their voices heard as their elected representative stood there and endured their opposition with grace — and not a little bit of courage.
As an old codger, I can remember American politics as combative and hard fought — not vicious and disruptive of free speech. Labrador’s constituent meeting may have been an anomaly. But if you care about democracy at all, it was definitely something to cheer about.