Adventures in Government - There's Always One
This past Saturday I attended a town hall meeting hosted by my state legislators: our state senator David Bradley, and our two state house members, Kirsten Engel and Todd Clodfelter.
The meeting took place at a library meeting room, and was packed full when I arrived, with at least 75 people in attendance. For a while, I kneeled on the floor, high enough to see the front of the room, but low enough to not block the people behind me. Luckily, after a while a few people left, giving me an opportunity to stand against a wall (which is much more comfortable than kneeling).
It was great to see such a well-attended meeting. Bradley and Engel have a bit of a rapport, being the two Democrats, but they seemed to get on well enough with Clodfelter. The lone Republican politician in a room clearly full of liberals, Clodfelter handled himself pretty well, and only elicited a boos once or twice during the hour and a half I was there.
They spoke about many topics, basically taking questions for a full two hours, and giving people a chance to speak their minds. This is, in short, exactly what town hall meetings should be: legislators and citizens interacting and coming together, allowing the citizens to hold the legislators accountable while the legislators keep the citizens informed of their activities. It's a beautiful thing.
Some of the highlights include the time the hosts spent defending the notion of lobbyists (basically, demystifying the concept), talking about the Constitutional Convention (which the Arizona Legislature voted in favor of), the suit against the City of Tucson for destroying seized guns (a case headed to the Arizona Supreme Court right now), and the difficulties related to Arizona's law requiring a 2/3 majority in the legislature to raise taxes (whereas a simple majority can lower them).
However, unfortunately, the most memorable thing about the event was this one guy who sat at the front of the room and recorded the entire meeting on his cell phone.
Given the chance to speak, rather than ask the hosts a question, he proceeded to talk about his own organization and the difficulty he has in getting responses from Bradley when he emails him. Which at first seems like a lack of responsiveness on Bradley's part, but it quickly becomes obvious that this guy has trouble getting to the point of what he's trying to say, and I imagine any email from him would be difficult to decipher, much less respond to. He's clearly frustrated about something, but his rants never seemed entirely coherent.
After his rant started going on a bit too long, the audience was groaning. Eventually one person asked, "is there a question?" The man stopped mid-sentence to respond, "No, this is a statement," before picking up right where he left off. Eventually, he paused, probably to take a breath, and the hosts went on to the next person.
That's not where it ended, though. This guy was not done.
Shortly after giving his speech, he began to interrupt people, correcting them on their statements. Which, if that was all he was doing, it wouldn't have been so bad. But any time he corrected someone, he would take it as a license to make another "statement." It wasn't long before the audience began to boo the guy any time he opened his mouth, and soon he seemed to take the hint.
However, later, when other people would speak up to clarify something (for instance, a medical professional speaking up to clarify a health care issue), the guy would start to loudly boo at them, saying, "Boo! Boo! Wait your turn! Boo!" He was, in his way, doing to others what they did to him.
Eventually, this led to an argument; one he lost, and he proceeded to sit in sullen silence until the end. He raised his hand every time the hosts looked to the audience for another question, but they never called on him again.
There's always at least one heckler, it seems; someone who isn't necessarily liberal or conservative, but just simply someone who wants an audience for his ideas, and who doesn't mind hijacking someone else's event for that purpose. There's value in a dissenting voice, I think. However, this was simply belligerent interruption.
I commend the audience and the hosts for making that town hall meeting productive despite him.
And I highly recommend attending these sorts of events if and when you can. In fact, I implore you attend at least one some time to see what kind of people your legislators are. There's no pressure to speak, and no pressure to stay there the whole time. Just show up and listen, and I bet you'll learn a lot, both about how your politicians work, and about your neighbors. I know I'm looking forward to the next town hall meeting, which they're planning to hold next month some time. (It's hard to schedule library meeting rooms far in advance.)