Say what you want about former Athens congressman Paul Broun, but he was never afraid to face his constituents.
While Congress took a break from debating the Affordable Care Act in 2009, the ultra-conservative Broun barnstormed the district. Included in his itinerary were two stops in Oconee County—GOP country, to be sure, but close enough where Athens liberals could easily attend, and did. (He’d go on to hold a town-hall meeting in Athens proper in 2011.)
As is the case today, at the dawn of the tea party era political power had shifted rapidly, with one party completely shut out and big changes on the horizon. The opposition was on edge, and the occasional incident of violence had been reported at political events. Yet Broun’s press secretary described his crowds as “very friendly, very cordial.” When asked if Broun would employ extra security, Jessica Morris—now Jessica Hayes, a staffer for Rep. Jody Hice—responded, “We have no reason to believe people will be anything but respectful.”
Don’t expect to see Broun’s successor Hice anytime soon, though. When asked whether their bosses had any plans to hold town-hall meetings while Congress is in recess this month (known in D.C. as a “district work period”), spokespersons for both Hice (R-Monroe) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) pointed to their “tele-town hall meetings,” in which the congressmen mass-call constituents who’ve signed up beforehand to participate. It’s not exactly the same thing.
House Republican leadership has warned members to seek extra security, and GOP congressmen are increasingly turning to tele-town halls to avoid facing constituents face-to-face. A spokesman for Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) told USA Today that he ditched physical town halls because “recent town-hall meetings across the country have devolved into unproductive shouting matches, with highly organized, partisan special interest groups effectively hijacking the forums and crowding out local residents who want respectful discourse.”
After approximately 500 people showed up at a Greensboro “constituent services day” earlier this month—the type of event that usually draws a handful of people seeking help with passports or disability—to complain and ask questions about Trump Administration policies, a spokeswoman for Sen. David Perdue dismissed them as “organized groups” that “manufacture protests and continue to be disruptive.” The Republican Party wants voters to believe that protestors are violent and dangerous, and it’s become an article of faith on the right that George Soros is paying them. (He’s rich, but not that rich.) In reality, a good chunk of the crowd in Greensboro was retirees, with a sprinkling of teachers whose schools were closed and others who took off work.
In fact, Hice has never held a town-hall meeting in Athens since he was elected in 2014. Even though left-leaning groups like Athens for Everyone and Indivisible District 10 have invited him, he’s not about to start now. After Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz got raked over the coals, why would he?
Of course, it never hurt Paul Broun.