Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — If 2009 was, as an advertisement from the Democratic National Committee proclaimed, the summer of the “angry mob,” in the dog days of 2010, several more North Carolina lawmakers appear ready to embrace the rabble.
More members of the state’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives have scheduled (and announced) town hall meetings this summer than last. But this year, fewer have responded to queries from Carolina Journal about their plans for the August recess.
Still, in both years, the majority of the state’s House members either don’t plan to meet with constituents in an open forum — or if they do, they’re not talking about it publicly.
In early August, 2009, CJ contacted the offices of all 13 U.S. House members from North Carolina, asking for their public schedules during the recess. At the midway point of a turbulent session of Congress, with a newly inaugurated president proposing an ambitious legislative agenda, around the country representatives were facing passionate crowds at public gatherings. CJ wondered whether these intense encounters would encourage lawmakers to learn what was on voters’ minds, or if they would choose to avoid contact in unscripted public settings.
At that time, only Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-10th District, had scheduled any town hall meetings. But McHenry had hosted such meetings throughout his district annually, beginning in 2005, his first year in Congress. Communications Director Josh Kahn said McHenry would maintain that tradition this year.
Meantime, Reps. Howard Coble, R-6th, and Mel Watt, D-12th, plan to continue the same types of public access they’ve offered in the past. Coble prefers visits to schools, factories, civic clubs, and talk radio programs. Watt meets with veterans groups and at business sites. Both post their schedules on their websites.
Several other Tar Heel lawmakers held public meetings last year, but they did not allow the sort of wide-open interaction with the public of a traditional town hall or radio call-in show. Last year, a spokesman for Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-2nd, told CJ that Etheridge didn’t schedule town halls because he was “worried” about the nature of public input. Etheridge did participate in a mid-August health care forum in Lillington sponsored by the State Employees Association of North Carolina.
Rep. Brad Miller, D-13th, said he would not host a town hall meeting last year because he had received a death threat after saying he supported Democrats’ health care reforms. When Miller announced he would meet with a handful of constituents at his St. Mary’s Street office in Raleigh, a crowd of more than 600 lined the streets, waving signs and chanting slogans.
As for other Tar Heel lawmakers' plans for this August, in an e-mail, Rep. David Price, D-4th, reported that his district offices in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill are open to constituents from 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. weekdays.
"I’ll be speaking at several local chambers of commerce, attending several local business openings where Triangle companies are creating jobs, and holding grants workshops for local small businesses," Price added. "I’ll also tour several projects funded by recovery investments like the $56 million North Carolina National Guard Headquarters. My office provides advance notice for nearly all of these events. At other times public notice is at the discretion of the company or organization hosting the event."
Rep. Sue Myrick, R-9th, has town halls set for Gaston County Aug. 21 and Mecklenburg County Aug. 24, with details forthcoming on her website.
Several House members who spoke with CJ about their plans last summer did not respond this time around: Reps. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st; Walter Jones, R-3rd; Heath Shuler, D-11th; and Etheridge.
None of them traditional sponsored town halls last summer.
At press time, the recess plans of Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-5th, Mike McIntyre, D-7th, Larry Kissell, D-8th, and Miller remained unclear. They did not respond to requests for their public schedules.
Last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee launched a website highlighting Democratic incumbents who had not announced any town hall meetings during this year’s recess.
Rick Henderson is managing editor of Carolina Journal. Editorial interns Bill Flanigen and Amanda Vuke provided research assistance for this story.