By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Town Halls aren’t exactly a new thing.
Neither is anger at Town Halls.
In fact, both stretch back to before the founding of America, and helped to shape the country’s formation. Many have been quite contentious, even some of the earliest.
But they all also had one thing in common: they were viewed as a way for politicians to formally recognize that power in this country rests with people.
While big-time donors and the super-wealthy who operate political action committees have seemingly unending and unrestrained access to anyone holding a public office, the average, working American can’t match resources or time.
Town halls level that playing field somewhat.
Because it is often at these town halls that large groups of average voters seize upon a common purpose and began to collectively move the political needle in a manner that even gobs of money can’t.
After all, while campaign funding is vitally important, there’s one thing more important – votes.
I was critical of Democratic politicians who cancelled Town Halls or scaled back the number they attend, in 2009 and 2010, when tea party groups were filling them up to complain about taxes and health care.
Even though I vehemently disagreed with the tea party’s platform and found many of their ideas to be callous and self-centered, they still had a right to voice those concerns and to be presented the other side by people who felt differently.
Because those conversations – as heated and vitriolic as they may be – are important.
And politicians who would deny such conversations, because they’re apparently too insecure in their political beliefs, are cowards.
That means you, Reps. Martha Roby, Mo Brooks, Robert Aderholt and Mike Rogers. And especially you, Sen. Richard Shelby.
Brooks, so far, has been the biggest of the cowards.
A man who has never met a camera or microphone he didn’t like was caught on video all but running from a few elderly men and women who crashed a supposedly cancelled Town Hall in Huntsville a few weeks ago.
The Town Hall was set up by a local tea party group, who placed an online advertisement welcoming the public. When it became apparent that several people who wanted to challenge Brooks on his positions on health care and entitlements were planning to attend, suddenly, the event was cancelled.
Brooks’ office claimed it was because there was a lack of security and that he never authorized a public Town Hall.
But a few people found out that Brooks’ office had lied to them, so they went over to ask about health care and Social Security and Medicare.
As soon as they began to ask, Brooks bolted and refused to answer their questions.
Instead of facing them, Brooks held a telephone Town Hall, which had more than 5,000 participants – participants that could be easily cut off and manipulated if they didn’t believe exactly like Brooks.
There are no other town halls planned for Brooks. Roby, Aderholt and Rogers also have none planned. Neither does Shelby.
They all spent time around the state over the past week, and judging by their schedules, they certainly had time for more events. Brooks participated in a high school alumni baseball game. Roby spoke at the Business Council of Alabama meeting and visited a bunch of schools.
But time to hear from the people in an organized setting?
Roby and Rogers wouldn’t respond when invited to an event in Montgomery last week. Rogers and Shelby have ducked groups who continually show up to their offices to speak to them. Aderholt’s office threatened to arrest a group of constituents – some of whom were in wheelchairs – when they showed up to his office.
Luckily, there are a few State politicians who aren’t cowards. Reps. Gary Palmer, Terri Sewell and Bradley Byrne have either held recent Town Halls or have some planned.
Palmer held one last weekend. It was packed – mainly because he held it in what appeared to be a closet – and hostile. But Palmer stood there and listened and interacted with voters.
Because that’s how this works. The title of “representative” means they represent the people of their district in our system of government. If some politicians aren’t up to that job, they should find a new line of work. And you should help them find it.
Democracy put these people into office, and democracy can take them out.