(The opinions expressed on this page are not necessarily those of the New Hampshire Journal. The Journal welcomes opinions on all sides of issues and from all candidates for office.)
By DEREK DUFRESNE
For as long as most of us can remember, our elected officials, regardless of political party, have made themselves available to their constituents by hosting Town Hall meetings. Next to our autumn foliage, nothing is more ‘New England’ than a lawmaker discussing the important issues inside one of our many historic meetinghouses.
Putting aside the nostalgia, Town Hall meetings are a crucial way for our elected officials to report back to us on what they’ve been doing in Washington. More importantly, it is also the most direct way for them to hear from their constituents. Here in New Hampshire, we’ve especially grown accustom to our two Members of Congress hosting multiple Town Hall meetings when they are on recesses. Sadly, that tradition’s future looks pretty bleak. In fact, if Congresswoman Annie Kuster’s (NH-02) first term is any indication of where our New Hampshire Town Hall custom is headed, it is already on life support.
These are the facts. It has been over 900 days since Members of the 113th Congress took office. During that period, Congresswoman Kuster has been back in New Hampshire for most weekends and has had countless weeks of congressional recesses to meet with her constituents. However, despite having time to attend countless fundraisers and party functions, she has not hosted a single Town Hall meeting. Not one. While this isn’t a fact you will hear her brag about in her taxpayer-funded mailings, Annie Kuster is quickly on her way to becoming New Hampshire’s first Member of Congress in recent memory to never have hosted a single Town Hall meeting. Honestly, that’s pretty pitiful. And begs us to ask, what is she hiding?
We at Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire have been asking Congresswoman Kuster for well over a year to host her first forum with residents of New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District. We’ve heard from her constituents who have serious issues they would like to discuss with her. From the incessant problems associated with Obamacare to the scandal-ridden Veterans Administration, Granite Staters deserve an opportunity to discuss these, or any issue, with their congresswoman. Apparently though, Congresswoman Kuster disagrees with that premise. In our opinion, that’s just wrong.
Perhaps Congresswoman Kuster is afraid of difficult questions or maybe she doesn’t feel prepared enough to deal with the most important issues of the day. However, there is no excuse for any New Hampshire Member of Congress to hide from their obligations as an elected official.
It is important to note that Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter are anything but accessible either. Senator Shaheen hasn’t hosted an open forum in years and the few sham events Congresswoman Shea-Porter likes to call ‘Town Hall meetings’ banned video cameras and required constituents’ questions to be submitted prior to the event, so they could be carefully screened. The only member of New Hampshire’s current federal delegation who has consistently hosted Town Hall meetings in recent years is Senator Kelly Ayotte. We thank her for being accessible to all Granite Staters, but it takes more than just Senator Ayotte’s efforts to keep an important tool of a well-functioning republic alive.
Just a few years ago, no New Hampshire Member of Congress could have gotten away with refusing to host a single Town Hall meeting. Senator Shaheen and Congresswoman Shea-Porter’s refusal to hold frequent meetings would not have been accepted either. The expectation that our civic leaders needed to host public forums was emblematic of how we held our elected officials to a higher standard than most other states. We demanded those who represented us to actually listen to us. We required that they stood for their constituents’ interests, not their own. That high bar, interwoven with our Town Hall tradition, has always been one of the greatest things about the Granite State. However, that seems to be disappearing with increased efforts from our elected to hide from their constituents.
As it has been in the past, this request will likely be ignored, however, we will try one more time asking Congresswoman Kuster to stop hiding and to host her first Town Hall meeting. We also call on Senator Shaheen and Congresswoman Shea-Porter to hold more forums. The fact that we have to ask our elected officials to be accessible is truly disappointing. However, the issues are too important and the tradition to vital to the Granite State not to try one last time to save the New Hampshire Town Hall meeting before it is too late.
(Derek Dufresne is the spokesman for Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, a 501:c-4 conservative issues group that describes itself as a “diverse, nonpartisan coalition of concerned citizens, community leaders and other stakeholders concerned with creating jobs, limiting government, lowering taxes, and improving the economy.”)