Town hall semantics: When is a lawmaker dodging constituents?

The criticism heaped on Idaho GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and GOP Rep. Mike Simpson for not holding any unscripted “town halls” during the August recess has prompted a conversation with Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern.

Nothern took issue with my writing last week that “none of the three took the risk of standing before a rabble that might get testy with them about the state of affairs in Washington.”

Au contraire, says Nothern, citing Crapo’s appearances in Bonners Ferry, Coeur d’Alene and Boise. “He held four meetings that I attended that more than match your description,” Nothern said.

Crapo held a “community lunch” in Bonners Ferry Aug. 6; met with Reagan Republicans Aug. 8 and North Idaho Pachyderms Aug. 9, both in Coeur d’Alene; and took “plenty of contentious questions” at an appearance before 140 members of Judicial Watch, a government watchdog group, in Boise Aug. 12. (Nothern provided the photo below, picturing a man questioning Crapo.)

The fourth member of the Idaho delegation, GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, held what he billed as “town halls” in Lewiston, Grangeville, Council and Meridian. Crapo, Risch and Simpson have traveled widely and held numerous meetings, including stops at newspaper editorial boards. Risch took questions through a moderator at a lunch hosted by the City Club of Idaho Falls.

Nothern says Crapo has learned something from the criticism, including an Aug. 7 Idaho Statesman editorial that said there was “no excuse for lack of town hall meetings.”

Nothern said the senator is rethinking how he labels such events. “Because they may be called ‘community lunches’ instead of ‘town halls’ does not mean there is no ‘risk’ or ‘unscripted’ or ‘hostile’ questions,” said Nothern. “(But) I get that the ‘town hall’ lingo has connotations and we will probably use that term more in the future.”




Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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