There are a lot of ways for politicians to connect with constituents. I happen to think live town halls where anybody can walk up to the microphone and ask any question are among the best and most courageous.
If I had my way, everybody would conduct town halls the way Raul Labrador does.
No scripts. No dodging or discarding written questions that you don’t want to answer. Nobody casting suspicious eyes at you when you walk in. Nobody following you around. Come one, come all.
That’s what you saw Wednesday at Meridian Middle School where it looked like 800 to 900 people had gathered in the 1,200-seat auditorium where Mayor Tammy gives her State of the City speech, where candidate forums have been held.
After establishing a few ground rules and challenging everybody to be civil and not talk over people they disagree with, Idaho’s Republican First District Congressman was off and completely in his element, pacing from one end of the stage to the other, brandishing only a water bottle and occasionally an impish smile.
Nobody dishes it out –– and takes it –– quite like Labrador. The man appears fearless and unflappable in these face-the-music forums with constituents, with people who admit they are not his constituents, with people who might be there under the direction of an organization like the Indivisibles –– or plenty of other folks who just want to aim their anti-Trump frustrations at somebody, somewhere.
The woman with the placard that said “I’m your constituent and I’m pissed” had the look of someone who was not going to be denied. And she wasn’t. When she finally got behind the mic around 9:30 p.m. –– three hours in to a scheduled 90 minute town hall –– she recited a litany of “Where were you?” questions about President Donald Trump’s bad behavior during the campaign, after the election and many times since. She demanded to know why Labrador –– who makes it a point to say he is not afraid to challenge elected officials from either party –– did not call out and condemn Trump’s antics.
Since much of Trump’s behavior is indefensible, Labrador was wise to pivot and remind her that he supported someone else during the primary, and when it came down to Trump vs. Hillary Clinton he spun out of that one by saying what many others in the room would have said: that supporting Hillary Clinton was not an option.
Some of of us have seen and heard Labrador when he gets defensive and agitated. But that doesn’t seem to happen at his town halls. Whether someone is attacking him with a pro-Planned Parenthood offensive, mounting a charge against his anti-Department of Education flank, or pulling at the threads of his association with the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, Labrador is a master of the the comeback that “We just disagree.”
I think the major reason Labrador is successful with town halls where so many others shrink is simply this: he believes what he believes and you can take it or leave it. There’s no getting caught up in explaining a contradiction tomorrow if you repeat what you said today. He doesn’t much care if you fancy him an ideologue, boo him or brand him with the latest conspiratorial subtitle.
People from all points on the political spectrum who disagree with all of his policies and politics came up to the mic Wednesday and respectfully thanked him for offering a no-holds-barred town hall in a highly critical political climate where the odds of ambush are all but certain.
The man in flip flops and sport coat who identified himself as a “centrist” thanked Labrador for holding the event and commented that “it doesn’t look like much fun.”
But Labrador quickly corrected him: “I actually like it. I am used to getting booed. I get it at home all the time.”