I want our readers and our state legislators to think about this for a moment.
State legislators make $6,000 a year and are generally expected to attend a handful of cracker barrels in their home legislative district during session in addition to who knows how many other public forums to face scrutiny on any issue legislators might put forth. Sometimes they’re grilled, sometimes they’re praised, but they bravely face the public. Being a legislator can be a thankless job, but imagine if instead of $6,000 they were paid $170,000, given a large staff and instead of public forums and cracker barrels, they could choose tele-town halls paid for by tax payers with pre-screened questions – and no reporters. My question is: why do we hold our part time legislators to one standard and those at the federal level to another?
Last Thursday night while visiting friends to watch an NFL game, their phone rang and it was Congresswoman Noem’s voice asking them to join in on the tele-town hall.
I haven’t been a supporter of tele-town halls since 2009 when they became popular for Democrats to use during the heath care debate in order to avoid the real thing. This article in the Argus the other day highlights the problem:
(Noem)She hasn?t held high-profile town halls, an issue she criticized Herseth Sandlin on… Noem has proven to be risk averse. She has tried to blunt that by hosting nearly a dozen telephone town halls, in which a large audience is telephoned and given a chance to ask Noem questions. Of course, the questions are screened and the process controlled. And as far as I know, the press hasn?t been given a chance to listen in… The calls have been paid for out of her office account, not her campaign account, and Democrats say they are another version of franking, the process incumbents use of sending out mailers at taxpayer expense.
I’m going to admit reading this part of the Argus article really was disappointing. Think about how we felt when Herseth Sandlin and Tim Johnson avoided holding public town halls during the health care debate. If we Republicans want to have credibility on this issue, we must hold those we support for office to the same standards we expect of Johnson and Herseth Sandlin. Few things annoy me more than office holders finding a way to avoid public discussion with voters. During the 2010 election when Noem frequently criticized Herseth Sandlin for not holding town halls, I was hoping she’d hold several of her own. Who should understand the importance of public forums offering public discourse more than Congresswoman Noem?
Noem said South Dakotans have been loudly opposed to the reform law and wanted to tell their congresswoman that. But she said Herseth Sandlin refused to hold town halls to receive input on the plan.
We have an incredible number of issues that are extremely important to the future of our country, and I have a real problem when constituents’ questions can be prescreened in calls at a tele-town hall forum that their tax money is paying for. I don’t care what party an elected official belongs to or how perfect they vote on the issues. Constituents have a right to be heard.
I’m sure it would be easier for our part-time legislators if they were to hold tele-town halls with prescreened questions, but I can’t imagine the news media or the constituents would appreciate it.