A recent comment by Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, that he is holding fewer town hall meetings in Iowa’s First Congressional District because of the 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., is drawing fire from Republicans.
Braley is holding fewer town hall meetings in Northeast Iowa because of the “profound impact that the shooting of Gabby Giffords had on this whole conversation,” he said after a campaign event in Tipton, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
Braley’s remark, which appears to paint his constituents as potential mass murderers rather than concerned citizens, is absurd, said many Republican candidates and elected officials.
“I can’t imagine the people of Iowa electing someone who is afraid of them,” said former Sen. Rick Santorum, who won the Iowa Caucuses in 2012 in part because of his willingness to hold town hall-style events in all 99 counties. “If he doesn’t have the courage to meet the people in a public forum, I sincerely doubt he has the courage to stand up to the bullies in Washington.”
One Iowa congressional aide called Braley “disgusting” and a “douche” for blaming his lack of town halls on Giffords’ shooting. Another Iowa congressional staffer explained that since the Giffords shooting, Capitol Police providing training on how to operate town halls to all district-level staff and chiefs of staff. The training includes the admonition to inform local law enforcement of local congressional events, and police almost always offer to provide free security, the aide said.
Braley also blamed his dearth of town hall meetings on a reduction in congressional office budgets due to sequestration.
“There are fewer resources to put together town hall meetings in all parts of your district,” Braley said, citing costs associated with the meetings. “You have to factor all of those things into your decision.”
That’s nonsense, according to two Iowa congressional staffers who spoke to TheIowaRepublican.com about the impact of sequestration on office budgets and town hall logistics. The cut in congressional budgets due to sequestration was 8.2 percent. But assuming a representative is back in the district and not campaigning across the state, town halls are virtually cost free.
“Town halls cost nothing to hold,” one aide said, noting that the only potential cost is mailing out invites to constituents (which can be reduced by using e-mail lists, the media and targeting the list to people who have written to the congressman). “Iowans expect them. It all comes down to priorities in budgeting.”
Every Member of Congress receives the same amount of money to pay salaries while the rest of the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) is determined by the travel distance to Washington, D.C. the number of households in a district and the rental rate for office space. The MRA ranges from about $1.3 to $1.6 million annually.
Republicans point to campaign events that Braley held in Sioux City last month and Iowa City this week as the main reason he has cut back on his town halls. The events, often held in front of a friendly audience where it’s less likely he’ll face aggressive questions. Braley personally kicked out a Republican tracker at the Sioux City event Aug. 23 and his Sept. 4 event on the University of Iowa campus featured almost all Democrats among the audience of 30 people.
Braley’s infrequent town halls, often limited to one subject, stand in stark contrast to events held by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa. Just before Labor Day, Grassley completed a swing through Northwest Iowa with 15 county meetings. Grassley pioneered the practice of visiting all 99 Iowa counties and often tweets details of his free-wheeling town hall meetings.
“I decided a long time ago that I wanted to keep in touch with Iowans with face-to-face meetings every year and across the state,” he told TheIowaRepublican.com. “So, I’ve held a constituent meeting in every county, every year. It’s the best way I know to keep in touch and respond directly to questions. I want Iowans to set the agenda of our discussions, not the other way around.”
Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds also hold public events in every county each year.
“Iowans rightfully expect to meet with their elected officials, and deserve the opportunity to engage in a healthy back-and-forth with those they entrust to lead their government,” said Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht. “The governor and lieutenant governor both greatly enjoy the opportunity to meet with Iowans, and understand it is an important requirement for the office they hold.”
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