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Editorial: Gohmert should have a town hall and listen

Feb. 22, 2017 at 11:53 p.m.


To hear Louie Gohmert tell it, his constituency includes so many far-left crazies that he could not possibly conduct a town hall meeting. To do so would put him and his staff in physical danger.

That, of course, is ludicrous.

But that did not stop the Republican U.S. representative for East Texas from issuing a lengthy statement Tuesday using that argument in his attempt to explain why he would not be conducting a town hall meeting during the congressional recess. In it, he said he was concerned "groups from the more violent strains of the leftist ideology … who are preying on public town halls" would "wreak havoc and threaten public safety."

Instead, Gohmert said, he is conducting "telephone town halls."

Not exactly a profile in courage.

The statement apparently was in response to calls for a public meeting from East Texas Democratic and mostly liberal activists who wish to press the representative on a variety of issues, including repeal of the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump's proposed travel restrictions and others.

Several dozen of them showed up Tuesday in downtown Tyler, where Gohmert was addressing a lunch gathering of a young professionals group, to make clear their wishes for such a meeting. Their presence seemed to have little impact; the representative sent a staffer out to talk with them.

The public pressure on Gohmert is not unique. It is part of the political upheaval nationwide being caused by Trump's election. But it must be making things uncomfortable for the Tyler Republican, who has become accustomed to smooth sailing and friendly crowds in his heavily Republican district.

In some ways, the surge of activity is reminiscent of the tea party movement that emerged after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. Now as then, some of the public meetings that have taken place around the country have been stormy affairs, with shouts, insults and, in at least one case, a congressman leaving under police protection.

However, the possibility of emotional outbursts is no reason for public officials not to meet their constituents in a controlled setting, to give them a chance to be seen and heard face-to-face.

Politicians understandably flinch from such events, knowing someone in the crowd is probably recording an embarrassing exchange, hoping for video that can go viral online. And to be fair, Democrats hedged on town halls five years ago.

But also to be fair, this is what members of Congress were signing up for when they ran for office. They were elected to serve and to hear from all their constituents, not just those they are sure will agree with them and say "good job, Louie." Representing the people means showing up and hearing other ideas, facing the fire from those who might disagree. That is the job of a congressman. He does not have to agree, but he does have to listen.

The true benefit of a public town hall is that everyone — Republicans, Democrats, the media — can hear the questions and the responses. And that is how our system of government works best — openly and honestly.

We are confident that Gohmert — a smart, articulate seven-term congressman and former judge — could easily handle a public forum. We urge him to schedule one soon, and would be pleased to help organize such an event here in Longview.

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