Hagedorn urges Walz to hold town halls

By Heather J. Carlson, postbulletin.com - First District DFL Rep. Tim Walz's Republican challenger is urging the congressman to hold a series of town hall meetings during the August recess to hear from constituents.

Jim Hagedorn issued a press release this week with the question "Where's Walz(do)" and accused the congressman of turning 'a blind eye to First District families.'"

In an interview, the Blue Earth Republican accused the congressman of not holding a true town hall since 2009 and said people should have the chance to ask him about his positions on issues such as federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the Iran nuclear deal.

"I'm a big believer in if you are going to be in office, you've got to try and stay connected to the people," Hagedorn said.

Walz spokeswoman Sara Severs said the congressman remains in close contact with constituents as he travels around the district meeting with people.

"Congressman Walz is constantly out in the community meeting with constituents and taking their ideas back to Washington. Whether that's town hall meetings, Congress on Your Corners, roundtables or potlucks, important conversations about the future are happening across southern Minnesota," Severs said in a statement.

It's been four years since Walz hosted his last town hall meeting. In 2011, he sponsored events in Rochester and Winona focused on the federal deficit. But the Mankato Democrat is not alone in his decision to forgo town hall meetings during the five-week August recess.

Only one member of Minnesota's congressional delegation — freshman Republican Rep. Tom Emmer — is holding public town halls. He has two in-person town halls planned this month, in addition to a tele-town hall, according to spokeswoman Becky Alery. Emmer plans to hold a town hall in every county in his district by the end of the year.

"For the congressman, he really believes that this seat is the seat of the people he represents, so he wanted to ensure that in his first year, and throughout his time in Congress, that he is meeting with the individuals he represents, hearing from them in a very frank and honest exchange," Alery said.

Second District Republican Rep. John Kline has no town hall meetings scheduled during the recess, according to his spokesman Troy Young. However, Young said the congressman spent Tuesday afternoon meeting with constituents at the Dakota County Fair and met hundreds of others during business visits.

LegiStorm reported that House Republicans have scheduled 56 town hall meetings through early September while Democrats have 18 town halls planned. That continues a pattern seen throughout the year, with Republicans holding more than twice as many town halls as Democrats. The total for town halls held so far this year is 1,221 for Republicans and 452 for Democrats.

Hamline University political science professor David Schultz said fewer members of Congress are opting to hold town hall meetings. One of the reasons dates back to 2009 during the rise of the conservative Tea Party movement. Constituents angry about Democrats' proposed health care overhaul turned out in force at town hall meetings across the country, including in Rochester. An estimated 600 people packed Walz's town hall at John Marshall High School.

More and more, Schultz said both Democrats and Republicans are shying away from town halls because they are unpredictable and there's no guarantee members of Congress will be able to get their messages out.

Schultz added, "If you can't control your message, if you have no idea who is going to show up — I don't think members of Congress want to take that chance anymore."