Once upon a time, congressmen held regular town halls, taking questions from their constituents.
But that’s not always the case anymore.
Since taking office in January, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, whose 17th Congressional District includes Whiteside County, has held no town halls. Her predecessors did.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, on the other hand, has held such events regularly in his 16th Congressional District, including in Dixon and Rochelle. In fact, he and Rep. Tom Demmer had a town hall event Wednesday night in Rochelle.
Nationally, congressional town halls are on the decline. In 2009, tea party demonstrators showed up at town halls of Democratic congressmen. Videos of some of those faceoffs went viral, possibly scaring some congressmen from holding town halls.
Many members, including Bustos, hold telephone town halls, where constituents can call in with questions, but the operator can screen callers and reduce the chance of disruptions.
In the 17th District, Bustos’ two predecessors, Democrat Phil Hare and Republican Bobby Schilling, held town halls.
In 2012, Bustos criticized Schilling when he walked out of a Freeport town hall after employees from Sensata Technologies, who were set to lose their jobs to China, shouted him down. He returned after the protesters left.
“As your representative, I’ll never walk out on American workers,” Bustos said in a news release at the time.
As it is, she hasn’t had the occasion to walk out on a town hall.
Asked why she doesn’t hold such events, her spokesman, Colin Milligan, said she prefers “going right to the people.” Many people, he said, don’t think about politics 24-7 and may not know about town hall meetings.
“She has outreach events on a regular basis,” he said. “She has Cheri on Shift, where she talks to workers at their job sites. She also has Supermarket Saturdays around the district, where she talks to people at supermarkets. She is very active.”
Schilling, who is running for Congress again, said he plans to hold town halls if elected in the 17th District.
“If you look at my first year in office, I held 22 town halls by August,” he said. “Since [Bustos] is unwilling to do town halls, we’ll start doing them ourselves. That’s how you get the voice of the people heard.
“When you go out to do town halls, you’ll have some people who are unhappy with your positions. You have to defend your votes and explain why you voted the way you did.”
Schilling said Bustos wants to be where she’s comfortable, choosing only favorable environments.
Kinzinger’s spokesman, Zach Hunter, said his boss plans to continue doing town halls.
“He has made it his mission to be accessible to his constituents,” he said.