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Politics

Colorado Town Hall Tally Reveals Partisan Divide

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Office of Michael Bennet
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet speaks to constituents at a town hall meeting in Pueblo, Colo. on March 17.

Town halls give constituents an opportunity to engage with politicians. Citizens can voice their opinions and ask elected officials tough questions, often in front of an audience and face to face. Since the 2016 election, voters have increasingly used town halls as a way to hold politicians accountable.

 
Town halls are also important to elected officials.

 
“Town halls give me an opportunity to hear directly from the people I’m elected to represent,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Greeley. “Sometimes the best policy ideas come from constituents at meetings around the 4th Congressional District.”

 
KUNC counted the number of town halls each member of Colorado’s congressional delegation has participated in since January 1. The numbers below reflect three categories: town halls conducted in person, town halls conducted by telephone or video and open, one-on-one events where constituents can meet with their elected officials.

 

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Credit R. Teal Witter KUNC
KUNC verified the above findings with each of the elected official’s offices. Note: Rep. Ed Perlmutter turned two one-on-one events into impromptu town halls to accommodate a large number of attendees. Update: Sen. Michael Bennet's office confirmed one additional town hall. The graphic has been amended to reflect that as of 5pm on June 23.

The numbers show that Republicans have held fewer town halls than Democrats.

 
There are exceptions to the rule. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Lakewood, has held the fewest town halls -- including two one-on-one events that evolved into town halls -- whereas Buck, a Republican, has held the third most.

 
Despite the partisan divide, every delegate that responded to requests for comment rejected the idea that party affiliation impacted their town hall count.

 
“No, why would it?” said Rep. Diana DeGette’s communication director Lynne Weil.

 
“Whether you have an R or a D behind your name shouldn’t change your willingness to hear from your constituents,”said Buck.

 
The data also shows that politicians with the fewest town halls have the highest proportion of telephone, video and one-on-one meetings.

 
When asked to comment, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner's press secretary Casey Contres pointed out the value of so-called “tele-town halls:” Gardner was able to reach as many as 51,000 constituents in one call. In contrast, physical town hall meetings are limited by building constraints to several hundred people and pose a challenge to voters living in remote, rural areas.

 

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Credit Office of Cory Gardner
Republican Sen. Cory Gardner listens to a constituent over the phone on February 2.

Several delegates also called attention to the other ways politicians can engage their constituents. Perlmutter listed several events not reflected in the town hall count including office hours, district facility tours, Medicare and tuition fairs, and business round tables.

 
Across the aisle, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, has held a non-traditional series of events to engage the community including an “ACA Listening Tour” to hear the perspectives of health care professionals.

 
But for Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, town halls are a crucial way to stay up to date with the communities that have become even more active since January.

 
“Town halls provide a vital, useful way for me to connect directly to the communities I represent,” he said. “To be an effective public servant, I must continually listen to the people I serve.”

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