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EDITORIAL: Hold the town hall

Congresswoman Barbara Comstock has one of the most perceptive and politically astute minds in the Washington region, winning five contests in seven years in fairly balanced districts – three in the purple 34th House District of the General Assembly and two in the Republican-leaning 10th Congressional District of Virginia. Last November, Comstock won her race by six percentage points in a contest pundits were tagging a toss-up. (Those poor, poor pundits of 2016.)

Politics aside, the congresswoman has also earned a mostly sterling reputation for her constituent services. In her own words, she is “ever present in the 10th,” appearing at parades, chambers of commerce events, religious shows of unity and community meetings. In this light, the congresswoman has mirrored her predecessor, 34-year Rep. Frank Wolf, a man she once worked for. Like Wolf, Comstock is known to fight for her district and the thousands of federal workers residing within it.

We note these qualities because they add to our bemusement on this persisting question of town halls.

Congresswoman, it's past time. Hold a town hall, and hold the town hall soon. Hold a town hall because, first and foremost, constituents must feel like their elected officials hear them and grasp their fears and concerns. Right now, in our district, there are those who don't believe their voice is heard.

Far secondary to that point, holding a town hall is the smart thing to do politically.

“It's part of the job, and you've got to earn the respect of your constituents. We teach this in campaign schools. It's more important that the voters believe you're listening to them than it is for them to actually agree with your positions. They'll say things like, 'I don't agree with what he says, but you know what he understands' … It's that relationship.”

These aren't the words of a liberal activist or Comstock foe. They're the remarks of Republican Rick Tyler, a former spokesman and consultant for Sen. Ted Cruz, addressing the town hall question.

“If you're a member of Congress and you've got hostile crowds, what you do is you hold a town hall meeting every day you can hold a town hall meeting. You open up the doors, and you answer questions and then you answer one-on-one, and if you have to stay there five hours a day, I promise every one of these members of Congress, by the end of five days, people will respect you for listening to them.”

This, again, is not from a member of the local Indivisible group or MoveOn.org. This was former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough speaking with Tyler on his morning show.

“You go to the high school, you open the doors, you say, 'Hey we're here, and I'm going to be here as long as you guys want to be here, and if you guys don't get all of your questions answered tonight, I'm going to cancel events … as long as you guys want to talk to me, I'm here to talk to you,'” Scarborough continued.

We don't only find it off-putting that Rep. Comstock hasn't held a town hall with constituents since the election of President Donald Trump – though the election has no doubt exacerbated the issue. We're more disheartened that the congresswoman hasn't held a traditional, in-person town hall in her more than 27 months in Congress.

Our congresswoman would do well to follow the lead of fellow Republicans lawmakers Joni Ernst, Jeff Flake, Mike Coffman, Mark Sanford and others, all of whom have recently held traditional town halls.

Comstock, the only Northern Virginia representative of the same political stripe as the president, said she's decided tele-town halls and small constituent meetings at her office are the best approach. They are what works best for her, she says.

An obvious question: How could she possibly know? She's never experienced the alternative.

Comstock's failure to directly face her constituents, including those who disagree with her, is the wrong approach in our increasingly moderate district. It's the wrong approach both politically and in the spirit of service.


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