Asking Questions at a Town Hall

Asking Questions at a Town Hall

On Wednesday, April 19th, Raul Labrador held his first town hall since the inauguration of Donald Trump. Approximately 800 people sat in the Meridian Middle School auditorium and threw up red signs in disagreement and green signs in agreement at his statements. There were some cheers – sporadically, and boos – more frequently.

We consider the evening a success because we heard his statements on important issues like health care, the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia, women’s health, and climate change.

He said, for example, when asked if he believed health care was a basic human right, “I do not believe health care is a basic right.

 

Crafting Questions for Town Halls 

We saw a LOT of passion on Wednesday, and it was encouraging and continues to remind all of us why we are involved, why we are fighting for the issues that matter. 

What we need to focus on for the next town hall and for future town halls with our MoC is tougher questions with a concrete, verifiable ask. 

  1. Your job at a town hall is not to convince your MoC to change their position – it’s to make him give you a clear answer on his position especially if he hasn’t publicly stated a position before. 
  2. Incorporate your personal story into your question, just as you do when you make phone calls, but be brief. Consider what you plan to say before you arrive, and make sure you can ask your question in under 25-seconds.
  3. Make a concrete, verifiable ask. The best asks are clear and actionable for the MoC, and easy to verify whether they followed through or not. If you ask any MoC “Will you fight for me?” Every single one of them will say “Yes!” and then go about their day. If you ask them: “Will you commit to voting against X upcoming bill,” they may answer directly or they may dodge, but regardless it will force them to make a decision.
  4. You may not like the answer that your MoC gives you, but your job at a town hall is not to change their mind – it’s to get them on record stating their position. (ex. look at the coverage that Labrador’s statement on health care not being a basic right has received.) If you don’t get a REAL answer, however, don’t settle for talking points. This is when you need to ask follow-up questions. Picture yourself as a reporter on a story – get the real answer, but then move on. 
town hall

General Tips

  • Avoid yes/no questions. If your question is phrased in a way for your MoC to answer yes or no, they’ll seize the opportunity and move onto the next.
  • It is great, if not recommended, to research your question, but if you have a specific piece of legislation that you plan to reference, be prepared to explain it to your MoC. Thousands of bills are introduced in Congress and our MoC don’t have them all memorized.
  • Ask action questions. “What will you do legislatively to solve x?” or “You’ve said x is a problem, but what pieces of legislation have you introduced or co-sponsored to address that problem?

How to Phrase Tough Questions

We know that many of Trump’s policies run afoul of legal precedents and values in our country, yet there is still an alarming number of representatives that are walking the line to support his agenda. Instead of asking your MoC whether or not they support Trump, ask them what they support more: 

Border
  • “The Trump administration has announced their plan to hire 10,000 new Border Patrol agents. The hiring standards for those agents has been lowered and will no longer include standards like a polygraph examination. Can you share the concerns you have that we are increasing the vetting of the immigrants entering this country while lowering the vetting of the people who screen those immigrants?” 
  • “The ACLU has reported that Border Patrol agents use illegal search practices and violate people’s Fourth Amendment rights. Do you think additional agents should be hired before this agency faces serious reform?” 

Sanctuary Cities 

  • “What’s more important to you: the Fourth Amendment, or Trump’s immigration agenda?”
    background: many sheriff’s refuse to detain individuals unless ICE follows constitutional procedures when making arrests. Sanctuary cities protect everyone’s Fourth Amendment rights. 
Healthcare Reform
  • Will you protect the lives of people with disabilities and oppose any legislation that changes the structure and financing of Medicaid?
  • Will you guarantee that if the ACA is repealed, women will not lose important coverage that allows them to lead healthy lives? 

Research, Research, Research

Here in Idaho, we have two Senators and two Representative’s in Congress. When you formulate questions, it is crucial to frame them around the policies and stances that each individual member holds. As our other three MoC schedule town halls, we will add their policy positions here (you can also find their voting records on our website) but for now, here are the policies that Rep. Labrador holds:

Health Care 

Labrador co-sponsored Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act

Prohibits providing any federal family planning assistance to an entity unless the entity certifies that, during the period of such assistance, the entity will not perform, and will not provide any funds to any other entity that performs, an abortion. Excludes an abortion where:

  1. the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or an act of incest; or
  2. a physician certifies that the woman suffered from a physical disorder, injury, or illness that would place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy.

Same-Sex Marriage 

Labrador sponsored Marriage and Religious Freedom Act
  • Marriage and Religious Freedom Act – Prohibits the federal government from taking an adverse action against a person on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.

Civil Rights 

Labrador voted NO on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

Amends the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) to add or expand definitions of several terms used in such Act, including :
  1. “culturally specific services” to mean community-based services that offer culturally relevant and linguistically specific services and resources to culturally specific communities;
  2. “personally identifying information” with respect to a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
  3. “underserved populations” as populations that face barriers in accessing and using victim services because of geographic location, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity; and
  4. “youth” to mean a person who is 11 to 24 years old.
Energy 

Labrador voted YES on barring EPA from regulating greenhouse gases

  • Amends the Clean Air Act to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from promulgating any regulation the emission of a greenhouse gas (GHG) to address climate change
  • Excludes GHGs from the definition of “air pollutant” for purposes of addressing climate change.
  • Exempts from such prohibition existing regulations on fuel efficiency, research, or CO2 monitoring.
  • Repeals and makes ineffective other rules and actions concerning GHGs.

Labrador voted YES on opening Outer Continental Shelf to oil drilling.
  • Makes available for leasing, in the 2012-2017 five-year oil and gas leasing program, outer Continental Shelf areas that are estimated to contain more than 2.5 billion barrels of oil; or are estimated to contain more than 7.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
  • Makes the production goal for the 2012-2017 five-year oil and gas leasing program an increase by 2027 in daily production of at least 3 million barrels of oil, and 10 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

Social Security

Labrador supports privatizing social security.

Many, if not all, of Labrador’s policy positions are framed based on a proposed platform laid out in the Contract from America, described as free markets, limited government, and individual liberty — and it’s brought to you by The Tea Party. 

Sources: 

http://www.ontheissues.org/House/Raul_Labrador.htm
http://votesmart.org/candidate/key-votes/57391/raul-labrador
https://labrador.house.gov/voting-record/

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