U.S. Rep. Kay Granger won’t be holding a congressional town hall meeting in Fort Worth this summer because she said it’s too dangerous.
“I wish we could have a town hall meeting and engage with others,” said Granger, R-Fort Worth, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. “There are so many threats going on.”
This comes just weeks since a gunman opened fire during an early morning practice of Republican congressmen trying to get ready for the charitable Congressional Baseball Game in Virginia. And it comes six years after U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot at a Tucson grocery store during a “Congress on Your Corner” constituent event.
U.S. House members recently learned there have been 980 threats against them.
“Obviously we are living in a time where incivility has kind of run rampant,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “Ninety-seven percent of people have perspective and don’t go crazy. But it’s that one rogue person.
“Members of Congress have the right to be concerned.”
At the same time, he and others wonder how one can balance safety concerns with the need to interact with constituents from all walks of life.
Even in these politically turbulent times, some lawmakers such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas continue to hold public meetings.
But Granger said she doesn’t believe typical town hall meetings are effective right now.
U.S. House members recently learned that there have been 980 threats against members of Congress.
“I was at a wedding and a man came up and just accosted me — ‘When are you going to have a town hall meeting?’” Granger said. “We’re at a wedding.”
Granger said she told the man that she’s not going to have a town hall meeting, which prompted him to ask why not.
“Because of people like you,” Granger recalls telling the man. “You’re screaming at me at a wedding. I said I’m not going to put my staff and myself in situations that really aren’t safe right now.”
Even though the use of town halls has declined in recent years, there was a greater demand for them this year when Democratic activism spiked after Republican President Donald Trump took office.
Protesters have periodically taken to the streets across the state and country, calling for congressional town hall meetings. In downtown Fort Worth, some protesters earlier this year carried signs that asked: “Where’s Kay?”
Some Congress members who have held town halls this year found themselves facing angry, yelling, heckling constituents. Sometimes they weren’t able to take questions or even talk.
“Members who have had these town hall meetings, they can’t even speak because people are screaming at them,” Granger said. “It’s a situation that's not healthy. I don’t see that it’s accomplishing anything.”
U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, held a town hall in Richardson earlier this year that drew more than 2,000 people. He often couldn’t be heard over the boos and noise from the crowd.
And U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, hosted a March town meeting that drew a raucous crowd. After being booed, a frustrated Barton told one man: “You, sir, shut up.”
After the June shooting of GOP baseball players, Barton — who managed the Republican congressional team — said members of Congress can’t exist under heavy security detail and must be accessible to the people they represent.
He called for political civility to return.
‘It would be a screaming match’
Granger said she wants to hear from voters in her district about their issues and concerns.
She asks constituents to call her office and make appointments to talk with her privately. And she hopes to host a tele-town hall meeting, where constituents are called and those who stay on the phone participate in a town hall meeting similar to a conference call.
Some members of the liberal advocacy group Indivisible FWTX contacted Granger’s office earlier this year and had a sit-down meeting with her in April.
They talked for about an hour on a variety of topics and encouraged Granger to hold a town hall meeting, even though they realized there was little chance of that happening.
“So we let go of it,” said Kris Savage, part of the leadership team for Indivisible FWTX that met with Granger. “We are all disappointed but we’ve stopped ranting about it.”
One concern about pushing for a town hall, as other Indivisible groups have across the country, is that such a gathering could easily deteriorate into a rowdy event where little can be heard or accomplished.
“We should have the town halls where you can sit around the table and talk about issues,” Savage said. “We call her office, we email, we send responses, but we don’t really have a chance to discuss what we wish she is doing.”
And if there was a town hall meeting, “I’m afraid it would be a screaming match,” Savage said. “We don’t need to do that.”
She and others appreciate that they had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with Granger.
At first they felt it could be “opening a channel of communications.”
“But then nothing else has happened,” Savage said. “She’s a nice person. She just seems to us ... to be way out of touch with what’s going on with people in Fort Worth, the regular folks on the streets.”