Sometimes a title is all you need to tell a story. Take the town hall happening at Clark College tonight — “A Town Hall With or Without Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.”
Pretty telling, right?
The congresswoman’s constituents are clearly getting fed up with Herrera Beutler dodging in-person meet-ups and their event title says it all.
The town hall organizers — mostly members of local progressive groups — say the Republican congresswoman is shirking her obligations and avoiding face-to-face communication with the very people she represents in Washington’s Third Congressional District.
The claim is nothing new. Activists have been calling for Herrera Beutler to attend in-person town halls since the November 2016 election, but say that, so far, the best they’ve had are a couple videoconference or teleconference meetings with the legislator.
As one Camas progressive put it last week, “It’s very disappointing.”
Indeed, any time a politician ducks out on the chance to interact with their constituents in a face-to-face setting it is disappointing. It is also, we would argue, the very behavior that contributes to the ever-widening gap between Americans on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
To bridge that divide, politicians (Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike) are going to have to figure out how to really talk — and more importantly, really listen — to their constituents.
We don’t know the exact reason for Herrera Beutler’s lack of in-person town halls. There may be a valid reason why the congresswoman cannot attend local meetings with constituents during her district days. But we argue that having at least one face-to-face meeting during House breaks should trump the congresswoman’s other obligations.
Why not just videoconference? It’s not as effective, for starters. And it also is much less likely to help bridge that massive political divide.
Recent research published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that face-to-face interactions can actually help connect neurons and “put people on the same wavelength.”
Other research, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that people are more persuasive when they communicate in-person instead of through text, email or other technology.
Likewise, research has shown that face-to-face interaction decreases misunderstandings and helps people better understand the overarching message being communicated.
Preventing misunderstandings, being more persuasive and getting on the same wavelength with voters are all critical things for a politician like Herrera Beutler.
Indeed, they are the exact things the congresswoman needs to reach disenchanted voters wary of supporting Republicans who blindly side with the Trump administration before asking local constituents if they support things like privatizing education, defunding the arts and dismantling environmental regulations.
Last week, during interviews with the Camas Progressives group, many members told the Post-Record that they were new to politics and felt motivated toward action after Trump’s win in November. They weren’t interested in playing “sports politics” either, where one side wins and another side loses.
Instead, they spoke of finding common ground with Trump supporters, Republicans and right-of-center Democrats. Issues that affect our children, our schools, our elderly, our environment, they said, are the types of things that bring people together instead of dividing them down party lines.
The co-organizer of the Camas Progressives said he was disappointed by Herrera Beutler’s lack of in-person town halls, but he held out hope that the congresswoman also wants to find common ground with her non-Republican constituents.
We share this optimistic outlook and would urge Rep. Herrera Beutler to not only make in-person town halls a greater priority during her district days, but to also look for some of the common ground that at least a few of her left-leaning constituents are willing to walk on.