TIPS: Town Hall with Rep. Jason Chaffetz

As many of you know, Rep. Chaffetz has agreed to do a town hall in Cottonwood Heights on Thursday evening, Feb 9th, 7:00p at Brighton High School (auditorium). The crowd is expected to be large, and many groups have gathered teams of constituents and non-constituents to go. There are several strategies to town hall meetings, and no doubt we will see many of these in play tomorrow night. Action Utah’s strategy is based on our belief that civil discourse is the most productive path to getting answers and being heard by our representatives.

Last week, Rep. Chris Stewart held a town hall meeting in St. George with a crowd that became riled up and angry, with several audience members yelling at Stewart and one man getting removed from the venue. Constituents left the event feeling that the meeting was not as productive as they had hoped it would be and that Stewart did not hear their voices or adequately answer their questions. Emotions about political issues are warranted and natural. But they can interfere and backfire when it comes to conversations with our legislators (and with their staffers, by the way). An attacked representative is more likely to put up defenses and pivot away from disagreements than cave to angry constituents.

So what are the most effective ways to participate in town halls? We’ve put together this list of tips we’ve gathered from our experts (now posted on our Resources page). If you’d like to receive our list of questions for Rep. Chaffetz as well, please email us to join our Chaffetz Town Hall team.

Tips for participating in meaningful, productive and effective town halls

1)     ARRIVE EARLY. Representatives like to pack town halls with their own supporters, who also arrive early and save seats for other supporters. An early arrival gives you a better chance at getting a seat where the representative can see you — or getting a seat at all! Early, by the way, can mean two hours in advance, depending on the representative, expected size and location.

2)     DON’T BRING SIGNS, MATCHING T-SHIRTS, HATS, OR ANYTHING THAT IDENTIFIES YOU AS PART OF A GROUP. In fact, don’t even sit together as a group. Spread out, sit far apart and look like you’re alone. You are much more likely to be called on for a question if you don’t appear to be part of a coordinated opposition group.

3)    ACT CALM AND INTERESTED. Do not join in the protests, chants or any other antics. Look engaged with what the representative is saying. It’s not likely your representative will call on anyone in the audience who appears antagonistic, and antics will likely cause him to dig his heels in deeper rather than backpedal.

4)    ASK  TOUGH, BUT NOT ANTAGONISTIC QUESTIONS. Try to ask good, researched and tough questions, but without using strong or antagonistic language. Use civility and respect when asking questions. NOTE: some town halls have audience members write their questions on cards rather than voicing them in person.

5)    ASK QUESTIONS THAT REQUIRE A SPECIFIC ANSWER rather than an open-ended questions where the representative can pivot. Be prepared with any information and statistics to back up your position, including specific dates. Make sure your question stems from a reliable news source or government site. 

6)    POLITELY REQUEST AN ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION. Try not let allow your representative to move on until your question has been fully answered. If this doesn’t happen, politely say, “I would like a firm answer to my question from the Representative.”

7)      ASK QUESTIONS, DON’T GIVE STATEMENTS. This is not the time to make a speech about your beliefs. This is the time to get answers.

8)    DON’T EXPECT TO CHANGE YOUR REPRESENTATIVE’S MIND. Remember that politicians are good at town halls, and you won’t likely get satisfactory answers from them or change their mind. Town halls are publicity tools that are often highly controlled (particularly tele-townhalls) in order to make the representative look good. Try to get something else out of the event, such as:

9)      WIN POINTS WITH MEDIA AND/OR STAFFERS. Audience members who calmly, articulately and respectfully state questions and comments are more likely to get interviewed by press afterwards for a statement on your perception of the representative and the town hall meeting (a real bonus) and to connect with staffers in order to facilitate future conversations that can influence policy decisions (an even bigger bonus).

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