Sensenbrenner Elm Grove Town Hall

The following is a reflection on the Town Hall meeting held by U.S. Representative F. James Sensenbrenner on Feb.12, 2017. It was written by Joe Kraynick of Indivisible Tosa.

I was at the Elm Grove Town Hall on Sunday, as were a few other Tosans. Turnout, as we know, was huge. When Rebecca took her video, some people had already left, and there were STILL tons of people there. And the room itself was jam packed, with about 98 percent on our general side. So, that was awesome.

A few thoughts:

1. The Elm Grove town hall was somewhat rowdier than the one in Pewaukee. However, we haven't gone the full Chaffetz with S. yet. It might not be quite time for that yet, but he keeps avoiding answering certain questions. Reactions rattle him, he doesn't like them. He tried at one point to move from Trump's conflicts of interest to the Clinton Foundation, which earned an instant negative reaction, and he quickly dropped it and never came back to it. He likes to bang his gavel and admonish everyone when they react. While we don't want mindless chanting and abuse, in my opinion we should not be afraid to be supportive of good points questioners make and to put down obvious nonsense he uses to avoid answers. This is an issue that other Indivisible groups at his town halls are discussing. There is a lot of debate about how to best handle that aspect of it. 

2. The most frustrating thing about S. is his tendency to talk around and around and around a question if he doesn't want to answer it. Some of the questioners openly said things like "I'm sorry, none of that made any sense. Can you PLEASE give me a yes or no answer!" But he still doesn't answer. One thing others have suggested is having people in the group prepare by having follow up questions if he is avoiding a real answer, so that the next questioner can come up and say something like "You didn't really answer the previous question, so let me ask again: Do you support (an investigation of Trumps finances, repealing the Medicaid expansion, etc.). This would take some discipline, because it would mean that some people would not get the chance to ask a question of their own they want addressed. The way his town halls work is: you write down your name and ZIP as you enter, and also mark if you have a question for him, and then he calls on people from that pile of names. You won't know when you are getting called up. It will make follow up difficult, but if we practice and prepare for it, we can hound him for answers and at least TRY to pin him down. 

3. He uses his town halls for good PR. He has a lot of them, which is great, but we don't want to become PR props for him. This is our chance to showcase that Republicans have no answers for the really thorny issues we have, that they are spineless when it comes to dealing with Trump, and that the things they wish to do, such as cutting taxes for rich people and ending regulation for, say, companies that pollute our water (for example), are really really bad for people. He works very hard to control the proceedings in his favor. These town halls should be for us to air our questions, grievances, etc., not a stunt for him. We don't have to be jerks, but we don't have to be nice, either. Tea Partiers weren't nice in 2009 and 2010-a good many were downright threatening, as I experienced on a couple of occasions. If he is going to refuse to answer, we need to devise ways to make his nonstop dissembling his defining personal characteristic. 

3. He is not really a Tea Party politician. He was elected long before they were and doesn't really owe his success to them. There are places, like the Voting Rights Act, the Violence Against Women Act, on Ukrainian border security, etc., where he is not bad, or even close to being good. These are places where we can put on pressure and influence his behavior to slow down the Trump agenda. The Russian conundrum could be useful here, because investigations and impeachment are house activities, and he is a congressman. He likes to wave away responsibility for these things, but enough pressure could get him to be more aggressive there. 

4. One thing I definitely think we should NOT do is to react negatively to a constituent question, even if the constituent is a Trump supporter or is saying something really stupid. That happened once at the Elm Grove town hall. The guy was kind of a jerk, but regardless, it's a bad look for us. Focus on Sensenbrenner, not Trumplodyte constituents. This probably goes without saying with this group, but people were getting a little angry and I think losing their cool, so something to be aware of 

5. Questions with an emotional personal story, or very specific questions about policies, tended to be the most powerful and the hardest for him to answer. Combining those two things definitely made an impression. 

Anyway, these are some of the things that made an impression on me. The Tosa Town Hall will be one of his last-I really want to make it a big one, and as effective and publicly known as possible. If anyone has questions or comments, or was there and has a different view, let's hear about it! Different perspectives will make for more effective resistance.

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