You know what shouldn’t be scary? Discourse with our would-be elected officials. On Monday I hosted a forum where candidates running for Idaho Falls City Council answered questions from the audience.
They didn’t answer questions from me or from a curated list of questions sent in advance. They answered questions from citizens in attendance, as well as questions from those who posted during the livestream. In one case, where one of the attendees had trouble writing, we accepted voiced questions.
The result of this approach meant that the City Council candidates faced unexpected — and sometimes tough — questions. Some questions submitted on the notecards were followed up as a way to keep a discussion going or get more clarification. There was even a spirited exchange that served to educate voters watching in person and online.
I also admire the Ammon City Council candidates and District 91 school board candidates running in contested races for their willingness to answer questions and face voters in such an unscripted situation. I’m writing this column before those events take place, but I am excited that we have some would-be public servants who are willing to answer questions from citizens — and do it on the spot, even if it’s somewhat discomfiting.
Unfortunately, many of our so-called “leaders” in the state want carefully controlled safe spaces. They don’t want in-the-moment questions from attendees. They stage “town halls” that require you to submit your questions in advance and don’t include live question and answer sessions.
Instead of taking questions and comments that might occur to attendees in the moment, they set up with questions that allow them to spin information without worry about being challenged on their characterizations, all while telling themselves they’re doing a great job and gaslighting the voters.
No wonder the video of the last House leadership and representative town hall has more than 1,000 views, but attendance was scarce. Why bother to attend when you know that your “representatives” aren’t actually interested in your questions?
Oh, they’ll talk to you one-on-one afterward, perhaps, but they don’t want to be challenged publicly or answer spontaneous questions that require more than platitudes and justifications for why it’s OK to ignore what voters have asked for.
Last time around, our two House 33 “representatives” couldn’t be bothered with one-on-one forums that involved questions from the audience. They wanted forums with candidates running for multiple seats and curated questions from moderators.
I admire the candidates running for office in these municipal elections. They are willing to get out of their comfort zones and answer questions from voters. Likewise, I respect District 34 legislators who hold true town halls (including one this coming Saturday). Even if attendance at these events is low, it’s their willingness to face the voters and answer unscripted questions that deserve our respect. If they’re willing to face us and let us ask uncomfortable questions, we should be willing to engage.