New Representative Suzanne Bonamici meets with constituents at a town hall at Newberg. (photo/Stapilus)
One of the first county town halls by Senator Ron Wyden we visited had an exchange that seemed startling for its abandonment of the way members of Congress often interact with constituents. A person in the audience asked a question (can't remember the subject) with a clearly partisan intent, evidently seeking to get Wyden to take a shot at then-President Bush and congressional Republicans. Wyden declined, saying that on another occasion he'd be happy to engage in partisan talk with the man, but at town halls, the idea is to discuss public business and public policy, and leave politicking outside. He has stuck to that rule pretty rigorously, and so has (in our observation) Senator Jeff Merkley when he followed up on Wyden's approach of a guaranteed town hall in every county ever year.
Which is a long way around to note that, in her first town hall meeting as a member of Congress in Yamhill County (at Newberg), newly-minted Representative Suzanne Bonamici conducted the even very much like Wyden and Merkley - quite well, and focused on policy ideas and judgments about what makes sense and what doesn't. If there was any itch to last out at House Republicans, it didn't show. The tenor showed at the beginning, when she was introduced not by a local government official (typical at the senators' events) or by a local Democrat, but by a local Republican state Senator, Larry George of Sherwood, who spoke about their cooperative working relationship when both were legislators at Salem.
Maybe it's an Oregon thing.
The Bonamici event at Newberg actually outdrew the two senators' recent Yamhill County events. It gave her a chance to run through her first rounds of votes in the House, for the STOCK Act (anti-insider trading for Congress), for one, and signing onto several bills, including one comparable to one she'd worked on in Salem to expand financing for small businesses.
Most of the session was taken up with questions, and they ranged widely, from the economy to contraception to Internet regulation to the defense authorization act. Her answers tracked fairly closely with those she gave in the numerous debates she was in before the January 31 election; there were no big surprises. And it was all, well, civil.
But you got the sense that this may be the first of more town halls to come; there was some discussion of, as well, future town halls aimed at specific subject areas.
Bonamici mentioned that one of the many caucuses she joined in the House was the Civility Caucus - a group trying to find ways to foster more civility in Congress. A suggestion: Strongly, strongly urge every member to hold regular town hall meetings with the rules Wyden described and Bonamici seemed to adhere to. They might provide some practice.