Armed with dry erase boards and easels, 28 Republicans held a total of 48 town hall events last week as a part of the GOP’s “America Speaking Out” initiative.
Republicans said the gatherings were a departure from traditional town hall meetings where the question-and-answer format is the norm.
The new style, Republicans said, is better designed to solicit constituent ideas for solving problems facing the country.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) said he liked the new format because attendees were challenged to offer solutions to the problems confronting lawmakers in Washington instead of simply asking him for his thoughts about the issues.
“They’ve got great ideas,” Price said, adding that 200 to 300 people showed up at one of his events and spent hours contributing ideas to the eraser boards.
Price said he was surprised at how many people submitted ideas to solve the nation’s immigration and border problems.
“I heard about immigration a lot more than I have in the last few years,” Price said.
Price said the ideas would be tabulated and posted on his congressional website.
In a news release, Rep. Peter Roskam (Ill.), deputy chairman of the American Speaking Out initiative, said more than 250 people turned out to one of his town halls and that ideas were offered on issues from spending to immigration.
The initiative was launched by House Republican leaders last month and will become a central part of designing their policy agenda, which is due out after Labor Day.
Before leaving Washington two weeks ago, Republican members were given a kit to help them navigate the new format that included a PowerPoint tutorial on AmericaSpeakingOut.com, sheets of paper for a suggestion box and a presentation on the “debt crisis,” according to Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the project’s chairman, Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.).
Until the Memorial Day recess, Republicans had focused on the website as the main portal for citizens to submit ideas.
Democrats have derided the America Speaking Out effort as a political tool and have dismissed the notion that any new ideas would come out of the exercise.
“Interacting with constituents might be considered cutting edge for Washington Republicans, but it’s what Democrats have been doing since the beginning of this Congress,” said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “The real difference is we are actually trying to solve problems, not figure out our campaign message.”
Buck said the events were only the beginning of the effort and promised the town halls would continue throughout the summer.
“Democrats will surely continue ignoring the American people,” Buck said. “House Republicans will be engaging the public through America Speaking Out events throughout the summer.”