TOWN HALL PROJECT - Jan-Sept 2019 Congressional Accessibility Report - Rev. 10/11

In our third year conducting nationwide rapid research into the schedules of members of Congress--and encouraging Americans everywhere to show up and speak out to their elected officials--Town Hall Project is happy to share our most comprehensive data set yet.

And we’re very pleased to see a continuing trend from our earlier report this year: town hall numbers are up sharply -- from 1,681 town halls held by sitting members of Congress from through mid-September 2017 to just 995 town halls in the same period in 2018, there were 2,111 town halls held between January and mid-September 2019.

2019: THE TOWN HALL IS BACK

After a steep decline in 2018, in part fueled by a large number of Republican members of Congress who ceased to hold town halls entirely after the often-contentious public meetings during the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, we are heartened to see a positive trendline in town halls being held by members of Congress.

Encouragingly, town halls are up among both parties, even with Republicans losing a substantial number of seats in the House since 2018.

While far too many members of Congress remaining “missing” and inaccessible to the people they work for, we applaud a growing group of members for this positive 2019 trend and encourage Americans across the political spectrum to continue to demand more of the people we have elected to represent us.

Jan - September 2017

1,681 total

963 Democratic

718 Republican

Jan - September 2018

993 total

602 Democratic

381 Republican

Jan - September 2019

2,111 total

1.310 Democratic

801 Republican

FRESHMEN LEAD THE WAY

A particularly heartening development is the substantial upswing in town hall and other public events by freshman members of the 116th Congress.

Freshmen were responsible for more than a third of the total town halls held by members of this Congress, despite making up just 20% of Congress.

The disparity is even more dramatic when broken down by party. As of mid-September, 98% of Democratic freshman members have held at least one town hall event vs. just 58% of Congress as a whole (and just 51% of Republican freshmen in this Congress).

The Democratic freshman class in the House, in particular, pride themselves on being available to their constituents, especially after many of them made lawmaker accessibility a prominent issue in their 2018 challenger campaigns.

At the end of the first 100 days, freshman leaders Rep. Joe Neguse (CO-02), Rep. Katie Hill (CA-25), and Rep. Haley Stevens (MI-11) took to the House floor to celebrate the historic efforts at accessibility by this freshman class. And our executive director recently sat down with Rep. Neguse to discuss why he believes this freshman class is setting a new standard for Congress in the years to come.

We hope this enthusiasm for accessibility rubs off on their peers in Congress, and those seeking the office in 2020. Town hall accessibility is good governance and good politics.

Jan-Sept 2019

MOCs holding at least one town hall

House Freshmen Democrats

63 out of 64

98%

House Freshmen GOP

20 out of 37

54%

Class of 2018 Senate Democrats

0 out of 2

0%

Class of 2018 Senate GOP

2 out of 7

29%

All House Democrats

194 out of 235

83%

All House GOP

86 out of 197

44%

All Senate Democrats

19 out of 47

40%

All Senate GOP

10 out of 53

21%

Congress as a whole

310 out of 533

58%

STANDOUT FRESHMEN

Unsurprisingly, some of the members holding town halls at the highest rate, are those who recently upset incumbents in 2018, and are likely to face serious challenges of their own in 2020.

Additionally, a significant percentage of freshmen who frequently hold town halls took Town Hall Project’s Town Hall Pledge in 2018, a commitment to their constituents to hold a minimum of four town halls per year.

Member

Party

District

2019 Town Halls

Town Hall Pledger

Cindy Axne

(D)

IA-03

43

Y

Antonio Delgado

(D)

NY-19

24

Y

Joe Neguse

(D)

CO-02

21

Steve Watkins

(R)

KS-02

21

Rashida Tlaib

(D)

MI-13

19

Y

John Curtis

(R)

UT-03

18

Josh Harder

(D)

CA-10

17

Y

Lauren Underwood

(D)

IL-14

16

Sean Casten

(D)

IL-06

16

Y

Van Taylor

(R)

TX-03

15

Abigail Spanberger

(D)

VA-07

14

Y

Haley Stevens

(D)

MI-11

13

Y

Kim Schrier

(D)

WA-08

13

Mike Levin

(D)

CA-49

13

TOP PERFORMERS

While Democrats on the whole hold town halls at a substantially higher rate, 5 of the top 6 town hall holders in the 116th Congress are Republican.

Member

Party

District

2019 Town Halls

Roger Marshall

(R)

KS-01

53

Jerry Moran

(R)

KS

48

Cindy Axne

(D)

IA-03

43

Ron Wyden

(D)

OR

40

Greg Walden

(R)

OR-02

40

Jim Sensenbrenner

(R)

WI-05

40

Jeff Merkley

(D)

OR

37

Steve King

(R)

IA-04

37

Joni Ernst

(R)

IA

31

Tom O'Halleran

(D)

AZ-01

24

Antonio Delgado

(D)

NY-19

24

Mike Crapo

(R)

ID

24

Joe Neguse

(D)

CO-02

21

Steve Watkins

(R)

KS-02

21

Frank Lucas

(R)

OK-03

21

Chuck Grassley

(R)

IA

20

Mike Conaway

(R)

TX-11

20

*Retiring

A LITTLE COMPETITION

2019 has also seen the trend of Republicans members of Congress who had previously been “Missing Members,” (those not holding a single town hall event during the 115th Congress) holding their first town halls in years, some of them, like Rep. Steve King (IA-04) and Steve Chabot (OH-01), at great frequency.

In both King and Steve Chabot’s 2018 contests, their challengers took the Town Hall Pledge and each made town hall accessibility prominent issues in their campaigns. Despite falling short at the ballot box, it’s clear these challengers spurred the victorious incumbents to take accessibility to their constituents much more seriously this year.

Member

District

2019 Town Halls

2017-2018 Town Halls

2018 margin of victory

2016 margin of victory

Pledge Challenger?

Steve King

IA-04

37

0

3.4%

22.6%

Yes

Steve Chabot

OH-01

17

0

4.4%

18.4%

Yes

Roger Williams

TX-25

9

0

8.7%

20.6%

Yes

Robert Wittman

VA-01

5

0

10.5%

23.3%

Randy Weber

TX-14

3

0

19.9%

23.8%

Yes

John Carter

TX-31

2

0

2.9%

21.9%

Yes

Rob Woodall*

GA-07

1

0

0.2%

20.8%

Yes

Susan Brooks*

IN-05

1

0

13.6%

27.2%

Austin Scott

GA-08

1

0

No challenger

35.2%

Rodney Davis

IL-13

2

0

0.8%

19.4%

Yes

Rick Allen

GA-12

2

0

19.0%

23.2%

Bill Johnson

OH-06

1

0

38.6%

41.4%

Yes

Christopher Smith

NJ-04

1

0

12.3%

30.2%

Warren Davidson

OH-08

1

0

33.2%

41.8%

*Retiring

DOUBLING DOWN

At the same time, of the 107 “Missing Members” from 2017-2018 still in Congress, 89 of them have not held a single town hall meeting with their constituents in 2019.

These Missing Member holdouts include longtime incumbents in perceived “safe” states or districts like Sen. Richard Shelby (AL) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), but also members who narrowly won their last election, like Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Rep. Devin Nunes (CA-22), and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ).

We hope these “Missing Members” consider that the culture of expectations of town hall accessibility is only going to grow since the last election, and they will find themselves facing tough questions on why they aren’t taking the time to meet with the people they work for.

2020 SENATE INCUMBENTS

A far smaller percentage of senators--of both parties--hold town halls when compared to their colleagues in the House, and the senators up for re-election in 2020 are no exception.

While some incumbents expecting stiff challenges--like Sen. Doug Jones (AL) and Sen. Joni Ernst (IA)--are making town halls with their constituents a priority, others like Sen. Thom Tillis (NC), Sen. John Cornyn (TX), Sen. Susan Collins (ME), and Sen. Cory Gardner (CO) have held exactly zero.

Senators up for re-election in 2020

Member

Party

State

2019 Town Halls

Jerry Moran

(R)

KS

48

Jeff Merkley

(D)

OR

37

Joni Ernst

(R)

IA

31

Doug Jones

(D)

AL

10

Christopher Coons

(D)

DE

7

Christopher Murphy

(D)

CT

5

Bob Casey

(D)

PA

4

Edward Markey

(D)

MA

4

Brian Schatz

(D)

HI

3

Mark Warner

(D)

VA

3

Jeanne Shaheen

(D)

NH

2

Richard Durbin

(D)

IL

2

Gary Peters

(D)

MI

1

Cindy Hyde-Smith

(R)

MS

0

David Perdue

(R)

GA

0

James Inhofe

(R)

OK

0

James Risch

(R)

ID

0

John Cornyn

(R)

TX

0

Mitch McConnell

(R)

KY

0

Shelley Moore Capito

(R)

WV

0

Steve Daines

(R)

MT

0

Thom Tillis

(R)

NC

0

Martha McSally

(R)

AZ

0

Cory Booker

(D)

NJ

0

Jack Reed

(D)

RI

0

Ben Sasse

(R)

NE

0

Bill Cassidy

(R)

LA

0

Cory Gardner

(R)

CO

0

Dan Sullivan

(R)

AK

0

Lindsey Graham

(R)

SC

0

Mike Rounds

(R)

SD

0

Susan Collins

(R)

ME

0

Tom Cotton

(R)

AR

0

In bold: races expected to be competitive.

TOWN HALL PLEDGERS

The “Town Hall Pledge” program has been a thrilling success. We have seen over 300 candidates take the Pledge to their constituents--including 39 members of the 116th Congress, as well as state legislators, and other elected officials--including newly elected Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Pledgers in Congress have held 335 town halls so far, a rate that far outpaces the average members of Congress (8.6 town halls per pledger vs. 3.5 per non-pledger).

Member

Party

District

2019 Town Halls

Cindy Axne

(D)

IA-03

43

Antonio Delgado

(D)

NY-19

24

Rashida Tlaib

(D)

MI-13

19

Debbie Dingell

(D)

MI-12

19

Josh Harder

(D)

CA-10

17

Sean Casten

(D)

IL-06

16

Abigail Spanberger

(D)

VA-07

14

Matt Cartwright

(D)

PA-08

14

Sean Maloney

(D)

NY-18

14

Haley Stevens

(D)

MI-11

13

Andy Levin

(D)

MI-09

12

Jason Crow

(D)

CO-06

12

Andy Kim

(D)

NJ-03

11

Anthony Brindisi

(D)

NY-22

10

Katie Porter

(D)

CA-45

9

Bryan Steil

(R)

WI-01

9

Angie Craig

(D)

MN-02

8

Dean Phillips

(D)

MN-03

8

Mark Pocan

(D)

WI-02

7

Elaine Luria

(D)

VA-02

6

Jennifer Wexton

(D)

VA-10

6

Mary Scanlon

(D)

PA-05

6

Lizzie Fletcher

(D)

TX-07

5

Kevin Cramer

(R)

ND

5

Colin Allred

(D)

TX-32

4

Lucy McBath

(D)

GA-06

4

Steven Horsford

(D)

NV-04

4

Adam Smith

(D)

WA-09

4

Nanette Barragán

(D)

CA-44

4

Raja Krishnamoorthi

(D)

IL-08

4

Susie Lee

(D)

NV-03

3

Eric Swalwell

(D)

CA-15

3

James Comer

(R)

KY-01

3

Sylvia Garcia

(D)

TX-29

2

Jamie Raskin

(D)

MD-08

2

Jan Schakowsky

(D)

IL-09

2

Joe Manchin

(D)

WV

2

Dan Crenshaw

(R)

TX-02

1

Tim Ryan

(D)

OH-13

0

LEADERSHIP

Of senior Congressional leadership (Speaker, Senate Majority Leader, House Minority Leader, Senate Minority Leader), only Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has held a town hall with her constituents in 2019. And among the broader leadership in each chamber, the rate of town halls held lags behind Congress as a whole.

While we understand members of Congress in leadership have additional duties that often keep them in Washington D.C. longer, or require them to make additional travel to other parts of the country, there is still no justification for holding zero public dialogues with constituents in all of 2019. If anything, members in leadership should set an example for the rest of Congress, not lag behind.

Chuck Schumer

(D)

NY

0

S

Debbie Stabenow

(D)

MI

4

S

John Barrasso

(R)

WY

0

S

John Thune

(R)

SD

0

S

Joni Ernst

(R)

IA

31

S

Mitch McConnell

(R)

KY

0

S

Patty Murray

(D)

WA

0

S

Richard Durbin

(D)

IL

2

S

Roy Blunt

(R)

MO

0

S

Todd Young

(R)

IN

0

S

Ben Luján

(D)

NM-03

4

H

Gary Palmer

(R)

AL-06

1

H

Hakeem Jeffries

(D)

NY-08

4

H

James Clyburn

(D)

SC-06

2

H

Kevin McCarthy

(R)

CA-23

0

H

Nancy Pelosi

(D)

CA-12

1

H

Steny Hoyer

(D)

MD-05

0

H

Steve Scalise

(R)

LA-01

0

H

HALFWAY OUT THE DOOR

Over half of members of Congress who have announced their retirements have ceased to hold public events with their constituents--with the notable exceptions of members who have announced intentions to run for higher office.

This is expected but still disappointing. These members continue to represent their districts and states, and continue to draw a salary from taxpayers. By ignoring this key part of their duties in their remaining months in office they do their taxpayers a disservice.

We would single out both Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) and Mike Conaway (TX-11) for praise for continuing to prioritize their constituents even after they’ve expressed their intention to retire.

Member

Party

District

2019 Town Halls

Chamber

Status

Roger Marshall

(R)

KS-01

53

H

Seeking other office

Jim Sensenbrenner

(R)

WI-05

40

H

Retiring

Mike Conaway

(R)

TX-11

20

H

Retiring

Bradley Byrne

(R)

AL-01

8

H

Seeking other office

Ben Luján

(D)

NM-03

4

H

Seeking other office

Susan Davis

(D)

CA-53

3

H

Retiring

Pat Roberts

(R)

KS

1

S

Retiring

Rob Woodall

(R)

GA-07

1

H

Retiring

Susan Brooks

(R)

IN-05

1

H

Retiring

Pete Olson

(R)

TX-22

1

H

Retiring

Paul Cook

(R)

CA-08

0

H

Seeking other office

Greg Gianforte

(R)

MT-AL

0

H

Seeking other office

Johnny Isakson

(R)

GA

0

S

Retiring

Lamar Alexander

(R)

TN

0

S

Retiring

Mike Enzi

(R)

WY

0

S

Retiring

José Serrano

(D)

NY-15

0

H

Retiring

Bill Flores

(R)

TX-17

0

H

Retiring

John Shimkus

(R)

IL-15

0

H

Retiring

Kenny Marchant

(R)

TX-24

0

H

Retiring

Paul Mitchell

(R)

MI-10

0

H

Retiring

Tom Udall

(D)

NM

0

S

Retiring

David Loebsack

(D)

IA-02

0

H

Retiring

Martha Roby

(R)

AL-02

0

H

Retiring

Rob Bishop

(R)

UT-01

0

H

Retiring

Will Hurd

(R)

TX-23

0

H

Retiring

Mac Thornberry

(R)

TX-13

0

H

retiring

BY MONTH

As would be expected, peak months for town halls were April and August, when the longest state/district work periods are held. It should also be noted that numerous members canceled scheduled town halls in January due to the prolonged government shutdown.

January 2019

137

February 2019

207

March 2019

255

April 2019

341

May 2019

219

June 2019

151

July 2019

211

August 2019

460

OUR METHODOLOGY

The data in this report is from January 1 to September 15, 2019.

We use the term “town hall” to refer to any public event held by a member of Congress in their official capacity that meets the following conditions:

Town Halls must:

-Be free and open to the public. (We discourage but grudgingly accept town halls that require RSVPs).

-Be announced with at least 24 hours’ notice.

-Feature at least 30 minutes of open Q&A.

-Be held within the lawmaker’s district (or, for a U.S. senator, state), or (in certain multi-district metro areas) be held within a 30 minute drive of their district.

 

Town Halls can:

-Be dedicated to a specific topic (e.g. “Health care town hall,” “Immigration town hall,”, etc.)

-Be hosted by multiple lawmakers.

-Feature other speakers as long as the lawmaker is the primary speaker and is available to answer questions for at least 30 minutes.

 

Town Halls may not:

-Be limited to a specific segment of the lawmaker’s constituents (e.g. only Republicans, nurses, veterans, seniors, employees of a specific company). If restricted, this event fits in the Other category.

-Screen questions in any way.

-Be closed to the press.

We also reserve the right to disqualify events that are held in transparent bad faith or otherwise violate the understood purpose of these events--to foster an honest, open dialogue between constituents and their representatives.

OUR RESEARCH METHODS

The heart of Town Hall Project is our nationwide team of volunteer researchers who are assigned several members of Congress to research and report on throughout the week. Our volunteer research is supplemented by public event submissions, direct communication with congressional offices, digital tools to monitor social media, and staff verification to catch missed events and evaluate submissions.

To prepare for this report, our team conducted a full audit of our entire event database.

We are always improving the quality and comprehensiveness of our event data, so if we are missing events or there are other needed corrections to the record, we encourage you to contact us at info@townhallproject.com.

DEFINITIONS

We use the New York Times definition of freshman members of Congress. For simplicity we categorize independents who caucus with Democrats (Sen. Angus King and Sen. Bernie Sanders) as Democrats in our analysis.

Town Hall Project is a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a 501(c)4 public welfare organization.