Metro-East News

Candidate Bost wanted town halls. Congressman Bost says times have changed.

Mike Bost explains why he won’t have standard town halls

In this file video from May 2017, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, discusses the House health-care vote, why he's not having standard town hall meetings and the termination of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump.
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In this file video from May 2017, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, discusses the House health-care vote, why he's not having standard town hall meetings and the termination of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump.

In 2014, when U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, was a state representative running for Congress, he held a town hall meeting about veterans affairs issues.

In his news release announcing the event, he criticized then-U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, a Democrat, for not holding in-person town halls, and opting for telephone town halls to communicate with constituents.

“Congressman Enyart and I have a different view of representation. I provide open forums to take questions while he hides behind a telephone in a scripted setting while billing the taxpayers for it,” Bost said at the time in a news release.

Nowadays, Bost opts to use telephone town halls to communicate with constituents, along with speaking to constituents in person in small, private meetings, which sometimes are open to the media.

Ever since Republican President Donald Trump, along with congressional Republicans, began their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they have been met with protests and disruptions at their town halls.

As a result, Bost has mostly opted to stay away from town hall settings.

“Every one of them that calls our office that says we want this type of town hall, the problem is they are now organized at a national level to cause chaos,” Bost said in a recent interview with the BND.

Bost said he sometimes has eight to 12 meetings a day when he’s back in the district, with groups of up to 15 to 20 people.

“We’re not turning anybody down on the meetings,” Bost said. “I’ve been with many of the protesters in my office, talking about the issues and really getting the opportunity to talk to them. I think it’s better whenever I have my time in the district to be able to have a good communication where questions could be asked and I could answer the questions, not just have these sessions like have happened around the United States.”

We’re not turning anybody down on the meetings. I’ve been with many of the protesters in my office talking about the issues and really getting the opportunity to talk to them. I think it’s better whenever I have my time in the district to be able to have a good communication where questions could be asked and I could answer the questions, not just have these sessions like have happened around the United States.

U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro

Bost also has chosen to hold telephone town halls, where he takes questions for about an hour after calling constituents who have signed up to participate.

His office says about 85,000 people are called for each telephone town hall.

In June 2014, Bost wasn’t shy about criticizing Enyart, who often held telephone town halls. At the time, Bost was promoting his town hall on veterans affairs issues that had been a source of controversy around the country.

“Congressman Bill Enyart has yet to hold a single town hall forum after a year and half in office,” Bost’s campaign said in a news release at the time. “After learning of Bost’s town hall forum, his congressional office quickly announced a tele-town hall on the same night – calling it a ‘unique event.’ Tele-town halls allow Congressman Enyart’s staff to handpick the questions he’s asked while forcing the taxpayers to pay for it in response to a political campaign. Congressman Enyart claims to be a leader for the area, but he seems to be following one instead.”

Members of the Indivisible group for Illinois' 12th congressional district held a rally Tuesday outside of U.S. Rep. Mike Bost's office in O'Fallon, over his vote for the American Health Care Act, which is part of the Republican effort to repeal a

Bost spokesman George O’Connor said in an email that the atmosphere has changed from two years ago.

“Since the last election, liberal political activists have literally written the playbook on how to derail town hall meetings nationwide, with several organizations working to ship protestors in from out-of-state with the sole purpose of sowing disruption in our district,” O’Connor said. “Rep. Bost wants to hear from constituents who disagree with him. That’s why he’s conducting telephone town halls, roundtable meetings, districtwide job tours, and welcoming meetings with any constituents who request to sit down with him at his office.”

These are constituents who are angry. In 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, Democrats held their town halls and were screamed at by the Tea Party, and they continued to hold town halls, over the summer of 2010. They did not hide, they faced the music when they made a decision that some of their constituents thought was unacceptable. Now that the tables have turned, Mike Bost and other Republicans in Illinois and throughout the country don’t want to face that music, they don’t want to face angry constituents.

Shannon Russell, member of Indivisible 12

Among the groups that have been calling for in-person town halls from Bost is the Indivisible 12th.

Group member Shannon Russell of Belleville said protests aren’t choreographed.

“These are constituents who are angry,” Russell said. “In 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, Democrats held their town halls and were screamed at by the Tea Party, and they continued to hold town halls, over the summer of 2010. They did not hide, they faced the music when they made a decision that some of their constituents thought was unacceptable.”

Russell added, “Now that the tables have turned, Mike Bost and other Republicans in Illinois and throughout the country don’t want to face that music, they don’t want to face angry constituents.”

Russell criticized Bost for the telephone town halls and said it allowed the second-term congressman to have his staff assist him with answers, and silence and interrupt people who disagree with him. He also was critical of Bost’s change of view on town halls.

“It is one of the most egregious examples of hypocrisy I’ve ever encountered with a representative,” Russell said. “That just three years ago, he’s shaming his opponent for not holding a real town hall, and telling him he’s hiding behind a phone, and now when the going gets tough, he’s hiding behind the phone.”

Russell said an in-person town hall is about accountability.

“(Bost) just took a vote on the American Health Care Act, which is going to affect one-sixth of our economy,” Russell said. “He did not wait until the CBO (Congressional Budget Office)score came out, and so we want to ask him questions about that. We would have liked to have asked him questions on it before he voted on it.”

There are many ways to communicate with constituents, and Congressman Davis feels this works best for his 14-county district.

Ashley Phelps, communications director for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, also has received criticism from the Indivisible group for not holding an in-person town hall. He has opted for telephone town halls when he’s in Washington, as well as open office hours or his “traveling help desks,” where he and staff meet with constituents one-on-one around the district, said Davis spokeswoman Ashley Phelps.

Recent sessions in Champaign and Normal allowed Davis to meet with 250 constituents, Phelps said.

More in-district office hours for constituents to visit with Davis are scheduled during the upcoming week-long congressional recess after Memorial Day.

“There are many ways to communicate with constituents, and Congressman Davis feels this works best for his 14-county district,” Phelps said.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

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