Jason Lewis, a former radio talk show host turned Republican congressman straight out of Woodbury, hasn’t held a town hall meeting since he took office 17 months ago, refusing to offer constituents a chance to ask questions unscripted and uncensored.
Instead, he’s held “telephone town halls,” where there’s no way for people to know how to call in and questions are censored through a moderator. But there’s a whiff of midterm elections in the breeze. So this weekend, Lewis is holding not one, but three town halls – all on the same day.
Lewis sent out emails on May 10 inviting constituents to attend three town halls planned for Saturday, May 19 -- one in Lakeville, one in Wabasha and one in Jordan. The email included a link to a ticket request that included a May 15 deadline, and asked those interested to submit info that “would match information issued on a state or U.S. photo ID.”
Govt issued ID will be required for admission to Lewis's town hall. What the heck? pic.twitter.com/61Lz5Pmax0— Rachel_ChinitzLewine (@Rachel_CL) May 10, 2018
To many, it looked suspiciously like Lewis was attempting to stack the audience. The response on social media has mostly been a collective eye-roll.
@RepJasonLewis Tickets to a Town Hall?? Seriously? Are you afraid to speak to the public and include all the people in your district? How about an OPEN-TO-THE-PUBLIC Town Hall? What are you afraid of? #Chickenshyte— Dave Wilcox (@ChillieWillie65) May 17, 2018
Requesting a ticket for the chance to attend an event is not a public town hall.— Austin KJ Ballhagen (@ABallhagen) May 13, 2018
This not what #Democracy looks like. Our Congressman should not be creating hurdles to engaging with constituents.
The thing is, not everybody got the email, and not everyone who asked for a ticket managed to get one.
Lewis didn’t respond to interview requests to explain how he chose those who would be lucky enough to get in the door.
But his letters both to ticket rejects and ticket holders alike boast of him having held “19 telephone town halls, seven employee town halls, met with 271 groups, replied to 139,846 constituent comments, and visited more than 150 communities in the 2nd District.”
Nonetheless, Lewis’ engagement has been called into question regularly, especially by those constituents who have a bone to pick with him.
Last year, some folks with Take Action Minnesota, a group dedicated to “realiz[ing] racial and economic equity across Minnesota,” showed up outside his house to protest his support of cutting Medicaid. That got his attention -- long enough to call the stunt “dangerous.” A Take Action Minnesota spokesperson asked Lewis to hold a town hall meeting if he didn’t like them showing up at his house.
Meanwhile, Lewis have incentive to host a scripted event. He only beat Eagan Democrat Angie Craig by less than 2 percent in 2016. She’s running against him again, and she’s not impressed by his willingness to communicate public with constituents.
“It should not be an ‘event’ to see your member of Congress,” she says. Getting two years’ worth of town halls out of the way in three days doesn’t strike Craig as being open and accessible.
“His town halls are an absolute farce,” she says. “He waited until he had an opponent for reelection to even schedule them.”