How’s that chant go? “This is what democracy looks like.”
The citizens group Ozark Indivisible announced on Facebook this week that Sen. Tom Cotton personally called and pledged to hold a town hall this month. The Cotton camp had previously refused to commit to a town hall but has apparently caved in response to pressure from the group. Cotton’s offices will also be removing signs stating that constituents could visit by appointment only.
Throughout the week, we’ve been documenting the activities of Ozark Indivisible, which wants to communicate with Cotton about the future of the Affordable Care Act, Donald Trump’s recent travel ban, the president’s nominations, and other issues. After Cotton staff cancelled a meeting with the group without explanation, there was a protest outside of his office in Springdale, drawing more than 100 demonstrators. The protest made national news.
On Thursday, Cotton called the personal cell phone of Caitlynn Moses, one of the founding members of the group, and apologized. Moses posted the following statement on Facebook:
BIG NEWS: Today, Senator Cotton called my personal cell phone to apologize for our recent cancelled meeting. We had a very cordial conversation about DeVos, our cancelled meeting, and our desire for him to host a town hall. He has agreed to set one up for THIS MONTH during the President’s Day week long intersession congress is taking. No date has been set, but he has assured me that he will be in contact with us to talk about dates and locations.
Do not think for a second that what we’re doing doesn’t have an impact. We were heard and we were heard in a big way! Keep at it, everyone!
Republican lawmakers have been leery of holding town halls open to the public for fear of direct confrontations with constituents that can go viral on YouTube.
While no one is under the illusion that anyone is going to change Cotton’s mind, getting the senator to commit to a town hall this month stands as a major victory for Ozark Indivisible. One of their chief concerns has been a lack of accessibility and communication. Cotton was the only member of the Arkansas congressional delegation with a closed-door, appointment-only policy at his state field offices (that policy is now being reversed, according to Team Cotton in this morning’s D-G). Recently a group of citizens who tried to visit staff in Little Rock were literally spoken to through a closed door and told that staff would not meet with any constituents because of “recent threats” (I’m told this incident also made national news). According to members of Ozark Indivisible, as well as others, no one has been answering phone calls either to Cotton’s D.C. office or to state field offices, so it was impossible to schedule an appointment in any case. At his Little Rock office, Cotton’s staff also put up a sign claiming that filming and recording were not allowed.
In her original communication with Cotton’s office on January 17, Moses proposed a town hall but was rebuffed. After the protests, Caroline Rabbitt initially told the D-G that Cotton would hold a town hall later this year. That timeline, presumably thanks to pressure from Ozark Indivisible, has been moved up.
Cotton’s team does not respond to questions from the Arkansas Times, but Rabbitt confirmed to the D-G that a town hall will be held over the President’s Day recess and described the call between Cotton and Moses as “very cordial.”
Color me paranoid, but one thing to watch: Who is, or is not, allowed in to the town hall event? Will it be fully open to the public?