Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a townhall as “an event at which a public official or political candidate addresses an audience by answering questions posed by individual members”. Representative Mia Love of congressional district 4 posted on her campaign page that she had had a “fantastic townhall” in West Valley City. The only problem is that it was a private, RSVP only, fundraising event limited to about 15 people held at State Senator Dan Thatcher’s house –doesn’t quite have a townhall feel does it?
If you browse through the facebook comments on her post about her private meeting, people are taking note and calling it out. “This was no townhall”, “I see no town, I see no hall. Not a townhall”, “Townhall? That’s a family home evening!” It’s going on 3 years since Mia Love had an in person open to the public townhall and it doesn’t look like one is on the schedule any time soon.
I called Mia Love’s West Jordan office to get some background on the event for the purposes of this article but was told they had no idea that the event had taken place –They referred me to her campaign staff. I reached out through the contact page on the campaign’s website but never heard back.
Screenshots from the invitation email show that this was in fact a campaign event, further muddying what a townhall actually is. Love’s campaign softened the gathering by calling it a “Cottage Meeting” at Senator Thatcher’s home residence with the body of the invitation reading “This is a private event for invitees and their families only.”
Adam Thompson, Vice Chair of Utah’s CD4 Coalition has helped organize constituents to ask for a public townhall for well over a year now but has been unable to convince Love to hold an event. “The most recent campaign event that she called a ‘townhall’ was in fact a meeting for specially invited guests, hosted by her campaign, and likely involved a monetary ask”, said Thompson.
Meanwhile Love’s peers in neighboring districts have all held townhalls -in some cases more than twice in the last year- but she has remained at a distance by scheduling conference calls, closed off meetings with no media access, and now this private event. Thompson feels that this behind closed door event carries a pay to play feel due to the restricted access.
“Love is not the representative process envisioned by the founding fathers. We believe that all constituents should have reasonable access to their elected officials, not just those with checks in hand”, Thompson said.
So is this a townhall, a fundraiser, or a private meeting with campaign contributors? It seems the only person who would know would be Mia Love. Perhaps we should have a large public gathering with her and talk about it? We’ll call it a Suburb Social.