This blog features observations from Randy Turner, a former teacher, newspaper reporter and editor. Send news items or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, April 15, 2011
My wasted hour with Billy Long's telephone town hall meeting
If I had not listened in to Seventh District Congressman Billy Long's telephone town hall meeting Thursday night, I would never have known of the enormous difficulties Speaker of the House John Boehner faced when negotiating the budget deal with the Democrats.
"Speaker Boehner negotiated with one arm held behind his back and a sprained thumb," Long told the 12,617 people who listened in to the first of a planned monthly series of telephone town hall meetings.
It was a glorious opportunity for constituents who might never have a chance to talk to the Congressman. Unfortunately, only about five people were squeezed in to the 60 minute meeting.
Don't blame those people for taking up 12 minutes apiece of Billy Long's valuable time. That is not the way it worked. Long did not take his first call until approximately 13 minutes had passed and spent about the last 10 minutes offering a glimpse of his radio talk show days as offered a mix of home-spun one-liners and assertions that he was still fed up.
A portion of the remainder of the time was spent offering two polls of the telephone listeners, with the second one revealing the mind-numbing information that 68 percent of those "attending" the town hall meeting did not believe in First Amendment protection for those who burn the Bible or the Koran.
The questions Long took were typically bland and offered more of an opportunity for the questioners to offer their opinions on softball issues while Long agreed with them. For each question, Long was able to dig into his treasure trove of long (pun intended) countrified stories, a couple of which even pertained to the subject.
I was one of those who punched star-three to ask the Congressman a question. I did not anticipate getting through, but was still surprised when Long cut off the questions with more than 10 minutes left in the hour.
My questions were going to be similar to those of some of the others- pertaining to issues that were very important to me. I didn't plan on asking him about when or if his auction company was going to be sold, or about why nearly all of his first quarter money came from special interests and lobbyists when he was supposedly fed up with all things Washington. I was not even planning on questioning him about using $1,333 of campaign funds for membership in the exclusive Capitol Hill Club.
I planned to ask the Congressman about two issues that concerned me as a classroom teacher- Does he support the use of standardized test scores to determine teacher pay and does he favor the growing movement to strip teachers of tenure. I wonder how many others were left hanging on the line as the Congressman filibustered his way through answers to just five constituents and spent the rest of the time polishing his comedy act.
Thank you for inviting me to your telephone town hall meeting, Congressman Long. Next time, just put me on the no-call list.