A citizen’s group has announced they will hold a grassroots District One Town Hall, April 18 at 7 p.m., at Patriot High School with or without their representative.
Republican Congressman Rob Wittman represents Virginia’s First District, which stretches from western Prince William into Stafford County. Members of his constituency have requested a live, in-person town hall over the April congressional break.
Wittman had not committed to holding an in-person town hall, so those constituents decided to organize their own. An aide for Rep. Wittman said he is unable to attend that evening.
In his absence, the District Town Hall will offer citizens an opportunity to ask questions to a panel of researchers who will do their best to provide answers as to where their Virginia congressman stands on a variety of important national, state and local issues.
The panel will primarily explore six topics: healthcare and the Affordable Care Act; immigration and travel bans; national security; education, environmental issues and climate change; and the economy.
In exploring each, they will take a close look at how the congressman voted on those issues as well as statements he has made to the media. Another researcher will offer details about the legislation itself.
This is the second “No Show” town hall planned in Northern Virginia this year; the first being in Barbara Comstock’s 10th District.
It signals a political awakening among many First District voters, mainly in response to the election of President Donald Trump. This newly activated electorate does not look much like the traditional Virginia voter.
These activists have been aided by national groups such as Indivisible, which encourage people to establish local chapters in their own communities and to reach out to their local elected representatives.
Mindy Diepenbrock is one of those people who found herself wanting to do more in the political sphere.
When vacationing in Florida, she met a Virginia woman whose husband who was diagnosed with brain cancer at 47. They were attempting to live out his “bucket list” in case he didn’t survive. The woman told Diepenbrock if her family lost their health insurance coverage her husband would surely die.
Diepenbrock promised she would work on her behalf, contacting elected officials asking them not to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Diepenbrock also felt so strongly about preserving the ACA since she is a pediatric occupational therapist.
“I treat infants and toddlers and many of them are on Medicaid,” said Diepenbrock. “I’m afraid for many of them.”
Since the election in November, Diepenbrock has joined forces with like-minded individuals, meeting in person and conversing on social media. They have repeatedly requested Wittman hold a town hall.
“We said ‘You tell us the day and the time, and we will make it happen,’” Diepenbrock said.
Wittman arranged teleconferences to converse with constituents, but the group wanted more. They decided if he would not arrange a town hall, then they would.
“We decided we’d pick a day and a time and ask him to come during the congressional recess,” Diepenbrock said.
They hoped he would be able to attend the meeting himself or at least send an aide.
Even though organizers do not expect Wittman to attend the meeting, Mindy believes it will still be worthwhile. More than 200 have already given their commitment to attend, and another 200 said they are interested.
Diepenbrock is especially excited by all of the people wanting to take part in the meeting.
“People have already stepped up [to participate on the panel],” she said. Most of the panelists are from Prince William, but some are traveling from Stafford.
The meeting will also begin with an informative presentation on Gerrymandering as presented by OneVirginia2021.
The event is not being planned by any official group, said Diepenbrock, just citizens interested in participating more fully in the democratic process. “We’ve gone out of our way to make it a nonpartisan event,” she said, inviting folks from “both sides of the aisle,” including elected officials.
Should Rep. Wittman make an appearance, she assures him it will be civil and not an ambush.
“We are really really trying to make this a respectful conversation, so maybe we can hear what the other side is saying and meet somewhere in the middle,” she said.
Rep. Wittman’s media spokesperson said he is unable to attend that evening but has been diligently and consistently speaking with constituents throughout the congressional session.
Listening to constituents is Mr. Wittman’s top priority. Already this year he has met with, spoken to, or heard from thousands of his constituents through various communications methods and will continue to do so. Since he is so busy meeting with people all across the district, his schedule is often made weeks – or sometimes months – in advance. On this particular night he was previously scheduled to be in another part of the district and so he will not be able to attend the town hall.
Wittman will be attending several meetings April 18.
© 2017, Stacy Shaw. All rights reserved.