Take Back Washington

You’ve got to hand it to the North Dakota Republican Party and its Chairman Gary Emineth, who last Friday evening may just have shown the whole GOP a better approach than the traditional “Town Hall Meeting.” Instead of gathering together people to listen to politicians, he brought together politicians to listen to the people.

And much to Mr. Emineth’s credit, instead of focusing on the few differences that exist between the establishment GOP and the Tea Partiers, he reached out to the potential army of highly committed volunteers and activists in a way few other Republicans have managed to do. Folks of all political stripes rallied together under the banner of the U.S. Constitution instead of mere partisan identity.

Everybody from the Governor to members of the State Legislature and the Public Service Commission were politely recognized, then seated as everyday folks put their two cents in.  No speeches, no spinning: all the politicians could do was listen. How’s that for a change of pace! In rapid-fire succession, audience members approached microphones stationed around the hall and gave the lawmakers a piece of their minds.

Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm told the Bismarck Tribune, “It’s unusual to have the tables turned. They can say whatever they want.  They can criticize us, and we’ve been instructed simply to listen.” If we could only get my colleagues across the aisle in Washington to do the same.

It’s all too common today for lawmakers, candidates, and the political reporters who cover them to get caught up in the political bubble that seems to form around them. Some call it Potomac Fever. Others call it Inside the Beltway. Either way, a great many legislators end up forgetting who works for whom.

As one woman told Governor John Hoeven, “When you get to go from Governor Hoeven to Senator Hoeven — and we’re going to make that happen — just be Sen. Hoeven, don’t be Sen. Dorgan.”

Emineth’s concept – an event he called “Take Back Washington” – is a sure-fire counter to all that.  Not one of those official “Town Hall Meetings” that’s scripted – but a real, live, free-for-all. Republican Party chairmen from coast to coast would be wise to take a page from Chairman Emineth’s playbook. Let’s hope his “Take Back Washington” experiment catches fire.

Michele Bachmann represents Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.