ROCHESTER, Minn. — As U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn prepares for his first town hall meeting in Rochester, the first-term GOP congressman is taking heat from critics who say he has not held enough town hall events.
Since taking office in January, Hagedorn has held one in-person town hall meeting and an “autodial phone call” town hall. Critics say the pace falls short of the 21 town halls in 21 counties he pledged to hold once elected.
The time selected for the Rochester event may not be seen as convenient by some Olmsted County constituents. It is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday in Heintz Commons at Rochester Community and Technical, a time when most people are getting off work or celebrating the start of the weekend.
“His town halls all seem specifically designed to reduce turnout,” said Pernell Meier, an area DFL activist who won’t be able to attend Friday’s event because of an out-of-town engagement. “It irks me.”
Other voices, including the editorial board of the Free Press of Mankato, noted that Hagedorn’s only face-to-face town hall was in Truman, in Martin County near where his family is from.
And his tele-town hall in Nicollet County was held in the middle of a work day with little prior notice to constituents.
“First District congressman Jim Hagedorn’s approach to town hall meetings seems inconsistent with his campaign promise and contrary to a general expectation that members of Congress should meet and listen to their constituents,” the Free Press wrote in an editorial this week.
Becky Rogness, a spokesperson for Hagedorn, said the congressman is holding true to his pledge to hold 21 meetings and is using a variety of formats and schedules to reach constituents. The one in Martin County was held on a Saturday morning, the one in Nicollet County a weekday afternoon and the one in Olmsted County will be a Friday evening.
“As Rep. Hagedorn does his 21 town hall events, you’ll find them set for a variety of times,” Rogness said via e-mail. “If someone can’t make Friday’s town hall, we encourage them to reach out to our office directly with their question or comment.”
Rogness also said that Hagedorn’s office has not received a single complaint about the scheduled time in Rochester.
She added that Hagedorn’s plan was to begin his 21-county town hall event tour on June 1, and, by that measure, he will have already done three by the end of the week.
“Rep. Hagedorn is reaching constituents through a variety of town hall formats,” Rogness said. “There are a wide-range of demographics among First District constituents. Employing various formats allows Rep. Hagedorn to reach a variety of people.”
How Hagedorn’s town hall record fares depends on whom you compare him with.
U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, a a first-term Democrat in the 2nd Congressional District, will hold her sixth town hall meeting on Saturday when she addresses constituents at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. Craig has been holding one town hall a month since taking office, twice as many as Hagedorn has held so far.
Yet Hagedorn’s DFL predecessor, Gov. Tim Walz, held only one town hall in Rochester during a six-year span. Walz said said he preferred roundtables and Congress on Your Corner events that allowed for one-on-one interaction.
Hagedorn’s town hall at RCTC will give priority for questions to attendees who present a valid government-issued ID, according to a media advisory sent out by Hagedorn’s office. Questions from residents who live in the 1st District but outside Olmsted County will be addressed as time permits. Signs and literature are not permitted.
A Craig spokeswoman said the congresswoman doesn’t require proof of ID.
“Whoever wants to ask a question can ask a question,” said Craig press assistant Megumi Rierson.
Rogness said the protocols for Hagedorn’s town halls were developed with Capital Police and modeled after the formats of other members of Congress. And since Hagedorn will be hosting a town hall in all 21 counties of the 1st District, it made sense to give priority to residents of the county where the town hall is being held.
“We want the town hall to run smoothly for everyone and be family-friendly, Rogness said.