About 50 people, mostly from Tempe, met with Congressman David Schweikert and Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman at the Pyle Adult Center Thursday afternoon to converse about the federal government financial situation.
The town hall was billed as a listening session. A quick google search suggests such a description, often used these days for interactive meetings between elected officials or government agencies and citizens' groups, is often more hopeful than anything.
Give Mr. Schweikert credit for remaining upbeat through more than an hour and a half of questions from people, many of whom expressed serious concern about the Ryan budget and the growing threat to "reform" (privatize, aka eliminate) Medicare. He had plenty of charts and graphs and tried really hard to get through them while welcoming a steady stream of questions.
I'm not sure the Congressman was able to effectively get much information across, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Overall, the subject of the federal government budget is just not an easy thing to help a group of disconcerted constituents get a grasp of in a short amount of time. After all, he has years of experience as a county treasurer, and still puts in several hours each week studying in order to understand it.
He did throw out a trial balloon asking people if they might be willing at some point in the (hopefully near) future to sit through a two hour meeting where he could actually make a presentation and then open it up for questions and a dialogue. If he brings more than just charts and graphs, with analogies or comparisons or illustrations (or all of the above) that relate the numbers to things that draw pictures and scenarios out for his audience, it might work.
Mr. Schweikert also deserves kudos for acknowledging that a large part of the problem in Congress is partisan rhetoric. He made a concerted effort to minimize his use of potentially inflammatory language and I think it helped him and those in the audience.
By the way, Mayor Hallman held forth, initially just to provide an introduction to the Congressman, about Tempe's property taxes for a full half hour before Mr. Schweikert finally took the floor. Trying to explain some of the concepts related to Tempe's finances and property taxes, Hallman explained his goal of being able to stabilize the property tax system for the city before he leaves office.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that Hallman grew noticeably defensive when challenged by questions from the audience. Schweikert, on the other hand, remained warmly gracious throughout the time he was peppered with even more pointed questioning.