Has a Central Texas congressman not hosted a “town hall” meeting for half a decade?
Democrat M.J. Hegar of Round Rock made that accusation about eight-term U.S. Rep. John Carter, the Republican she’s challenging to represent the state’s 31st Congressional District. The district, north of Austin, sweeps in Williamson and Bell counties.
Hegar, a decorated Air Force veteran, has promoted her candidacy with a video in which she says that she once tried but failed to land a meeting with Carter about lifting the ban on women to participate in ground combat. “We’ll show him tough,” Hegar says in the video. “Then we’ll show him the door.”
Hegar said of Carter in an Aug. 21 interview on Spectrum News’ “Capital Tonight:” “He hasn’t had a town hall in five years, and he’s kind of acting as if he wants to retire.”
We sought Hegar’s factual backup for her claim mindful that Merriam-Webster defines a town hall as “an event at which a public official or political candidate addresses an audience by answering questions posed by individual members.”
Christian Walker of Hegar’s campaign pointed us to a Texas Observer article describing a 2013 town hall meeting where Carter faced critical questions.
Walker also singled out a February 2017 American-Statesman news story quoting a Round Rock resident, Felicia Miyakawa, saying Carter’s staff had told her and others that Carter hadn’t hosted live town hall meetings since the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., at a public meeting with constituents in 2011. Carter spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer responded at the time: “I wouldn’t say that is ‘the’ reason, but it would be correct to say it contributes to the many reasons. Mostly town halls are not nearly as effective, and you can’t reach nearly as many people as a tele-town hall.”
One alternative: mass conference calls. The Statesman story said: “Many members of Congress prefer the safety of tele-town hall meetings, which offer interaction with constituents but in a controlled setting — essentially large-scale conference calls in which hundreds or thousands of people can listen in and queue up to ask a question — with no booing, no signs with clever slogans, no bad headlines, no viral videos.”
Carter held an hourlong tele-town hall on March 22, 2017, according to a Statesman blog post. More recently, an Aug. 11 news story in the newspaper said Carter had reached out to residents through Facebook Live events.
When we asked Carter about Hegar’s claim, he said that he’d held multiple events attended by people asking questions. “I’ve been all over my district now, for 12- to 14-hour days, which is pretty typical of my work in Augusts each year. I would say I’m way ahead of my opponent in the man-of-the-people category,” Carter said.
When we inquired into Carter’s formal schedule, we heard back from his office’s Emily Taylor. By email, Taylor listed four August events where, she said, Carter took questions from constituents on topics including federal pensions, Fort Hood and the legalization of marijuana. The events, Taylor said, were hosted by the Temple Kiwanis Club (Aug. 7), American Legion Post 133 (Aug. 14), the Military Officers Association of America (Aug. 17) and the Killeen Chamber of Commerce (Aug. 23). An Aug. 14 Temple Daily Telegram news story on the American Legion event includes a section headlined “Town Hall” stating that Carter “took a few minutes to discuss congressional business and field questions from the audience.”
We asked if Carter had held public town halls open to all constituents.
Taylor replied that Carter had hosted 25 telephone town halls in five years, the latest one on June 18. “The last four alone have reached 71,471 constituents,” Taylor wrote.
Also, Taylor said, Carter holds Facebook Live “town halls, where constituents can tune in online and ask real-time questions or submit questions on our website if they’re unable to tune in during the live event.” She pointed us to a nearly 20-minute Facebook Live that Carter held July 2, 2018. Such events are publicized, Taylor wrote, through Carter’s electronic newsletters.
Hegar said Carter “hasn’t held a town hall in five years.”
As Hegar maintained, we could find no evidence of Carter hosting a traditional in-person town hall open to all constituents any time recently. Yet he holds tele-town halls, makes Facebook Live appearances and talks at meetings hosted by local groups.
We rate this claim Mostly True.
Statement: Congressional candidate M.J. Hegar says U.S. Rep. John Carter ‘hasn’t held a town hall in five years.’