Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nearly 5,000 join for virtual town hall

Phones across the 37th Legislative District began ringing at about 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday evening. Those who picked up were invited to join a “tele-town hall” with state Rep. Eric Pettigrew. Nearly 5,000 people opted to stay on the line, a record high participation rate for a midsummer town hall event.

Over the next hour, Rep. Pettigrew was able to take questions directly from people participating. By simply pressing *3 on their phone keypad, participants were placed in a queue where they had a chance to speak one-on-one with him. Everyone on the call was able to listen in to both the question and the representative’s response. Question topics covered education funding, transportation, health care and human services. One participant expressed concern about cuts to funding for gang intervention programs. Another asked whether tax breaks should be given to companies that outsource jobs.

Each year, Rep. Pettigrew holds a live town hall in the district, usually around the middle of the legislative session. These town halls generally draw a maximum of 250 people, but often attendance tops out at around 100 or so. While he will continue to hold the live events, which he says are an important way to connect with people, he says tele-town halls are a way of engaging a higher number of constituents, giving them the option to participate in a town hall without even having to leave their homes.

“I want people to know that I’m here to listen to them,” he said. “My job is to represent them, and in order to do that, I need to be able to hear their concerns and know about the challenges they face.”

Feedback from the event has been overwhelmingly positive. Those who did not have a chance to ask their question live had the option to leave a voicemail for Rep. Pettigrew, and he is now busy going through the voicemails and getting back to people.

The 37th Legislative District includes Rainier Valley, Madrona, North Beacon Hill, Rainier Beach, Mt. Baker, Leschi, Columbia City, southern Capitol Hill, Skyway and parts of Renton.