The Columbian reported that I have held “private” meetings for “screened constituents.” To set the record straight, I have held 12 public community coffees throughout the region and plan to hold at least one in every community in Southwest Washington. I arrange with local diners, coffee shops and community centers, and call thousands of people in the community to join me for coffee. We don’t filter our call lists by party. Democrats, Republicans, and independents get called. If you’re a registered voter, have a phone number and live near the event, you’re on our call list. Every attendee is offered coffee and the chance to speak. We don’t always agree, but everyone is respectful and the dialogue productive.
Some prefer “traditional” town halls, which I’ve also held. At those, citizens’ questions were interrupted by hissing and screams of protesters. A meaningful conversation was nearly impossible. When organized interest groups dominate the conversation — many from Portland, Seattle or elsewhere outside our congressional district — local residents lose.
With all due respect, my community meetings aren’t held to benefit Portland or Seattle. I’m trying a different format so Southwest Washingtonians can share their views directly with me. It has been a huge success. Perhaps the Columbian will recognize that these public, nonscreened events do encourage productive and open dialogue after all.
Jaime Herrera Beutler