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Town hall meeting misses mark

More than 140 Mississippians gathered in Oxford Tuesday night for a citizen-organized town hall meeting, an event strategically scheduled during the congressional recess period in hopes U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly would attend and engage with constituents.

Kelly declined the invitation, as did Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker — a disappointing decision considering the purpose of town hall meetings as a public forum for discussion, but an unsurprising one given the recent pushback some Republican congress members have faced at town halls around the country.

Kelly spent Tuesday in a handful of towns visiting small groups of constituents, including the DeSoto County Conservative Coalition in Hernando, a “coffee club” in Olive Branch, the Rotary Club in Columbus and Red Hills Mine employees in Ackerman, with tweets and Facebook photos documenting the trip along the way.

Also on Kelly’s schedule was a town hall meeting in Noxapater, a baffling choice considering the tiny town sits at the very bottom of the district geographically, meaning most people within the district would have to drive an hour or more if they wanted to attend. Even more baffling is the fact that it was held in a room that holds roughly 40 people.

Facebook videos shot by a DeSoto County woman who wasn’t allowed inside show several police officers near the entrance keeping people out, then forming a loose barrier between Kelly and the small group waiting outside when he emerged from the building as if he were preparing to face a mob of protestors.

When asked about his strategy for connecting with his constituents, Kelly said he’s doing as much as he can, traveling from dawn until dusk to visit as many towns and counties as time will allow.

The problem is, Kelly works for everyone in his district, and not everyone is a Rotarian or coalition member or able to travel to a remote town on a weekday afternoon just to talk to their congressman. His job demands listening to the people he serves to best represent them, regardless of whether they voted for him.

Clinging solely to like-minded focus groups and calling it “the constituency” blatantly ignores that responsibility, a truth that speaks much louder than the words he might not want to hear.

Alex McDaniel is editor of the Oxford Eagle. Contact her at alex.mcdaniel@oxfordeagle.com.