By Stephanie Hamann, reporter
The League of Women Voters of Columbia-Boone County hosted an annual town hall at the Columbia Public Library on Thursday. State legislators addressed people’s questions concerning everything from gun laws to the right-to-work bill. Missouri Representatives members Cheri Toalson Reisch, Kip Kendrick, Martha Stevens and Chuck Basye attended, along with Missouri Senator Caleb Rowden.
Lauren Williams, the library’s Adult and Community Services Manager, said more people attended the town hall this year than ever. According to Williams, 70 to 90 people usually attend. This year, dozens of people could not find an open seat and stood in the doorways instead.
“We had some people who were very emotionally engaged,” Williams said. “I think people are more informed. They’re doing a lot more of their own research.”
Community member Sheela Lal asked about elected officials’ accountability toward their constituents. She asked about elected officials disclosing the number of calls people make opposed to or in favor of an issue. During a question she asked Rowden, Lal said she knew of many people who called Sen. Rowden telling him to oppose the right-to-work bill, a bill Rowden recently voted for.
“It’s this idea of what power do we have as constituents if our elected officials are not actually taking our voices into account,” Lal said. “What does that mean in the greater scheme of what democracy stands for?”
In addition to those asking questions, others like Roger and Beverly Fries came to listen to what the legislators had to say. Roger said he expected the Republican representatives to face a more liberal audience, an expectation that proved to be correct as answers by Democratic representatives received significantly more positive reactions than those by their Republican counterparts.
“We wanted to hear all the different exchanges of ideas and find out the most recent developments and just to sit back and enjoy democracy at work,” Beverly said, also mentioning how most people took more than the designated thirty seconds to ask their questions.
Beverly felt that although she often heard audience members’ opinions, she did not hear enough of the legislators’ thoughts.
Throughout the event, audience members often interrupted the legislators’ responses with murmurs and shouts. Near the end, one man shouted “lies” repeatedly and left the room while Reisch addressed a question about corporate taxes.
The amount of left-leaning members of the community continues a trend of increased political engagement of those on the left in the months since Donald Trump’s election to the presidency last November. Protesters in cities around the country, including here in Columbia, have spoken against the new president’s recent actions and nominees.
The Missouri General Assembly will have hearings on issues such as elementary and secondary education, crime prevention and public safety and veterans next week.