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Fact Checker: Has Blum held 40 town halls?

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Introduction

“Back here in the district, where I live and return home every chance I get, one of the top highlights has been getting to know so many of you in my travels. I’ve held over 40 town halls ...”

Source of claim: U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, a Republican representing Iowa’s 1st District, in an Op-Ed piece published Dec. 31 on the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald’s website.

Analysis

Blum’s communications director, Keegan Conway, declined to provide schedule information about the congressman’s town hall meetings, but reiterated the claim:

“We are proud to have held over 40 townhalls in 2015,” Conway wrote in an email. “These events last usually about one hour in which Congressman Blum will give an update for 15 minutes and then open the floor to constituents for questions, comments and concerns. These events have been held at businesses, community centers, coffee shops, civic groups and other organizations throughout the district.”

Blum’s Twitter feed, @RepRodBlum, is chock-full of photos of the congressman with school groups, trade associations, veterans, Kiwanis clubs, Rotary groups and business owners and employees.

Last month alone, Blum toured Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, XL Specialized Trailers in Manchester, FarmTek in Dyersville, Paramount Oncology Group in Cedar Rapids and Grinnell Regional Medical Center. He also held a job fair and met with veterans in Dubuque and spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Waterloo, according to Twitter.

By our count, Blum met with small to large groups of people in Iowa at least 90 times in his first year in office.

But were those meetings town halls? The definition is subjective.

Time Magazine reported last month that America’s first recorded town hall meeting was in Dorchester, Mass., in 1633 and became a regular community meeting at the public meeting place.

As politicians started to adopt this type of gathering “‘town hall meeting’ came to refer to a forum for community participation on any topic,” Time reported.

Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa associate political science professor, said the audience at a town-hall meeting shouldn’t be prescreened.

“The idea of a town hall is that you take whatever questions are thrown at you,” he said.

To get an audience that is not prescreened, an event must be announced to the public in some way. So by these definitions, we will define town hall meetings as events that are announced to the public and open to all.

By this measure, most of Blum’s meetups in 2015 don’t appear to be town halls.

For example, Blum held what he called an “employee town hall” at Toyota Financial Services in Cedar Rapids June 19. That sort of event allows employees to talk with their congressman, but since Blum didn’t announce the event in advance through a news release or on Twitter, the public wouldn’t have known to come — if they were invited.

In comparison, Blum’s team put out a news release about three Coffee with the Congressman events May 23 in Dyersville, Maquoketa and Monticello. Those events weren’t called town halls, but meet the definition anyway by being announced and open to the public.

Blum’s communications team also promoted Blum’s Veterans Job Fair & Services Expo on June 30 and a Women in Business Forum on Oct. 14.

Conclusion

Blum met with a lot of people in 2015. The guy did ride-alongs with police departments, delivered packages for UPS and bagged groceries for Hy-Vee.

But it does not appear from reviewing Blum’s Twitter feed and news releases from Jan. 6, 2015, through Dec. 31 that he held 40 town halls, using the definition that events must be announced to the public and open to the public. It looks to be more in the 10 to 20 range.

But since there’s no formal definition for town halls, we give Blum a B for his claim.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/office holder or a national candidate/office holder about Iowa, or in advertisements that appear in our market. Claims must be independently verifiable. We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan.

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