Political Circuit

Mass. Democrats target Brown on lack of town halls

Senator Scott Brown has been the target of Democrats who created an online clock to call for town hall events. A spokeswoman said he interacts with the public in other ways. Senator Scott Brown has been the target of Democrats who created an online clock to call for town hall events. A spokeswoman said he interacts with the public in other ways. (Stephan Savoia/ Associated Press)
Globe Staff / July 10, 2011

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The Massachusetts Democratic Party has launched an online clock accusing US Senator Scott Brown of not holding an open town hall meeting since his election in January 2010.

The clock is featured on the party’s homepage:

“Since he was sworn in nearly a year and half ago, Scott Brown has not held an open town hall meeting to allow members of the public to ask him questions and express their concerns,’’ party chairman John Walsh said in a statement Friday. “Unless they belong to a business group, attend a campaign fund-raiser, or go to a Republican Town Committee meeting, Scott Brown doesn’t seem interested in listening to the concerns of folks in Massachusetts.’’

Brown has also held a series of public and private book signings for his autobiography, “Against All Odds.’’

A spokeswoman for the senator did not dispute the contention that he has not held a town hall meeting but said he routinely interacts with the public. Brown has held 220 events across Massachusetts since taking office.

“Senator Brown has met and will continue to meet with constituents around the state,’’ Brown Communications director Marcie Kinzel said Friday. “Right now, his priority is jobs. Today’s bad employment report is a reminder that we need to focus on progrowth policies that will put Americans back to work.’’

Late Friday, Brown’s Senate staff sent out an email highlighting his “busy couple of weeks,’’ including events from tornado-damage inspections in Springfield to a St. Peter’s Fiesta procession in Gloucester. It also included a list of his recent legislative activity, but no rebuttal of the specific town hall criticism.

Since taking office, Brown has been selective in his interaction with the public and media, favoring speeches over question-and-answer sessions, ducking out of meeting halls before reporters can reach him, and using videos, press releases, and op-ed columns to disseminate his views in a noninteractive fashion.

The strategy has allowed Brown to control his message and minimize deviations as he seeks reelection to his first full, six-year Senate term in November 2012.

The Globe reported in late March that no member of the state’s congressional delegation had held a town hall meeting during the most recent recess, despite public debates about a US bombing campaign in Libya, the federal budget deficit, and the threat of a government shutdown.

Brown’s senior Senate colleague, Democrat John Kerry, protested that description, noting that he had held two town hall meetings in February and early March. Kerry has subsequently held three more.

The state Democrats said in their statement: “The upcoming August recess should provide an excellent opportunity for the junior senator to get out and listen to the people at public and open town hall meetings.’’ — GLEN JOHNSON

Chang-Diaz sees no conflict in dual redistricting roles

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz has two roles in the redistricting process.

Inside the State House, she is vice-chairwoman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, the panel charged with drawing new legislative and congressional boundaries that will determine the geography of political power for the next decade.

Outside the State House, she serves on the board of MassVote, one of several voting rights groups that plan to the pressure the redistricting committee by producing their own maps to ensure robust representation for racial and ethnic minorities.

MassVote helped sue the House Redistricting Committee in 2004 in a racially charged case that forced state lawmakers to draw new legislative boundaries and led to former House speaker Thomas M. Finneran’s conviction on a federal obstruction of justice charge.

On Friday, after the Globe called her office to ask about her dual roles, Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, filed a notice with the State Ethics Commission disclosing that her two positions may give the appearance of a conflict of interest.

But she told the commission, “I believe that I can faithfully discharge my duties,’’ without stepping down from either post.

In an interview, Chang-Diaz argued that, rather than being a liability, her position on the MassVote board should be an asset because she will bring an activist’s perspective to the Redistricting Committee. She said that viewpoint could help the Legislature avoid another costly and embarrassing lawsuit.

“One remedy that seems common sense to me is to have the watchdog at the table,’’ she said. She added, however, “If it did ever begin to look like MassVote would be a party to a lawsuit, I would recuse myself from the board at that time.’’ — MICHAEL LEVENSON