Citizens to host Goodlatte town hall without him

Helen Jean Smith, organizer of an upcoming town hall event, speaks at the Women's March in Woodstock on the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration. Jake Zuckerman/Daily

Onboarding a wave of grassroots political activism, a community organizer set up a town hall scheduled for Saturday to hear from U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, fully aware he probably won’t show up.

Helen Jean Smith has spent the last few weeks asking Goodlatte to host a town hall or public forum to hear from constituents. Having hit a brick wall, she then began gathering signatures to petition the congressman.

“We did get a petition with 321 signatures asking him to hold a town hall,” Smith said. “We have not heard from him. Like everyone else up and down the Sixth District, we will have a town hall with or without the congressman.”

Smith said in the likely event of Goodlatte’s absence, six speakers will present information to educate voters on the congressman’s public record, and citizens will have an opportunity to speak, if desired.

These citizen-led town halls have grown more and more common in the area. In February, a Roanoke group invited Goodlatte to address his constituents at a town hall – he never showed.

Later that month, U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, snubbed a 10th District citizens’ town hall in Sterling in similar fashion.

Neither Goodlatte nor his spokesperson could not be reached for comment on this article, despite numerous attempts.

According to a report from The Roanoke Times, Goodlatte has not hosted a town hall in the district since 2013. In the past, a spokesperson for the congressman has pointed to several “telephone town halls” Goodlatte hosts.

However, Smith said among other things, the phone-in town halls lack face-to-face contact, allow easy filtering and favoritism in question and answer sessions, and are not scheduled with a set time, making them difficult to plan around.

In light of recent reporting by The Washington Post that Attorney General Jeff Sessions allegedly lied to Congress about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Smith said it’s critical Goodlatte takes action with an investigation, given his role as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“He’s just avoiding everybody, and it’s especially important that he does his job now after the revelations of Jeff Sessions,” Smith said. “…His committee – it’s incumbent on them to be a part of the investigation, not the stonewalling. I think the citizens of the 6th District have to keep up the pressure on him.”

Earlier this week, Goodlatte thwarted an attempt from Democrats to force the Justice Department to release records pertinent to its investigation of President Donald Trump’s campaign’s ties to Russia.

Because Goodlatte probably will not be at the town hall, Smith said, she plans to record the event to submit it to his staff.

The citizens’ town hall event will be held at the Charterhouse School in Edinburg at 7 p.m. Saturday. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or