The proliferation of town halls has reached the point that one man asked essentially the same question of a single candidate at two separate events.
Here’s William Cobb at last week’s “Good Morning America” town hall with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton:
The 46-year-old Cobb tells Clinton that he served six years in prison for robbery and was released in 2000. “I worked extremely hard to restore my life. It was extremely difficult, though, because of 44,000 collateral consequences, many resulting from the crime bill [of 1994] you previously supported,” said Cobb. How much money would Clinton seek to secure for “efforts … aimed at restoring the lives of the people and the communities that have been impacted adversely by the 1994 crime bill”? he asked. Noting that she and her husband, Bill Clinton, who signed the bill, have conceded that there were “problems” with the crime bill, Clinton pledged to divert people from the criminal justice system and to address the unequal impact of the system on “people of color, particularly African American men.”
Last night, there was Cobb again, at an MSNBC town hall with Clinton. “Secretary Clinton, good seeing you again,” said Cobb. This time, he attacked the 1994 crime bill for its funding of prisons and law enforcement. “If you are elected president of the United States, are you willing to make billion-dollar investments and restore the lives of people and communities that have been adversely impacted by the 1994 crime bill?” Responded Clinton, “The answer is yes.” Cobb is leaning toward supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
In a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog, Cobb said he’d sought his appearance in the second town hall because he wasn’t “satisfied” with Clinton’s “canned” answer in the previous town hall. His goal, he says, was to get Clinton “on record” as “billions of dollars on reentry and post-entry programs.” That said, Clinton appeared little challenged by the question at the MSNBC forum, considering she’d already faced a similar inquiry several days earlier. Not that she appeared flustered the first time Cobb raised the question. Such is life on the town-hall-strewn campaign trail.
Cobb, who lives in Philadelphia, tells this blog that he got onto the “Good Morning America” set via his affiliation with JustLeadership USA, a group dedicated to “cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030, while reducing crime.” To get a spot at the MSNBC town hall, says Cobb, he leveraged his work with Community Legal Services, a group that provides legal help to low-income Philadelphians.
The do-over highlights the work that the networks sink into the production of these now-ubiquitous town-hall events. A lively and constructive session requires a diverse audience with interests across the slate of political issues and viewpoints. Recruitment involves networking with community groups, vetting the people and assessing their proposed questions. A lot more work, in other words, than merely inviting a candidate on set for an interview.