town hall Sen. Martha McSally

McSally’s last public town hall was in 2017 after frustrated voters held a similar “Empty Chair Town Hall” in Tucson.

A town hall is scheduled to take place this Sunday in central Phoenix, and organizers are hopeful the public forum will give Arizona residents an opportunity to question Sen. Martha McSally about her voting record on healthcare issues.

That is, if she shows up.

The statewide civic organization Honest Arizona is coordinating with the state-level branches of the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, Indivisible, and Arizona Health Care Voters to hold an empty chair town hall for McSally on Feb. 23. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, will be at the “Missing Martha McSally” town hall to answer questions on the Senator’s behalf.

A public rarity

This isn’t the first time constituents threw a town hall in an attempt to get McSally to attend a public discussion with voters. In 2017, during her second term in the House of Representatives, voters in the District who felt her public appearances were a rarity organized a town hall in Tucson and invited McSally to attend. 

McSally declined the invitation and told supporters during a tele-town hall that the event was “about trapping people in a political ambush for political theater.” Soon after, she announced plans to participate in a different town hall the same day as the one being held in Tucson.

Attendees questioned McSally during the 2017 town hall in Sahuarita, Arizona, about her positions on health care, immigration, education, and her loyalty to President Donald Trump. Tensions came to a head when McSally turned a question about protecting patients with pre-existing medical conditions from losing their insurance coverage into a dig at the Affordable Care Act, and she was cut-off mid sentence by a member of the audience. McSally would later vote for the AHCA, which undermined protections for pre-existing conditions.

The tense evening ended with a question from a nine-year-old boy, who asked if she supported Betsy DeVos as the U.S. Secretary of Education. McSally didn’t give a straight answer, responding that she, as a member of the House, did not play a role in confirming DeVos.

“I am not in the Senate. Thank God,” McSally told the crowd. She announced her first campaign to run for Senate several months after the event.

Town halls on the decline

McSally has not attended a town hall since the 2017 forum, instead choosing to hold tele-town halls only. Fellow members of Arizona’s Congressional Delegation have similarly cut down on public appearances. Reports by Town Hall Project reveal that by October 2019, Arizona’s 11 members of Congress held a combined total of  28 town halls, 19 of which were by Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona.

The frustration over McSally’s lack of communication that sparked the 2017 town hall has continued to grow among Arizona voters. These feelings were given a voice again earlier this month by U.S. Marine Corps veteran Joanna Sweatt. 

Sweatt wrote about her disappointment in McSally in an op-ed for the Arizona Capitol Times. Among many of the concerns listed was McSally’s tendency to keep voters at arm’s length.

“In Arizona, we don’t get to see our elected leaders every day. We lead busy lives, and unless a senator or a member of Congress holds a town hall, we won’t be able to talk to them one-on-one,” Sweatt wrote. “McSally, for her part, hasn’t held a town hall in nearly three years.”

A chance to face voters

All but five of Arizona’s Congress Members have held a town hall in 2020, and planners behind the upcoming Feb. 23 event are hopeful they can bring the number down to four. In a final push before Sunday’s event, a group from the event made their way to McSally’s office Tuesday afternoon to deliver an invitation letter for the Senator.

McSally Letter Delivery

Today we delivered a letter inviting Martha McSally to our town hall on Sunday. The date marks the three year anniversary of the last time McSally held a town hall for Arizonans. We certainly hope she comes! Event details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/181424326509122/

Posted by Honest Arizona on Tuesday, February 18, 2020

“I’m certain I’m not alone in wanting to ask you about your record over the past three years,” Honest Arizona member Pat Thomas wrote in the letter. “I, for one, am curious about your votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to allow insurers to sell junk insurance plans, both of which undermine protections for myself and other Arizonans with pre-existing conditions.”

The “Missing Martha McSally” town hall will take place at 2 p.m. on Feb. 23 in Central Phoenix. In the event of McSally’s absence, Rep. Gallego says he will be on-site to answer any questions.