Last night Senator Heidi Heitkamp held a “town hall” on Facebook regarding the cost of higher education and student loan debt.
Now, I’ve been pretty critical of Senator Heitkamp for eschewing in-person town halls in favor of social media events. Part of my concern is that, on social media, Heitkamp can skip tough questions that she wouldn’t be able to avoid in question.
So it doesn’t surprise me at all that, when asked a tough question during her Facebook event last night, Heitkamp didn’t respond.
I wrote about it today at Watchdog.org:
The North Dakota State University student who asked the question said Heitkamp likely wouldn’t have been able to do that if the event had been held in person.
“I had hoped that she would at least acknowledge my questions and maybe say something along the lines of ‘we’re looking at how to fix the issue’. But to ignore my question was ridiculous,” finance major Bryce Heustis told Watchdog via email after the event. “I was not satisfied that she cherry picked questions. She even replied to people who didn’t ask a question and just said ‘no question, but I love the job you’re doing as senator’ or something along the lines of that. It is very unprofessional and unstatesman to ignore the tough questions.”
Heitkamp promoted this latest Facebook event as a venue for questions about college affordability and student-loan debt.
Heustis’ question concerned the cost of his health insurance. He told the senator Obamacare had cost him $61 per month in a plan he purchased through a program sponsored by NDSU and that he’s since replaced it with a more costly $161-per-month plan.
“What changes do you support to the ‘Affordable Care Act’ that will help lower the costs of healthcare for thousands of college students across North Dakota who are on the NDUS healthcare plan?” he asked.
Heustis said he submitted his question in plenty of time to get an answer.
Watchdog captured a screenshot of the Facebook thread. In it, Heitkamp appears to answer questions submitted both before and after Heustis’, sometimes responding to questions from the same person more than once, but the question about Obamacare didn’t get a response.
Here’s the direct link to the question and answer thread on Heitkamp’s Facebook page (screenshot here). As you can see, Heustis asked his question at the beginning of the event and Heitkamp ignored it. Though she did respond to several postings that weren’t even questions but rather compliments.
Heitkamp’s questions in general seem rather shallow, most consisting of just a sentence or two and maybe a link. Which is ironic given how Heitkamp has touted these events as superior to in-person town halls even going so far as to say that she employes two typists to keep up with questions:
Heitkamp previously has claimed she goes to great lengths to connect with constituents via social media, events she says are superior for that goal than in-person events.
“I think that social media is more accessible for the average North Dakotan,” she told the Minot Daily News in February.
She also told the newspaper the biggest challenge with social media town halls “was keeping up with the questions as they came in,” claiming she used two typists to input responses at a previous Facebook event.
Heitkamp clearly wasn’t trying very hard to keep up with questions last night. Of the 37 posts on the thread, 22 got a response from Heitkamp including some posters who asked multiple questions and received multiple answers.
The only tough question in the thread came from Heustis, and he didn’t get a response.
I asked Senator Heitkamp’s office for an explanation on how this town hall was handled but, as is always the case, they didn’t respond to me.