Jeff Denham’s (Robo) Townhall Meeting, By Bruce Frohman


Robot Calling?

On August 22nd, 2012, Congressman Jeff Denham held a district wide town hall meeting, as he called it. The meeting was conducted entirely by telephone.

The Mechanism of the Meeting

Prior to the “meeting,” a robocall was placed throughout the district. Those who answered the phone were invited to participate in the meeting by listening and could even ask a question. Those who wanted to ask a question had to hit *3 on the telephone and were put into a caller queue.

The meeting had a number of technical glitches as some callers were cut off and parts of questions were inaudible. One caller was “accidentally” cut off before a question was completed. Mr. Denham asked the caller to call back in, but how could the cut off caller hear him? The only listeners of the town hall meeting were those currently on the phone line!

A phone number to rejoin the town hall meeting was never provided and the robocall number did not appear on caller ID, so when a listener was cut off or dropped by the phone system, the listener could not easily rejoin the meeting. It’s an excellent system for getting rid of hostile callers!

One phone listener was able to call back and said, “I’ll bet you’re surprised I’m on the line again.” How she obtained the phone number is unknown as no phone number was broadcast and calls to Mr. Denham’s district office during the town hall meeting went to voice mail.

What Was Discussed

Nearly all of Congressman Denham’s questioners seemed friendly to the politician, asking him leading questions that coincided with his campaign rhetoric. A cynical person would say that the questions were planted. But some of the off-the-wall questions were clearly not set ups.

The most memorable question was about President Obama’s $700 billion decision about Medicare funding. A caller asked Mr. Denham whether he thought that President Obama “stole” $700 billion in Medicare money to fund “Obamacare.” Mr. Denham eagerly replied that a “theft” had indeed happened. In using such terminology, Mr. Denham essentially accused the President of committing a felony.

Another caller asked about Cal Trans taking homes for a freeway using eminent domain. Then, Cal Trans allegedly put its own employees in the homes with below market rents instead of building the freeway. Other town hall listeners were clueless about where or when this event allegedly took place. Mr. Denham provided a non-responsive answer, supporting the bashing of government in general without indicating any interest in the actual problem or how to remedy it, or even whether such a thing really happened.

Another caller asked why undocumented aliens may be allowed to work when legal residents can’t find jobs. Mr. Denham’s reply was that some things happen that he cannot explain.

Irresponsible Government Spending

Early in the town hall meeting, Mr. Denham went on a tirade about irresponsible government spending. Immediately after the tirade, he talked about a new government program for Veterans that he says he helped to set up. So, first he complained about government spending, and then he showed how he added to the spending.Mr. Denham touted how he has supported Veterans from day one. Ironically, Mr. Denham has supported sending more soldiers to Afghanistan. His position continues to add to the number of existing veterans and adds to the future cost of taking care of veterans, including those who have been sent to fight since he took office.

What a Thinking Person Notices

In reflecting on the town hall meeting, a thinking person realizes the disconnect between Congressman Denham’s rhetoric and reality. One of the callers said that Social Security trust fund money has been stolen three times. Mr. Denham did not dispute the assertion and did not display any knowledge of how the trust funds work. He made no effort to inform or educate the listeners.


The robocall Town Hall meeting will probably become a regular method of campaigning. As they gain experience, politicians will become more adept at running such meetings. While Mr. Denham’s performance was not encouraging, other politicians may discover the technique and use it to better advantage.

Mr. Denham deserves credit for trying to engage his constituents. Unfortunately, he lacks the ability or knowledge to engage in a constructive dialogue. His event was truly a negative experience for the thinking person.


Eric Caine
Eric Caine
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.
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  1. [ring]



    Hello, this is U.S. Representative Jeff Denham[click]

    (Gee, I hope that was a recording I hung up on; I’m probably getting waay too quick on hanging up on recordings)
    (Nope, must have been the Town Hall. Sorry I missed it. No, actually, glad I missed it.) –mike

  2. My sentiments are similar to Bruce’s. I participated once, not expecting much. But I thought I would ask Mr. Denham about the specifics of the regulations & safeguards he would like to do away with. He is skilled, as most politicians, and can tell quickly if one is pro- or anti-. In response, he went on a diatribe and I patiently waited to follow up, only to find I had been cut off after the quick opening Q. Like I said, I wasn’t surprised, nor did I have any higher expectation for the format.

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