To be honest, there was nothing really unexpected about last night's “Open Government” night with Rodney Davis and Brad Halbrook. But that doesn't change how disheartening (a friend and fellow attendee used the word soul sucking) the evening was.

The Harold and Jean Miner Theatre at Parkland was a great venue, intimate enough to be face to face with those on stage, but large enough to accommodate a crowd. Unfortunately seats weren’t quite filled, but I know from the finagling I did to make it there, it’s not an easy task to make it to such an event on a Monday evening.

What ensued in the allotted hour and a half was a series of avoidances, an astonishing amount of ignorance, repetition of a host of tired talking points, and the coining of a few new stock phrases that we will surely be hearing on the regular now. I’m not going to offer a blow by blow of the Q&A, though if you’re looking for that type of thing I would check out the Twitter threads from The News-Gazette and Mark Maxwell of WCIA, both of which do a bit of fact checking along the way.

The audience was definitely skewed to the left, despite a smattering of Davis supporters, and was quite vocal — from groans in response to all of the expected tropes trotted out by Davis and the bewildering lack of knowledge Halbrook had of anything going on in his state and/or district, to loud rebuttals by a few. At times the shouts were a bit much, but the level of frustration was understandable as the format was meant to allow Davis and Halbrook to speak without any sort of conflict.

Moderator Scott Beatty of WDWS did a decent job, given the obvious constraints of the format. He was there to read questions and keep the event moving. I commend him for asking for clarification and directing the representatives back to the question at hand when they veered off into other territory. The questions he chose reflected the political positions of a majority of the audience, and they forced Davis to attempt to defend his often indefensible stances and showed the utter lack of preparation Halbrook had for such an event.

I don’t feel the need to waste a lot of energy on Brad Halbrook’s contribution to the evening. In a word, or two, it was shockingly inane. He was not aware of a student loan crisis, or the existence of white nationalism, and his response to a question from a woman who described being on the other end of a gun from her alcoholic father, was something to the effect of “Welp, that’s the price we pay for our freedoms.” It’s frightening that this person, who is sponsoring a bill proposing that downstate Illinois secedes from Chicago, is making decisions in Springfield.

A local group of concerned citizens put together a fact check flyer that they were handing out as we walked in the door, giving a list of typical Davis claims followed by his actual actions in Congress, and it was spot on the entire evening. A few recurring themes ran through his responses to questions on topics such as healthcare, gun violence, immigration, tariffs, and climate change: Pelosi and the Dems are to blame, he is super bipartisan (the 50th most bipartisan member of Congress as he repeated, ad nauseum), and anyone who opposes him or pushes back on him is under the influence of “political intoxication,” which is apparently replacing “vitriolic rhetoric” as his phrase of choice. 

Like I said, there was nothing unexpected about this evening, but I still left unsettled. I’ve heard all of this regurgitated by Davis time and time again in the media, but it was difficult to sit 20 feet away from him and hear him be so dismissive in the faces of a lot of people who just want honest answers, not the same lines they can repeat verbatim at this point. When members of the audience pushed back, rather than acknowledge those concerns he argued back and accused them of being politically intoxicated, equating their voicing of concerns with the dangerous rhetoric peddled by the leader of his party day after day. When there was a glimmer of agreement — he supports a federal “red flag” law that would provide a process to remove firearms from those who may be a danger to themselves or others — he falls back on the unfounded claim that gun violence is a mental illness problem, characterizing all mass shooters as mentally ill. It was exhausting and left me feeling, to continue this whole intoxication theme, like I was hungover. 

I don’t know that much was accomplished during the 90 minute event, except perhaps a renewed zeal for action as the 2020 election heats up. 

Photos by Steven Pratten