Would you like to share a piece of your mind with someone who represents you in Washington D.C.? This Thursday that opportunity will present itself when U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway visits Brownwood for a town hall meeting.

The last time Rep. Conaway held a similar style meeting here the attendance was pretty low. Last October 17, during an election year, Conaway visited this area over the course of several days, including programs at several Brown County schools. His final stop here was the council chambers at City Hall, where he spoke with less than a dozen area citizens who asked questions about topics ranging from healthcare benefits to Social Security to government contracts.

Perhaps the low turnout at last October’s town hall meeting should not have been surprising given that just more than a third of the registered voters here even turned out on Election Day two weeks later. In one of the most widely anticipated and discussed statewide races of recent times, only 8,864 of the more than 24,000 registered voters here cast a ballot for governor in 2006 (that’s less than 37 percent if you’re keeping up with the math).

Brown County residents will get another chance to show our elected officials that they do pay attention to what goes on in Washington, D.C., at tomorrow evening’s town hall meeting - which will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Howard Payne University’s Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom. Conaway will take questions from the gathered audience as well as update voters on issues he’s facing in our nation’s capitol. Given the growing public discourse on the war in Iraq, border security and illegal immigrants and the possibility that our economy is steering toward a recession, Thursday’s meeting comes at a very important time, and the information to be shared will impact the majority, if not all, of us.

During last year’s visit, Conaway addressed specific questions from area residents which related to situations they each were facing. A local manufacturer asked how she could fairly compete against prison labor to win government contracts. Another question related to programs the government had in place to help pay for long-term medical care. Those are the type of questions that get a lot of discussion at the coffee shop or lunch counter, where most of the listeners can do little more than nod in agreement.

Town hall meetings like the one taking place Thursday give citizens the opportunity to speak face-to-face with their elected official who is actually in the position to take the matters back to Washington and work toward resolving them. It will be an opportunity to make sure that Rep. Conaway hears from a group who doesn’t live and work “inside the beltway,” but who face situations that may require the government’s help here in Central Texas.

Thursday’s meeting will take place in the Academy’s Constitution Hall room, appropriate given the topic. One would have to wonder what our forefathers, those who shaped the founding of our nation in the original Constitution Hall, would think about our track record of apathy when it comes to taking a few simple steps to learn about or participate in our democracy. Hopefully Thursday a good-sized crowd will turn out and change that record.

Bill Crist is associate publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at bill.crist@brownwoodbulletin.com.