Saturday, February 11, 2017

In Which Rep. John J. Duncan Brands Me A Kook

Although I agree with him on the issues only approximately .5% of the time, there are a few things about Rep. Duncan that I have admired. For starters, I am told that he is a genuinely nice person. Also, he was one of the very few Republicans in the House to vote against the Iraq War even as the Republican leadership put the screws to him to let us invade Iraq. For another thing, he really does spend a large amount of time here in the District visiting with people at schools and senior centers and the like. These "meet and greet" events are billed by Duncan's staff as opportunities for constutuents to have the congressman really listen to their concerns and opinions.

Well, now we know the truth about Congressman Duncan's meetings with us, his constutuents. Or at least we know what he actually thinks of those of us who disagree with him but who want to be heard with at least as much respect as he gives the elderly ladies who meet with him to chat about their concerns over coffee and donuts - constituents who already agree with him most of the time.

In recent weeks the Congressman has apparently been inundated by citizens requesting a public meeting with him to discuss their concerns over the way the country is going. These voters simply want the chance to talk directly and publicly with their congressman. But the difference between the local voters with whom Rep. Duncan generally meets (privately or in small groups) and the voters who are now asking for a public meeting is that the former are likely to agree with Rep. Duncan on most issues facing our community and our country while the latter are not.

And because Rep. Duncan apparently holds the loyal opposition  in pre-meeting contempt, the requested townhall-style meeting is apparently not to be. Here's a snippet of Duncan's email response to those seeking to  hold a public dialogue with Rep. Duncan:

“I am not going to hold town hall meetings in this atmosphere, because they would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals
So he refuses to provide an audience for those who likely disagree with him on current issues because it might be a challenging, politically charged conversation? You know, the kind of tough dialogue that tough times demand? 
When contacted by the Knoxville MercuryDuncan's  spokesman Don Walker confirmed that the language in his boss's letter was Duncan's own, adding  “He is in East Tennessee almost every day he is not scheduled to be in Washington with floor votes. In Tennessee he visits with constituents in his office and in the community at schools, churches, ballgames, drug stores etc.”
Oooookaaaaayy, so he meets daily with constituents who don't challenge his views or votes in any significant way (after all, this is a guy who has won his seat with 70% of the vote. He's not very used to people disagreeing with him) but he refuses to meet with us "kooks"  who may not agree with him on certain, specific issues. This behavior on his part is akin to a congressman in 1970  refusing to meet with constituents who might be Vietnam War protestors because he thinks they're "kooks."  A congressman shouldn't simply refuse to meet with hundreds or even thousands of his concerned constituents when the going gets tough. I'm sure he'd rather shake a few hands at a kids' baseball game. But that's the easy part of the job he took on when he entered Congress in 1988. The hard part is meeting with and listening to groups of voters who are fired up and with whom he might disagree with the issues.

In the same response email  as the one calling many of  certain constituents "kooks" and "extremists," Rep. Duncan offered the voters who contacted him to ask for a publicdiscussion the opportunity to instead meet with him privately.. However, there's a reason that in this case, a public meeting is preferable. It's what his constituents are asking for and that should matter. Rep. Duncan shouldn't just blow off this request by a large number of his constituents asking for a public meeting.

 Town hall-style meetings are an important part of the democratic process. and a public meeting offers benefits that a one on one meeting does not. For starters, a private meeting lacks transparency. Since the meeting is held in private there's no record of what's said. After all, the media can't attend or report on a one on one meeting between Rep. Duncan and a single constituent. In a private meeting, a congressman can dodge tough questions with no real repercussions at the ballot box. In private, a congressman can make promises he can't or won't meet. Also, suggesting to voters asking for a public meeting the chance to instead meet privately is contemptuous. Rep. Duncan shouldn't act as if his constituents who want a public meeting should instead be content with an "audience with the pope" style alternative.

Holding town hall meetings is a very traditional part of being an elected official. It's not some nutty, "out there" idea to expect that when someone serves in Congress that person should be willing to have tough conversations in public. Holding public meetings with media present is an important part of the whole concept of sunshine laws. 
This is my 9 year old niece at the YUGE Women's March on Washington. So is she a kook too?

And about that name-calling. Well, in my whole life I've never heard a congressman refuse to meet with a large group of concerned voters while at the same time publicly referring to these voters in this rude, unprofessional way.

As for me, I will likely continue disagreeing with him almost 100% time on the issues. But who cares, right? What does a kook's opinion matter anyway?

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