February 20th, 2017 begins a District Work Week for the United States House of Representatives. It is considered standard, or at least common, practice that Representatives meet with their constituents during such a Work Week. A frequent way to meet with members of one’s district is to hold town halls, which in calmer political climates not many people attend. However, in these political times many Americans are clamoring for such town halls, for opportunities to connect with their Representatives, to be heard and I believe to be reassured – to know despite large or small differences on policy or politics, representative democracy is at work.
As we know, our Representative does not hold town halls and in past years this did not faze many of us; yet in this political climate it does bother many of us and we have reached out – we have asked Representative Hunter to meet with us, to participate in one of the most elemental aspects of our democracy. For what is more emblematic of the democracy we purport to be than the average citizen meeting with their voice, their emissary, to the federal government. Yet, despite of our efforts Representative Hunter has turned a deaf ear and has not scheduled a town hall, rather he has had his Chief of Staff speak untruths, insinuate that we are rabble rousers and belittle the activism which is alive and brewing in the 50th district.
As this excerpt from Sarah D. Wire’s article in the L.A. Times (http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-call-your-congressman-20170209-story.html) shows:
“Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter’s Washington office has had a slight uptick in calls from outside his suburban San Diego district, chief of staff Joe Kasper said, “but contact from within our district? Nothing has changed.”
Many Democrats calling are asking Hunter to hold a town hall meeting, a request that’s popping up in a lot of offices. Hunter normally holds at least two in-person town hall meetings a year, as well as three telephone town halls. Kasper said the congressman feels no rush to hold a meeting, especially if he feels it won’t be constructive. Some of the progressive groups have been mimicking the town hall tactics used by the tea party to oppose the Affordable Care Act in 2009.
“They’re doing it with the specific purpose of trying to create a public event which they can attend and agitate,” Kasper said. “We’re not going to adjust the way we do things just because there is a group out there looking to make a scene.”
I find it utterly fascinating that Mr. Kasper believes there has been no change in contact from within the 50th district. In the nearly 11 years that Rep. Hunter has been in Congress I have never heard that 80 people descended on his district offices to protest, carrying signs to boot – with the brilliant slogan “Duncan is Flunking” being used to express anything but support (http://escondidograpevine.com/2017/02/15/issa-hunter-protests-getting-bigger-better/). I also have never known that Rep. Hunter was presented with a petition of 500 signees requesting a town hall meeting (http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/comment/37162).
And speaking of those town hall meetings, I have been unable to find public records verifying the in-person town hall meetings that Mr. Kasper says Rep. Hunter holds. A local media outlet, the East County Magazine, has also been unable to find evidence of these supposed town halls (http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/comment/37162) and when East County Magazine contacted Rep. Hunter’s office regarding town halls, Mr. Kasper provided this highly respectful retort:
“He’s had them – I guess it’s just a matter of paying attention to the announcements. I recall on most occasions, groups or entities have hosted them, and it’s a matter of Hunter showing up. He’s also done them connected to job fairs he’s hosted.
And in the case of the current requests, he’s considering doing one in short order. But it all depends on what the schedule will allow. But if the schedule will accommodate it, it will be open to the public and not any one particular group.
Also, contact in the office has been routine. Almost every week, we receive on average 1700-2000 emails. Last two weeks we’ve been at the higher end but it’s within the standard window of contact. Same for phone calls. There are also a lot of repeat callers. We make sure that Hunter is always aware of the contact and feedback—and he said he’s not against doing a town hall if the schedule allows. But we are in session in DC almost 5-days a week through April. Next week is the only open week but he’s committed to engagements already—some several months out, that he’s unwilling to break. So, as I said, if the schedule allows for it, he’ll consider doing one and one thing you know about Hunter—he’ll listen and be respectful but he won’t take crap from anyone” (http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/comment/37162).
Just a quick note on the “we are in session in DC almost 5-days a week through April”, I guess it all depends on how one defines “almost”…. By my reading of the House calendar there are officially zero weeks between now and April when the House is in session for 5 days a week. In fact, all but one weekend is a long weekend and each week has only 2 required full days of work, the other work days are partial work days (votes end early or begin late), presumably to allow members to commute to and back from their home districts (https://www.majorityleader.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/2017-MONTHLY-CALENDAR.pdf).
The beautiful silver lining to this is that we are not alone, fellow progressives in the 50th district are speaking up, are pointing out the untruths and are pushing for a town hall (http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/east-county-voters-ask-hunter-hold-town-hall-meeting-plan-weekly-protests-his-el-cajon-office). Let us add our voices and show Rep. Hunter as well as Mr. Kasper that we are here – we live in the district, we love our corner of this nation, we know our constitutional rights and we know that we as well as our rights deserve respect rather than the condescension currently being awarded to us and to our right to meet with our representative. As our forefathers taught us, no taxation without representation – representation is our sacred right.