You can run for office, but you can’t hide or be unavailable forever when you win an election and come home for what the U.S. Senate calls a “State Work Period” and the U.S. House calls a “District Work Period.”
I don’t think we’ve reached the point of deliberate unavailability in Idaho yet with regard to our congressional delegation — though the demands of anti-President Donald Trump groups and partisans upset with the GOP Congress would lead you to believe otherwise.
Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Raul Labrador have a track record of hosting town halls, though I am unaware of any scheduled this week. This is one of those “work periods” when the Idaho senators and congressmen could have decided to meet with constituents in a public forum about how things are shaking out for Idaho with Trump’s administration. But schedules matter.
Having once worked as a congressional staffer, I know that town halls and speaking engagements for these weeks are arranged far in advance because of logistical and, sometimes, security concerns. It’s been six years and one month since former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and 13 others were gunned down (six fatally) by a deranged man at one of her constituent meetings. That was a game-changer for some members of Congress.
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If you are a senator who just voted to confirm some of Trump’s more controversial Cabinet members, there ought to come a day when you are available to explain and defend votes and other decisions. Though “tele-town halls” can be one avenue if supplemented with other public interaction, I think it is admirable to strive for eye-to-eye and idea-to-idea live exchanges at times. Crapo learned that during his 200-town tour over the past two years.
That said, I don’t think anybody in the Idaho congressional delegation should agree to a hastily called public meeting with a high likelihood of it morphing into a politcal ambush. If you want to know what such an event looks and sounds like, check out the recent town hall of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
I support anybody or any group making the effort to show up at a town hall or other public forum to ask about a vote or decision — as long as they act in a civil manner. But when some faction takes over the meeting and causes it to end — that’s just selfish, and what’s the point?
One of the organized “Trump resistance” groups, Indivisibles (with branches throughout Idaho and the country), makes no secret that it is emulating tea party tactics used against the Obama administration. But having been on the ground to witness that from 2009 to 2012, I recall the tea party as being more organic and less orchestrated. If you were spending too much taxpayer money and ignoring their sense of the Constitution, the local tea party groups did not care about your party affiliation. They worked to unseat you.
I think the Indivisibles and other groups need to realize that Sens. Jim Risch and Crapo aren’t likely to drop everything and schedule or attend a town hall, or compromise the productivity or the security of their offices, or any other previously planned and vetted events.
John Sandy, Risch’s chief of staff, said the sergeant at arms of the Senate (after conferring with Sandy) recommended that Risch’s office be locked recently after a large group entered. On duty that day were staffers “that don’t normally (handle such a crowd),” said Sandy, who was also concerned that staff would be unable to pursue “case work” — making inquiries on federal issues on behalf of veterans and constituents who needed help with Social Security and immigration matters.
So, here’s an idea: There are plenty more Senate and House district work periods on the calendar between now and August, when both chambers often adjourn for the entire month. There are long stretches in April, long weekends around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.
That sounds like plenty of time and opportunity for our delegation to schedule big, secure venues where they can address the people they represent — whether those people voted for them or not.