Since 2014 my husband, Paul, has taken it upon himself to call our Congresswoman, Jaime Herrera-Beutler’s office every time a “noteworthy” act of gun violence takes place.
As a teacher and a parent, school shootings are an especially sensitive topic to him. After the shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, on May 18, 2018, he invited several other educators, including myself, to join him in visiting the Congresswoman’s office to deliver our message that something needs to be done.
I posted about my experience on Facebook that evening. Here’s part of what I said:
The response was pretty disheartening.
The three staff members there would not interact with us about the issue, or discuss the issue with us, but would allow us to fill out a comment card which, if we wanted, would be passed along to a scheduler to maybe set up a meeting,
That’s it. That’s all they did. When I suggested that it would be appropriate for the office of an elected official to have someone on staff who was empowered to speak about the Representative’s opinions to the public I was told I could fill out a card.
When it was suggested that there are people who would find value talking to the Representative who would be unable to fill out a card – because of fear, ignorance, or some other issue – we were told we could fill that out on a card.
When I asked what I was supposed to tell my students about the way democracy works…… you guessed it. Fill out a card.
The thing that gets me the most about this is that this wasn’t a SURPRISE! issue that appeared out of nowhere today. They have been getting these phone calls for the last FOUR YEARS. I would bet you cash money that at some point today, some staff member in that office acknowledged the fact that they would be getting another phone call from the person whose previous 50+ phone calls they had ignored.
Paul has visited the office several times since then, often bringing other concerned citizens with him. He has commented about how most, if not all, of the individuals who visit the office with him start out the visit upset about gun violence and leave even more upset about the lack of response and respect given by the Congresswoman’s staff to her constituents’ concerns.
Yesterday afternoon, there was an active shooter in our city. While the event was unfolding, Paul called and invited me to visit the Representative’s office with him. I agreed, in part because I had participated in a lockdown drill earlier that day and wanted to relay the experience to the Congresswoman while it was fresh in my mind.
After we arrived, we were asked to sit down to wait for someone to speak to us. We were maybe five feet away from the receptionist’s desk, so could hear as he was taking phone calls, some from constituents wanting to share their opinions with their Representative. After one phone call, Paul asked how these opinions were shared with the Congresswoman and were told that was an internal policy that could not be shared with us. Which seems very suspect to me, so I filled out a comment card.
I took a photo, so I could remember what I said. But I had to step out into the hallway to do so, and was just holding the paper, so it came out really blurry. It reads:
Rep. Herrera-Beutler’s staff is stonewalling her constituents who are trying to provide comments to the Representative. When asked how comments are relayed to the Representative I was told that the transmission of this information is internal policy and could not be disclosed. This is supposed to represent me and I do not know how that is possible if I have no guarantee or belief that the Representative hears my concerns.
We were in the office for almost an hour waiting to speak to someone (someone who never came to speak to us, for what it’s worth), so I had the opportunity to listen to many phone calls come into the office.
This is the second comment card I wrote:
While waiting to speak to someone about gun violence I had the opportunity to overhear the receptionist answer several calls with constituent concerns. Once, he asked for an address and was obviously typing into a computer. Several times I heard, “I will pass along your comment” with no keyboarding or writing taking place. How can I know that my comment is actually passed along or only given attention if your receptionist deems it worthy?
I wish that I could say that this stonewalling was just a case of a limited staff trying to deal with one pesky constituent, which would be bad enough, but it is more pervasive than that.
The last time Herrera-Beutler held a live town hall with her constituents was on January 17, 2017. I attended. After I left the event, I wrote a letter to the Congresswoman and posted the text to Facebook. In it, I said:
I was in attendance at today’s town hall meeting, but was not given an opportunity to speak publicly. I have three things I would like to say, one about the town hall itself and two points that I would have said had I been allowed the opportunity to speak.
Stonewalling CongresswomanAt the beginning of the town hall you stated that you understood if we felt the need to leave because of the weather, but that you were committed to being there until all questions were asked. Yet you stopped taking questions or comments at around 1:00. When you run town halls in the future you either need to actually be there until everyone’s questions and concerns are addressed, or you need to have a system that provides a fair system for taking questions from the crowd, rather than you simply cherry-picking the random people in the audience you want to hear from.
Since that time the Congresswoman has only held telephone town halls, in which individuals join a conference call and if participants want to ask a question they submit it to the powers that be and hope that it is selected to be answered.
So what is right: the ideas presented in civics and history that our representatives should take ALL of their constituents into consideration when making decisions and crafting policy? Or my “Representative” who entered the House in the Tea Party wave of 2010 and seems to cherry pick what constituents she listens to? I know that’s one of the questions I ask myself when I get my ballot each election.
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