My Stonewalling Congresswoman

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9 mins read

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:

It reads:

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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Michelle Hamann is an educator who lives in the Washington 3rd Congressional District with her husband and children.

2 Comments

  1. My name is Shari Hildreth, and I served as a Congressional staff member for many years.  In addition to a twelve year tenure with the US Senate, I also served Rep. Herrera Beutler’s deputy district director and then district director for eight years.  After seeing this post make the rounds on social media, I want to address the claims made by Ms. Hamman. Jaime’s current staff does not comment publicly on constituent interactions, but I’m retired and so I’m at liberty to set the record straight.

     It’s disheartening to read such a misleading accounting of how Jaime and her staff treats her constituents. When I was district director, the congresswoman met personally with Mr. Hamman, and he was able to share his views on gun control with her face-to-face. She also responded to him any and every time he called, emailed or visited the office. It is the congresswoman’s firm policy to respond to people who take the time to share their views. I’ve seen her emails, we had a constituent communication tracking system – and the Hammans’ claims that Jaime “ignores” him are verifiably false. 

    No, she does not support all the gun control measures he does, and I suspect this disagreement is what motivates Mr. and Mrs. Hamman to convey this false narrative that Jaime and her staff “stonewall” or “ignore” constituents. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Mr. Hamman was indeed a frequent caller and visitor to our office, and I don’t question his passion about curbing gun violence. On multiple occasions I would clear my calendar when he would come in without an appointment, and I would listen to his concerns and the concerns of his group, often for an hour or longer.  Other members of Jaime’s staff would also listen to his concerns. This is never mentioned by Ms. Hamman. 

    But the most important thing omitted by Ms. Hamman is the threatening behavior that Mr. Hamman consistently displayed toward our staff.  I say this as someone with two decades of interfacing with constituents, from very frustrated veterans on their last nerve due to poor VA care, to people impassioned by the Clinton impeachment proceedings.  In all my years of service, I never felt more unsafe around a constituent than I did around Mr. Hamman. He screams at staff while leaning in threateningly at them, all the while shaking nearly uncontrollably because of his intense anger.  He grabs furniture and shakes it. He would pound his fist on the desk of our receptionist, raising his voice louder and louder, while closing in on them physically. We often feared that he’d lose his temper to the point of grabbing or striking our staff, both male and female.  Had one of our staff gotten argumentative, I believe this would have happened. So you can understand why a staff who is justifiably afraid for their safety prefers comment cards over being assaulted.

    It’s ironic that someone uses a concern over public safety to become unhinged and threatening, and as a result make others feel so unsafe.

    After every visit or call from Mr. Hamman I found myself  having to counsel and console staff because we felt fearful and threatened. We contemplated calling the police more than once.  Mr. Hamman’s behavior was so disruptive and aggressive, that other occupants of our building would walk by our door to see if they needed to call for help.  While congressional staff do have an obligation to listen to and serve constituents, we have no obligation to tolerate threatening behavior, verbal abuse, or actions that make us feel as though our safety is in jeopardy.

    Additionally, I was also at Jaime’s January 17, 2017 town hall and I encourage everyone to read about it here: https://www.columbian.com/news/2017/jan/17/herrera-beutler-pushed-on-health-law/ Nearly every single question was from someone upset at Republicans.

    Anyone who was there, as Ms. Hamman claims to have been, and says that the congresswoman “cherry-picked” only those she “wanted to hear from” is just simply not credible. 

    In all eight years of service to Congresswoman Herrera Beutler, we spent evenings, weekends, and even some holidays going above and beyond to serve Southwest Washington residents. Nobody provides a higher level of service to her constituents than Jaime does. Whereas the current U.S. senators keep the doors of their Southwest Washington offices locked at all times, Jaime made sure our office was open almost without exception, 8am-5pm, so that any resident of Southwest Washington could come in for assistance, guidance, or yes – to blow off steam when they were frustrated by an important issue like gun violence.

    Unfortunately, Mr. and Ms. Hamman abuse that open-door policy, manipulate the truth, and use threatening and intimidating behavior to try to  force their views upon a politician they disagree with. Shame on them.

  2. I read the post above and the reply from Shari Hildreth. While my circumstance and experience are different from Michelle Hamann’s, my overall impressions of and interactions with the office Jaime Herrera-Beutler are not. I have written many times and out of those letters, I’ve received only one response. That response was to my questioning about impeachment and her vote on the issue of an impeachment investigation. Her response was nothing more than GOP talking points – most of which, I should add, were covered by the rules defined in the resolution itself. In other words, a thoughtless and really worthless response to an important issue.

    This apparent thoughtlessness and GOP bumper-sticker talking points was the same toolkit she brought to the last in-person townhall she held several years ago. This townhall was around the time there was debate – and GOP votes again and again – to repeal the ACA. Again, an important issue to which she appears to have no thoughts outside of what Paul Ryan may have handed out to the members on 3×5 cards. She fails to represent residents of SW Washington by parroting talking points.

    These days she does not hold townhalls outside of phone-in townhalls where the questions are controlled so she can manage an answer of sorts. These so-called townhalls are usually arranged by telephone with less than 24 hours’ notice. She does not represent her constituents by hiding in this way.

    I have voted against her and will continue to do so. We pay her to think, form her own ideas and opinions – not to simply repeat what the GOP in Washington DC tells her to say.

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