Email #181: “firmly but politely”?

Your colleague Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer deserves some credit. He went home to North Dakota during the May Congressional break and held a town hall meeting. By his own account the exchanges were sometimes “heated,” but he remained true to his conviction that town halls are a necessary responsibility. One of his angriest constituents lost his temper during the event, but then apologized to Cramer afterwards, even calling him “courageous” and “open.”

Rep. Cramer also criticized members of Congress who do not show the same courage and openness:

“unlike some politicians who rarely hold town halls and hide from their constituents, what I do promise you is that I won’t shy away from you just because the topics are tough. When I hold town halls, you’re not going to get a panel of experts or a moderator with a filtered list of questions from politically friendly constituents, you’re going to get me truthfully answering your questions…. That’s what you deserve from your elected representatives.”

Like you, Cramer is a Republican incumbent who won his seat by a wide margin last November, and his district, like yours, is not considered vulnerable in the 2018 mid-term election. You also both have essentially identical voting records since President Trump took office. Many of the people at his most recent town hall were especially upset that he voted for the American Health Care Act, but he met with them all anyway.

Elise Stefanik, Rod Blum, Raul Labrador, Mark Meadows, Tom MacArthur, and a dozen other Republican Representatives held town halls last month too. You held telephone and Facebook events, formats that Cramer rejects presumably because they can be so “filtered” and “politically friendly” and allow Representatives to “hide” from “tough” questions.

But you do deserve credit for meeting with four members of Indivisible Lynchburg last week. Neal Sumerlin described the meeting in The New & Advance on Sunday: “we agreed on very little, expressed our disagreements firmly but politely on both sides … listened to each other and … no blows were exchanged.” This is the second time that I know of that you recently met with leaders of opposition groups, and I thank you for that. I hope it is the beginning of a continuing trend.

Although I appreciate your new willingness to meet with local activists, as your DC chief of staff said to me, a meeting with only four people is a very limited form of outreach. A town hall would be better. Sumerlin said that you “didn’t unconditionally rule out an open town hall,” but that you “expressed concerns about incivility and seemed solicitous of those of us opposed to [your] actions, fearing that we would be treated badly by constituents who opposed our viewpoints.”

That usefully clarifies statements you made in April to Staunton city council member Andrea Oakes when you asked her to vote against the council’s decision to request a town hall. According to Oakes, you wanted “to hold off until the attitudes are more relaxed” and that you are “just giving it a little time to settle” and for constituents to become less “emotional.”

I think we can agree that things are not settling and are not likely to in the foreseeable future. Sociologist Dana Fisher, director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, has been studying marches in DC for the past five years. She told the Denver Post in May:

“Many Americans no longer feel like their concerns are being heard just by voting… there are people who are getting involved and staying involved and coming out even if it’s every weekend. There’s only so many weekends in a row you want to march, but we have not hit that exhaustion yet… The data we have collected so far suggest they are not going back to watching TV.”

I appreciate your concerns about incivility. When I met with leaders of the Rockbridge Republicans on Saturday, they expressed similar concerns that some of their members might behave inappropriately at an open town hall.

That’s why we proposed a new town hall format, one that is limited to 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, all of whom would agree to engage in civil discourse in advance of receiving their tickets. Sumerlin and the others you have met with followed through on their pledges of confidentiality prior to your meetings, so I hope you will accept that as a building block for further cooperation and trust.

You DC chief of staff emailed me yesterday to say that he would follow up with the chair of the Rockbridge Republicans about the joint proposal. I take that as another promising sign, and I look forward to hearing from your office again soon.

Email #145: “listening to the people”?

Your colleague Florida Rep. Ted Yoho deserves some credit. Though his membership in the House Freedom Caucus places him further to the right than you, he still showed up for a town hall meeting with 500 constituents in Gainsville during the Congress’ two-week recess this month. It was Yoho’s second town hall this year. And while he said it was “the rowdiest crowd,” even one of his sharpest critics praised him afterwards:

“I appreciate him actually holding the town hall. I think that’s important. We don’t agree on a lot of things, but I’m glad he’s here listening to the people.”

I wish I could say the same of you. On Thursday, the Staunton City Council voted to “pass along a request by our citizens” for a public town hall meeting. Not only are you rejecting the invitation, you worked behind the scenes to try to prevent the council from even making it. When your staff noticed the item listed on the city council agenda, you personally contacted one of the council members to lobby her to block the decision.

According to Councilwoman Andrea Oakes, you are “trying, at this point, to hold off until the attitudes are more relaxed.” You are giving “the emotional state of the country … a little time to settle.” Oakes was the only member of the Staunton City Council to vote against the invitation.

Rep. Yoho didn’t try to influence the city council of Gainseville to prevent his town hall. He just showed up and did his job. I’m also impressed by Yoho’s willingness to change his position on an issue of shared principle. A local Florida newspaper reported:

“Yoho told audience members that at first, he didn’t care if Trump released the returns because it wasn’t something required by the constitution. However, when the anti-Trump activist visited his office to explain how suspicious Trump’s international business dealings were in relation to his presidency, Yoho had a change of heart…. this is the first time Yoho has publicly called for Trump to release his tax returns.”

I also have written to you about Trump’s tax records and repeatedly asked to meet with you to discuss his failure to release them, but all I have ever received is an automated email.

I never thought I would prefer a member of the rightwing Freedom Caucus as my Representative, but at least Congressman Yoho is willing to listen—and even once in a great change his mind.

You told Oakes the country is enduring “tense political times.” Your behavior is fueling that tension. Avoiding town halls doesn’t “relax” and “settle” “emotional” constituents. It infuriates them further. The Trump administration’s 100th day has passed. How much more “little time” do you need?

 

Email #105, Subject: “at all times fair”

As you may know, I moderated the town hall meeting held on your behalf in Vinton last month. You had been invited to attend, but declined, as did your chief of staff, Pete Larkin. As a result, the organizers asked me to speak on your behalf. I have been publishing a blog of my daily letters to you and so have been researching a number of your positions. I am far from an expert, but I attempted to represent you accurately.

One of the organizers thanked me afterwards for “setting the tone,” saying that “the context you provided, which while bracing, was at all times fair to Goodlatte.” For instance, after a number of questions about environmental protection, I said you were not a climate change denier. I referenced your statement from 2010:

“There is no doubt that the earth’s climate is changing. The earth and its climate are dynamic, and have changed throughout history even without human activity. We have reached a point where some experts concur that the earth is once again warming. Regardless of the reason, the debate over climate change should remind us that we should be good stewards of our planet.”

I noted how you equivocated on the cause, but acknowledged that you were starkly different from the President on this point.

Many more participants asked about health care. They seemed surprised when I explained that you had come out in tacit support of keeping the ACA’s ban on pre-existing conditions and lifetime limits, and that you supported allowing children to remain on their parents’ plans till they’re 26. But I also explained that you wanted a full repeal of the ACA Medicaid expansion.

Regarding your vote against Stream Protection Rule, I attempted to summarize what I thought was your position: while both issues may matter, you prioritize short-term jobs over the long-term environment. You said something similar recently in a letter: “We can have both a healthy economy and a healthy environment, but such a balance will not be achieved with costly, overly broad regulations that do not take into account the real-world impacts of their implementation.”

Your phrasing, of course, is both more positive and more persuasive. So why didn’t you say it at the town hall yourself? Or have your chief of staff or another trusted member of your office say it on your behalf? How does letting me speak for you help you? Your current policy of avoiding town halls seems counterproductive to your own goals.

Other groups in district 6 are considering holding town halls — whether with or without you. I know you would do a much better job of representing your positions that I can. So please advise me. If you decline to attend another town hall, would you like me to speak in your absence?

Bob Goodlatte Replies about Town Hall Meetings

Dear Mr. Gavaler:

Thank you for contacting my office to request a town hall meeting.  Your request has been received and will be reviewed.

Communication with Sixth District residents is the most important way I learn about the opinions of our friends and neighbors so that I can take their views to Washington.  I travel up and down the Sixth District frequently, listening to folks from every corner of the District.

I appreciate that you want to communicate with me, and I want you to know that even if I am unable to accommodate your specific request, that there are plenty of other avenues available for communication.  I hope you will take time to visit my website and sign up for my Telephone Town Hall Meetings and e-newsletters.  Telephone Town Hall Meetings provide me the opportunity to have live conference call style meetings with thousands of Virginians numerous times each year.  E-newsletters allow me the opportunity to keep you informed about what Congress is doing on a regular basis.

You are also welcome to email me through my website or call one of my offices to share your views on a federal issue or legislation.  If you need personal help with a federal agency, my office may be able to help.  Please contact one of my district offices to speak with a representative if you cannot get an answer from a federal agency in a timely manner or if you’ve been treated unfairly.  My staff also hosts regular office hours, called Open Door Meetings, in parts of the Sixth District where I do not have a permanent office location so that folks can get help in a manner more convenient to their homes.  The complete list of Open Door Meeting times and locations may be found on my website.

I appreciate your desire to stay in touch with me as the 115th Congress considers issues of importance to the United States.  Thank you for reaching out.

Sincerely,

Bob Goodlatte
Member of Congress