No amount of “constituent services” can make up for this one, giant DIS-service.
Sterling, VA| Barbara Comstock continues to assert that she can best help her constituents by meeting with small groups of no more than five people at a time. To be fair, she can probably do some good work for folks who visit what amounts to “Comstock’s Constituent Services Boutique.” For example, when a caller from the last tele-Town Hall mentioned how she was paying the full cost of being on the ACA exchange, despite being unemployed, the Congresswoman invited her to come into her office, saying, “We need to figure out what plan you’re on and see if there are existing subsidies that you’re eligible for that you could get.” tele-town-hall-minutes-2-21-2017-final
Assisting individual people with their problems is a great thing to do. However, among Members of Congress, constituent services are not an exception, they’re the rule. Every office has staff devoted to this issue, and it’s used for a variety of services, including nominating candidates to be admitted to West Point and flying ceremonial flags over the Capitol. Ms. Comstock is hardly alone in working to help people who find themselves needing a nomination, a letter of congratulation, or help finding their way out of any given bureaucratic labyrinth.
The question is, just how helpful are these services to the district at large, and can they take the place of a real, in-person Town Hall?
Consider this: at last night’s citizen-led Town Hall event, which Comstock declined to attend, the task of answering the audience’s questions fell to teams of constituent researchers. Though well-prepared for the job, these citizen researchers simply couldn’t answer some questions for which Ms. Comstock has never issued a statement, or voted on. If Ms. Comstock had been there, she could have answered for herself, and many constituents would have had the opportunity to get to know her positions better. These answers would have been amplified by the press and traveled through the news-wires to residents of the district at-large. In contrast, though a group of 5 people could try and spread the word about their meeting with the Congresswoman, the likelihood of thousands of people paying attention to their message is miniscule.
A Congresswoman who imperiously sits in her office in the Capitol and demands small groups of people take the day off work to make the long trip into D.C. for a 15-minute meeting with her to discuss their concerns or seek her help, automatically disqualifies many of the constituents who need her help the most. These are the people who were represented last night by Matthew Zellman, of Centreville, who approached the microphone and said,
“I’m here for the people who are too scared to come (and for whom it’s too dangerous to come). Centreville is diverse. My son’s friend has undocumented parents. They came here legally but were unable to maintain that status because the system is broken. My family is really close to them. They pay taxes, attend church, work hard; they’re about as American as anyone I’ve ever met. Do you consider those people to be criminals just by being virtue of being victims of our broken system? Do you support using our tax money to detain and deport and imprison them, and bog down our justice system? Or do you think they deserve a path to citizenship?”
Should Mr. Zellman have taken a day off from work to ask Ms. Comstock these questions? In fact, should anyone have to skip out on their job in order for Barbara to do hers?
Those seeking to defend Ms. Comstock’s continued refusal to hold a Town Hall do so by asserting that calls for a Town Hall are nothing more than a ploy by the Organized Left, posting statements to her social media such as, “We open the newspaper every morning to read about all the republican town halls across the country with matching signs, matching chants and matching behavior, laid out by a paid group of organizers, “Indivisible” with the goal of creating camera-ready chaos.”
Defending Rep. Comstock by casting aspersions on her constituents is not a good campaign strategy. The Washington Post, who aptly called last night’s event a “sedate forum,” wrote, “At times, the event on Comstock’s turf seemed more like a policy seminar than a protest.” In fact, it was never meant to be a protest or publicity stunt. There were no cardboard cut-outs of the Congresswoman, no empty suit hung in her chair, and attendees were strongly discouraged from bringing signs or chanting slogans. In explaining why she wouldn’t come, Ms. Comstock stated, “I think things could get partisan,” after criticizing moderator Todd Kliman for being a “Food critic from Maryland.” In reality, Mr. Kliman emceed the event with grace and aplomb, asking for a show of hands for opinions at times, and keeping the event moving at a good pace. In a span of two hours, 32 questions were addressed. In comparison, Comstock was only able to answer half that amount at her tele-Town Hall, which lasted almost as long.
By the event’s end, many attendees had a greater understanding of Ms. Comstock and her votes. Addressing comments directly to Comstock’s empty chair, Kathy Stewart, of Sterling, said, “Your votes on Education bills prior to and since [the Trump administration] are shocking to me, and I didn’t know about them,” and Matthew Zellman said, “Honestly I barely knew who you were before this last election.”
Having gotten as much information as possible from Comstock’s past statements and voting records, the audience stacked up their chairs and prepared to leave. As they headed out into the night, the first part of Kathy Stewart’s earlier question was probably echoing in their minds: “Barbara Comstock, when are you going to start legislating for us?”