Friday, July 14, 2017

We could have just run this post weekly for the past six months

Near the beginning of the year, we ran a post about how the incumbency advantage is based on processes and mechanisms that, at least on the Republican side, appear to be breaking down. Since then we've gotten dozens of examples. This recent piece by TPM's Matt Shuham is amusingly representative.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) dodged questions about Republicans’ health care bill on Tuesday, according to video of a tumultuous press conference published by a progressive group.
Poliquin had visited Nason Park Manor, an assisted living facility in Bangor, Maine, to promote his proposal to sell off federally owned buildings in order to fund a one-year cost of living increase for Social Security recipients.

A photo on Poliquin’s website shows him chatting with Nason Park Manor residents.

But video clips from the event posted by the Maine People’s Alliance, a progressive group, show Poliquin dodging questions about his support for the American Health Care Act, House Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill that would carry with it deep cuts to Medicaid.
“Representative, my son is not going to have a wonderful summer with a cut in Medicaid,” Walker is heard saying at the end of the event, as Poliquin scurries toward the door.

“Congressman, you promised to take a question from this constituent, would you keep your promise for once?” another voice is heard saying, as the congressman disappears to his car.

Walker told TPM by phone that Poliquin has a habit of ducking tough questions from Mainers.
“He does nothing open to the public,” she said. “We did have a town hall, and he didn’t show up.”

Slate’s Jim Newell described a similar response in May, after asking Poliquin for his thoughts on an earlier version of the AHCA: “He said nothing and made a beeline to the restroom,” Newell wrote. “Unfortunately it was the door to the women’s restroom that he had first run to, so he corrected himself and went into the men’s room. When he emerged several minutes later, he was wearing his earbuds and scurried away.”

That was July 12th. Here's what we were saying on February 8th.

Though, to be perfectly fair, Tennessee has always been a hotbed of leftist radicals
We have all heard the statistics about how difficult it is for a Congressional representative to lose his or her job. This is partially because of things like gerrymandering and spigots of campaign cash, but it also reflects a process that does a pretty good job allowing a reasonably competent and dedicated legislator to keep the constituents fairly happy in his or her district. A big part of that process is the maintaining of good relationships and lines of communication with voters and communities. Many political career has ended when voters felt someone had "lost touch with the people back home."

In this context, stories like the following from Talking Points Memo's Allegra Kirkland take on a special significance.
Constituents requesting that Rep. Jimmy Duncan Jr. (R-TN) hold a town hall on repealing the Affordable Care Act aren't being met with a polite brushoff from staffers anymore. Instead, Duncan's office has started sending out a form letter telling them point-blank that he has no intention to hold any town hall meetings.

“I am not going to hold town hall meetings in this atmosphere, because they would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals,” the letter read, according to a copy obtained by the Maryville Daily Times. “Also, I do not intend to give more publicity to those on the far left who have so much hatred, anger and frustration in them.”

In the first weeks of the 115th Congress, elected officials dropping by their home districts were surprised to find town halls packed to the rafters with concerned constituents. Caught off guard and on camera, lawmakers were asked to defend President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and provide a timeline on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Now, many of them are skipping out on these events entirely. Some have said large meetings are an ineffective format for addressing individual concerns. Many others have, like the President himself, dismissed those questioning their agenda as “paid protesters” or radical activists who could pose a physical threat.

Voters turning out to town halls are pushing back hard on this characterization, arguing that they represent varied ideological backgrounds and have diverse issues to raise. Constituents unable to meet with their elected officials over the weekend told TPM that they’re not attending town hall events to make trouble. Instead, they say they want accountability from the people they pay to represent them.

Kim Mattoch, a mother of three and event planner, told TPM that she tried to go to a Saturday town hall in Roseville, California with GOP Rep. Tom McClintock but couldn’t make it in. The 200-seat theater hosting the event was quickly filled to capacity, leaving hundreds waiting outside.

“I’m a constituent of McClintock and a registered Republican in a very Republican district—though I don’t really align very well these days with the Republican Party,” Mattoch said in a Monday phone call. “So I wanted to go to the town hall because I legitimately had questions for the congressman.”

Mattoch said the protesters waiting outside had a wide range of “legitimate concerns.” She personally hoped to ask her representative about how the GOP was progressing on repealing and replacing the ACA and why House Republicans last week voted to kill a ruling aimed at preventing coal mining debris from ending up in waterways.

Yet McClintock told the Los Angeles Times that he thought an “anarchist element” was present in the crowd outside his event, and said he was escorted to his car by police because he’d been told the atmosphere was “deteriorating.”

Ramon Fliek, who attended the McClintock event with his wife, told TPM on Monday that police “were kind enough to block the whole road” to make space for the overflow crowd, and that he overheard protesters thanking law enforcement for “doing their jobs.”

“If you look at the videos from the event, you can’t get any notion that it was aggressive,” he said. “There was an older woman with a poodle that ran after him and it’s like, okay, the older lady with the poodle is not going to threaten you. I understand that he might want to give that impression, but it was very pleasant.”
Admittedly, it is a long time until midterms, but possibly not long enough to repair this kind of damage.
And since we like to end the week with a clip...

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