by Sandra Tobias, cross posted from Blue Louisa
Over the past 18 months, Congressman Dave Brat (R, VA07) has been heavily criticized by his constituents for being inaccessible and unresponsive. This condemnation came to a head last Friday during an event at Brat’s campaign headquarters. Constituents on Brat’s email distribution list had been invited to and issued tickets for the event which was described as an “open house” and “birthday celebration” for him. However, several attendees were denied admission and/or asked to leave the event. No explanation was provided by Brat’s staff as to why these constituents were refused access to their Representative.
Testimonials from a few such folks were posted on social media, and a certain level of uproar ensued. On Monday, I contacted Brat’s office and the woman who took my call refused to “get into it” with me about what happened on Friday. When I politely pressed her about why ticket-holders were told to leave, she said “because we know who you are.” Does that mean Brat’s staff refused access to those it assumed had not donated money or time to Brat’s campaigns, and thus are unworthy?
Facing a great deal of negative comments from his constituents and remembering he is up for re-election in November, Brat has now set up “mobile office hours” to meet with some folks in his District over the next couple of weeks. However, there are quite a few caveats to his pseudo-invitation to voters:
• In each County in VA07, Brat will hold a mere 90 minutes of office hours.
• People can request an appointment to discuss an item currently before Congress, or to request assistance with a federal agency.
• Individuals/groups with the same general concern may be seen together.
• Appointments are limited to 10 minutes in duration.
• No audio or video recordings of meetings are permitted.
• After an appointment is requested, Brat’s staff will let you know if and when you can arrive for a meeting.
So, let’s boil this down. Congressman Brat will meet with 9 individuals/groups (90 minutes of office hours / 10 minutes each) in each County. Nine. How the lucky nine are chosen is a mystery – Brat’s email makes no mention of this. Is it first-come, first-served? Is it by luck of the draw? Is it by who is the most vocal supporter?
Now, let’s say you are one of the lucky nine. You now have 10 minutes to address your one allotted concern with Mr. Brat. Ten. Don’t forget, though, you may not be having a one-on-one meeting; you may be grouped with others who have a similar general concern. Good luck actually getting your question posed, much less answered to your satisfaction. Whatever response you do get, remember to take good hand-written notes, as audio and video recordings are not permitted. What is THAT about? What is he afraid of?
What Mr. Brat thinks these office hours will achieve is unclear. Are they to make up for his holding no open, public town hall event in over 400 days, despite frequents requests for such events? Are the office hours to evoke an aura of transparency and accountability to his constituents? It is telling that Brat is only offering to discuss issues currently before Congress. Why would he refuse to respond to questions regarding his views on other items of local or national importance?
Some will want to give Congressman Brat credit for setting up these mobile office hours. Brat seems to count dropping by and chit-chatting with random folks at local businesses as ‘constituent meetings,’ so I am certain he will toot his horn loudly over these formal times now being established for meetings. However, remember what this publicity stunt really is: Nine people; Ten minutes each; One issue. If you’re lucky.