Another Giffords attack casualty: the town hall meeting?

I was told by the editors this was a good article but there’s no room at the inn over at PJM this week, so you get this in its entirety. It happens to the best of us.

Most pundits look at the voting records when comparing the performance of individual members of Congress, but a less-noticed aspect of their job description comes in the area of constituent service and interaction. To many, a good public servant in Washington doesn’t just bring home the bacon but answers that Social Security question for Grandma or gets the neighbor’s son into one of the military academies.

As part of that service, many members of Congress hold public interactions with the residents of their district. It was at one of these meetings she dubbed “Congress On Your Corner” where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot by a crazed assailant, Jared Loughner. Ironically enough, the attack, which killed six bystanders including a nine-year old girl born on September 11th and a federal judge, occurred in front of a Safeway supermarket.

There’s no question that the shooting has prompted even more heated discussion on the already hot topic of our national political discourse – blaming Sarah Palin, who was half a country away at the time of the incident, for having a hand in the attack proves this point – but perhaps the more chilling lasting effect will be to further close off our Congress from public interaction during the period when Washington is out of session. While the complaints of their voting public prompted many Democratic Congress members to eschew the usual round of summertime meetings or make them telephone-only, the threat of violence may cast a pall over the summer schedule this year. Being hung in effigy is one thing but getting shot is completely another.

Yet there are attempts to maintain the format in several areas, such as this Philadelphia television station or a Virginia state senator who changed his session from a telephone town hall to an in-person one in defiance of the Giffords shooting. The question, of course, is whether these will be exceptions to the rule.

Common sense would dictate, if and when a robust schedule of townhall meetings is resumed, that security measures will be stepped up with more of a law enforcement presence. This leads to the question of whether those who get angry and passionate about their pet issues will be discouraged from speaking up with the long arm of the law looking on. Since the TEA Party is continually miscast as a group of violent extremists – witness the quickly-formed bandwagon blaming the Giffords shooting on a member of the radical right wing – tolerance for perceived misbehavior at any such gatherings will be limited.

But the argument against any sort of crackdown is strong. Even in the midst of an anger-filled mob back in March when the health care bill was being passed and a number of Congressmen walked amidst the protesters in front of the Capitol, the worst incidents which (allegedly) occurred were verbal attacks on particular members who were the victims of flying spittle. Obviously at that moment a Jared Loughner in that crowd could have mowed down any number of elected officials and bystanders before Capitol police would have arrived for assistance.

Instead, we the people can look for an increase in those scripted, press-friendly events where the message can be controlled and interaction limited. Members of Congress may instead argue that their constituents are able to communicate easily with their staffers via e-mail or telephone and that they can have their concerns answered outside of a face-to-face meeting. That is, of course, if you don’t call into a voice mailbox that’s full, which happens quite often during those times one would most like to interact. And if you’ve had my personal experience with e-mailing my Congressman it’s likely you can expect a form letter in response well after the vote has been taken or the issue is moot.

Whether you favored Gabrielle Giffords’ voting record or not, by many accounts she was a stickler for constituent service. That fact may have turned the tide in her favor in November despite running as a Blue Dog Democrat who voted in favor of Obamacare but later voted not to keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House – she instead voted for Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Giffords only eked out a victory over Republican Jesse Kelly by 3,641 votes out of over 270,000 cast.

And whether you had that concern with Social Security payments, wanted to debate the health care issue, or was a neophyte politician who was just elected to her student council and sought to know more about the political world – as was the case with Christina-Taylor Green, the nine-year-old Tuscon shooting victim – the fact remains that the ability to speak in person with their representative in Washington face-to-face is a cornerstone of our republic. In Giffords’ situation, only the most extreme and draconian safety measures may have saved the victims, but they may also have served as an intimidating factor to those who simply wished to make their views known to her on a one-to-one basis.

While we generally identify with only our own era of history, it’s understood that political discourse has always been passionate and on four occasions our leaders have been slain by a madman’s bullets. But it’s a republic we remain, and we can’t allow the tragedy of Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting to place our government and its representatives farther from the people.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.

2 thoughts on “Another Giffords attack casualty: the town hall meeting?”

  1. If we lose the town hall meetings (and other ways to personally interface with our representatives) that will just be one more thing that the crazies have taken from us.

  2. CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER: March 1st National Townhall Meeting Day


    Please contact your Representatives, Senators and the President and mention the draft resolution (below) that Rep. Ben Lujan is considering for

    Thank you kindly for reading and considering this proposal..

    ERIC RADACK 505.820.7864

    CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER: March 1st National Townhall Meeting Day
    **To Honor Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other survivors, and the victims of the January 8 attack in Tucson
    **An Event of National Unity to Affirm our Constitutionally-guaranteed Rights
    of Free Speech and Peaceable Assembly through “CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER” Townhall Meetings to be held by every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate in every district across the U.S.A.
    ***A Celebration of a Free, Open and Civil Society

    TEXT OF THIS DRAFT RESOLUTION HAS BEEN SUBMITTED TO REP. BEN LUJAN, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Tom Udall and President Barack Obama by Eric Radack on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 3:31am

    CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER is a national townhall meeting that will be celebrated on March 1, 2011, bringing together members of the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and other elected servants of the people from state and local governments together with their constituents, in their home districts, towns and cities to exercise the constitutionally guaranteed rights of a free, open and civil society.

    CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER is established to honor the six victims and fourteen survivors of the tragic shooting near Tucson, Arizona, which occurred on January 8, 2011 during an open meeting U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was holding with members of her constituency. CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER honors the lives lost including those of District of Arizona Chief Judge John Roll and Gabe Zimmerman, an Eighth District congressional staffer, and the grievous suffering that is endured by those who survived the attack, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords who represents Arizona’s eighth Congressional district and two members of her staff, Ron Barber and Pam Simon.

    CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER is further established to celebrate the heroism of ordinary citizens who acted selflessly

    on January 8 to preserve the lives of the injured and to prevent the greater loss of life.

    CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER is also established to celebrate the empathy and expertise of local, state and federal law enforcement officials, paramedics and the physicians, nurses and staff of the University Medical Center in Tucson who have worked tirelessly on behalf of public safety and the care of the survivors.

    CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER holds in collective memory the lives of elected and appointed members of federal, state and local government that have been lost, while in office or as a consequence of their official duties, to violence.

    Whereas the Congress of the United States and the President are sworn to uphold the Constitution, and the rights guaranteed the people under that covenant; with special reference to the People’s rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press; and the People’s rights to assemble peaceably and to petition the government for redress of grievances which are enshrined under Amendment I;

    Whereas the tragic violence of January 8, 2011 targeted the lives of American citizens freely exercising their Constituional rights and the lives of public servants sworn to uphold those hallowed Constitutional rights and cut down in the commission of those Constitutional duties to which they were honor-bound;

    Whereas the People with their Congress and their President declare March 1, 2011 as CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER, a day of peaceful freely held and freely attended townhall meetings conducted by elected public servants in their home districts at such a time, and in such a place as will be convenient for those in attendence;

    Whereas the People and their representatives will pay homage to the loss of life and the suffering of the survivors of the January 8, 2011 violence; and to past victims of violence consequent to their official roles as public servants, by respecting one minute of silence at noon CST;

    Whereas the People and their Congress commemorate and celebrate Representative Gabrielle Giffiords’ annual gathering for constituents; the latest of which was tragically cut short, by declaring that the day of national townhall meetings on March 1, 2011 shall be known as CONGRESS ON YOUR CORNER.

    Written by Eric Radack, January 18th, 2011

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