On Sunday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) succinctly summed up what many people on both sides of the political aisle are thinking in regards to representatives staying away from their districts and avoiding public town halls during the President's Day recess.
"I understand why members of Congress don't like it," Christie said on CNN's "State of the Union." "But you know what? You asked for the job. Go do it."
Representatives across the U.S. fall into two camps: Those doing their jobs and those who aren't. Unfortunately, in Rep. Greg Walden, we have one who is not.
Some members of the local media have taken an apologist's stance for Walden's failure to hold a single public town hall in Bend in the past three-plus years. They have alluded to the fact that simply holding meetings with ANY constituents—even private meetings with select constituents (and financial supporters)—is adequate.
We disagree. In Feb. 16's "How to Rock a Town Hall," Walden's communications director Andrew Malcolm told the Source Weekly that Walden plans to hold at least one town hall in Deschutes County sometime this year. By contrast, Sen. Ron Wyden—who made the time to visit the Source Weekly last week, and who has an even larger district than Walden—held three in Central Oregon over the President's Day recess. While we are less concerned about whether Walden's town hall is held in Bend versus Sisters or Redmond, the plain fact is, local people want to hear from Walden right now. Perhaps more importantly, Walden needs to hear from them. Telephone town halls (like the one Walden held recently, fraught with technical difficulties) are simply not enough, and don't allow for true civil discourse.
Gov. Christie got it right when he also said, "Welcome to the real world of responsibility," during that TV appearance. In the real world of responsibility, our representatives make themselves available MORE OFTEN than once a year, to listen to the concerns of their constituents—whether those concerns align with their own values or not. In this time of political transition, when the messaging out of Washington, D.C. has been so poor, our representatives should not only listen, but also respond respectfully. They should tell us concretely their plans for health care and the replacement of the Affordable Care Act. They should share their vision for protecting both rural and urban communities from economic decline. Perhaps they will share their thoughts on immigration reform and other hot button issues.
See the pattern? Listen, respond, listen, respond.
Meanwhile, it is the constituents job to do the same—both intelligently and respectfully. We understand our community's concerns around a number of issues—not least of these, the policies (or lack thereof) of the current president. But to make those concerns heard, we should not descend into the depths that the Tea Party delved into a few years back, using a rowdy, unruly presence to overrun local town halls. No one should have to be called a "libtard" or a "conservative redneck" when they're simply trying to participate in the process of representative democracy. Let civil discourse rule the day.
Listen with the intention of understanding. Respond with the intention of building bridges. With that, maybe we'll all get somewhere in moving our country forward.
Now go do your job.