On Thursday, May 3rd, Tom Teed, a Republican Congressman from the 23rdDistrict of Central New York, held a town hall in Enfield, NY. I arrived a few minutes after the meeting began, so I didn’t have the chance to submit questions to the Congressman in advance.
I attended the meeting because I disagree with practically everything Mr. Reed advocates and wanted to share my position with him in person. Making weekly phone calls to his office didn’t feel like it was enough. I also disagree with the way he conceptualizes his role as Congressman and how he speaks to his constituents, although I think he is very smart, or clever. A large majority of the crowd also seemed opposed to Reed’s positions on the issues discussed. Enfield is a small town and I wondered if Mr. Reed expected more people would be there who agreed with him.
The Congressman gave about a fifteen minute introductory talk, highlighting the “good news” (my label) of the Trump administration. Then came the questions. One was whether he agreed with the proposal to arm teachers. He said he did not think teachers should be armed, unless they underwent training to become a police officer. This is one policy position where I agree with him. He went on to say he favored having armed resource officers in schools. But when pressed to go further, for example to come out against large magazines or against rifles made for warfare, not hunting, he said he opposed such restrictions on second amendment rights.
Reed asked if there were any students in the audience who would like to speak about arming teachers. A young man raised his hand and was invited to the front of the gathering to share the microphone with Reed. This illustrates one of the Congressman’s tactics. He invites someone to speak and asks questions, sometimes going into small points of a policy proposal, making him look interested and engaged in a sincere dialogue. But often, this becomes merely a way to listen for ways to divert or counter the point being made by a constituent.
As it turns out, the student was not from a high school but Cornell. The student said resource officers might help in schools, but what about in universities or waffle houses or concerts? He asked why Reed opposed requiring that gun owners be licensed. Most states do not require such licenses. We need a license to drive a car (or to fish, teach, hunt, etc.)—why not require one to own a gun? Reed said the second amendment made owning guns a right; driving a car is not a right guaranteed in the constitution. The student brought up that even to have a rally or demonstration, you need a permit, and public speech is guaranteed under the constitution. Is owning a gun more privileged than speech?
This led to another tactic Reed and other Republicans like to use—exaggerating or catastrophizing, to drum up the fears of those who support him. He said something to the tune of “I do not agree with repealing the second amendment.” No one argued the second amendment should be repealed. When this was pointed out to him, Reed went to another favorite position—This is my position. We will just have to agree to disagree. I have been very clear about this. But, if he is going to fall back on his historical positions when confronted by constituent opposition, then his coming to the town hall, where his public aim is to listen to and learn from voters what they need, is clearly revealed as a sham. He might listen but he certainly does not hear.
I was surprised the Mueller investigation didn’t come up at the town hall. It was certainly one of several topics on my mind when I decided to attend. According to the New York State of Politics blog, during an interview about the questions Mueller might want to ask Trump that were leaked last week by the New York Times, Reed said the Mueller investigation should be allowed to take its course. Anyone found by the special counsel to have engaged in wrongdoing should be held “accountable.” “At the end of the day, that’s what we should be doing and focusing on.”
At one point, and I am sorry that I can’t remember the context, Mr. Reed repeated his position that people who act wrongly should be held accountable. I wish I had the chance to ask Mr. Reed: Does that include the President and members of Congress from your own party who attack the FBI for investigating the Russia connection or who attack the Mueller investigation as “disgraceful,” a “witch hunt”? And who attack the personal integrity of Mueller himself, as well as Rosenstein and Sessions, and who call for all three to be fired—Mueller and Rosenstein for not being Republicans (which they are) and Sessions, the Attorney General of the US, for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation and not putting the President’s interests before that of this country?
This is wrongdoing enacted in public. This is the President violating principles at the center of our constitutional government, namely separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of the government. This is the President directly interfering in an investigation. And all of it is happening not in secret, but in our faces.
If you, Mr. Reed, think wrongdoing should be punished. If you think the investigation needs to proceed and the constitution, and the rule of law, to be honored and protected, why don’t you speak up against not only the President, but the GOP Congresspeople who follow his lead on the subject? This is your job. If you don’t speak out, aren’t you complicit in Mr. Trump’s actions that possibly undermine the rule of law in our nation and, thus, someone who needs to be held accountable?
What I’ve gathered from these town halls is that they are an important part of our modern Democracy. But they must be more than a public relations gimmick. They must be the reality of democracy, not the mere appearance. They must be a sincere attempt at conversation: for the politician, it must be a chance to not only communicate their own understanding of issues but also discover what best advances the well-being of constituents. For the constituents, it’s a chance to express and increase our understanding of crucial issues and discover how much the politician is not only an honest leader but also a true servant of the people.
*I noticed three of the candidates hoping to be chosen to run as a Democrat against Reed in this year’s election were present at the town hall. If there were more, I am sorry I didn’t notice them. They were Max Della Pia, Tracy Mitrano, and Linda Andrei. Also present was Amanda Kirchgessner, who is running for the NY State Senate seat held by Tom O’Mara in the 58thDistrict.
**Photo by Kathy Morris, from a demonstration last year at Congressman Reed’s office in Ithaca.