Even in the most civil of power transitions, there’s an amount of uncertainty that citizens and elected officials alike must navigate. Not only do members of Congress need to recognize this uncertainty, but they also must ensure that they’re working to minimize it within their districts and states.
That’s why being present – being accountable to constituents – is so critical, especially in the current national political climate.
For as long as I’ve been in Congress, I’ve held frequent town hallmeetings. I believe in accountability. I’ve never shied away from speaking with my constituents face-to-face, no matter their political beliefs and affiliations, because people deserve to see what they voted for. They deserve to have their concerns heard and questions answered.
Is it easy? No. Is it always fun? I’d be lying if I said it was, particularly in the last few months. But it’s my responsibility to look my constituents in the eyes and answer their questions. It’s a responsibility I share with my fellow Republicans – and my Democratic colleagues.
The challenges of fixing our broken national health care system, reforming our overcomplicated tax system, and solving the complex and multifaceted issues within our immigration and national security systems are great. These problems affect every American citizen in a myriad of ways, and they deserve straightforward answers and solutions.
But workable solutions cannot be partisan projects, and difficult questions aimed at lawmakers cannot be partisan either.
The Tea Party protests that began in 2009 and grew substantially in the years following were not the partisan cries of a minority electorate indignant over election results. They sprung from deep-seated frustration with elected officials who neglected their districts and responsibilities to govern with fiscal responsibility and discipline.
Their demonstrations held every lawmaker accountable, regardless of party. Elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014 ushered in a conservative wave of lawmakers, and Democrats, as well as complacent Republicans, were swept away with the tide. The most telling example was the defeat of then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014.
The Tea Party movement was an honest grassroots effort and a true example of democracy that is rarely seen. And while recent protests claim to imitate the Tea Party model, they lack the authenticity that can only come from the desire to strengthen our nation and empower its people.
The protests and demonstrations at town hall meetings across the nation – including mine – have sprung from a place of political disenchantment and resentment. The movement’s guidebook shows that the group’s foundation is built on resistance, not reconciliation. It’s ambition is to agitate, not to discuss problems and offer constructive opinions. Most significantly, its energies are solely devoted to Republican lawmakers, while giving liberal lawmakers a free pass.
Republicans need to answer tough questions, but so do Democrats.
Nearly every weekend, I face hundreds of constituents and answer difficult, pointed questions. In the rare instances in which my counterparts hold a public meeting, they are spared such questions.
Rather than being asked whether they believe middle-class Americans who do not qualify for federal subsidies deserve to pay hundreds of dollars per month for health insurance under Obamacare, they receive accolades for obstructionist governing.
Instead of answering whether they believe it is right for Americans to pay more into federal social programs that are then given to illegal immigrants who don’t contribute to them, they commiserate with constituents who openly disrespect the office of the president.
The vitriol reserved exclusively for Republican lawmakers is unproductive and does nothing to heal the cracks in our society. It further divides an already divided nation, pitting neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend.
America’s problems are not partisan, and the solutions aren’t either. I will continue to provide open forums for my constituents to ask tough questions, just as I have always done, and I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to do the same.
Similarly, to those asking the questions – I encourage you to practice what you preach and pose those tough questions to your Democratic representatives as well. Party affiliation doesn’t absolve anyone from blame and it certainly doesn’t exclude lawmakers from being accountable for their actions.
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