Thursday, February 9, 2017

According to Rep, John J. Duncan, I'm a Kook

I've always known I'm a bit of a kook but now I've had someone in power verify it for me.

My district's GOP Congressman, John Duncan Jr.  has been in office since 1988, taking over  from his father, John J. Duncan Sr. who had served in the same office from 1965 until his son's 1988 ascendancy, Another family member, Becky Duncan Massey serves in the Tennessee State Legislature. As you can see, this is a family with some clout in Tennessee politics. When Congressman Duncan speaks, people here in East Tennessee sit up and listen.

Although I agree with him on the issues only approximately .5% of the time, there are a few things about Rep. Duncan that I have admired. For starters, I am told that he is a genuinely nice person. Also, he was one of the very few Republicans in the House to vote against the Iraq War even as the Republican leadership put the screws to him to let us invade Iraq. For another thing, he really does spend a large amount of time here in the District visiting with people at schools and senior centers and the like. These "meet and greet" events are billed by Duncan's staff as opportunities for constutuents to have the congressman really listen to their concerns and opinions.

Well, now we know the truth about Congressman Duncan's meetings with us, his constutuents. Or at least we know what he actually thinks of those of us who disagree with him but who want to be heard with at least as much respect as he gives the elderly ladies who meet with him to chat about their concerns over coffee and donuts - constituents who already agree with him most of the time.

In recent weeks the Congressman has apparently been inundated by citizens requesting a public meeting with him to discuss their concerns over the way the country is going. These voters simply want the chance to talk directly and publicly with their congressman. But the difference between the local voters with whom Rep. Duncan generally meets (privately or in small groups) and the voters who are now asking for a public meeting is that the former are likely to agree with Rep. Duncan on most issues facing our community and our country while the latter are not.

And because Rep. Duncan apparently holds the loyal opposition  in pre-meeting contempt, the requested townhall-style meeting is apparently not to be. Here's a snippet of Duncan's email response to those seeking to  hold a public dialogue with Rep. Duncan:

“I am not going to hold town hall meetings in this atmosphere, because they would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals
So he refuses to provide an audience for those who likely disagree with him on current issues because it might be a challenging, politically charged conversation? You know, the kind of tough dialogue that tough times demand? 
When contacted by the Knoxville MercuryDuncan's  spokesman Don Walker confirmed that the language in his boss's letter was Duncan's own, adding  “He is in East Tennessee almost every day he is not scheduled to be in Washington with floor votes. In Tennessee he visits with constituents in his office and in the community at schools, churches, ballgames, drug stores etc.”
Oooookaaaaayy, so he meets daily with constituents who don't challenge his views or votes in any significant way (after all, this is a guy who has won his seat with 70% of the vote. He's not very used to people disagreeing with him) but he refuses to meet with us "kooks"  who may not agree with him on certain, specific issues. This behavior on his part is akin to a congressman in 1970  refusing to meet with constituents who might be Vietnam War protestors because he thinks they're "kooks."  A congressman shouldn't simply refuse to meet with hundreds or even thousands of his concerned constituents when the going gets tough. I'm sure he'd rather shake a few hands at a kids' baseball game. But that's the easy part of the job he took on when he entered Congress in 1988. The hard part is meeting with and listening to groups of voters who are fired up and with whom he might disagree with the issues.

In the same response email  as the one calling many of  certain constituents "kooks" and "extremists," Rep. Duncan offered the voters who contacted him to ask for a public discussion the opportunity to instead meet with him privately.. However, there's a reason that in this case, a public meeting is preferable. It's what his constituents are asking for and that should matter. Rep. Duncan shouldn't just blow off this request by a large number of his constituents asking for a public meeting.

 Town hall-style meetings are an important part of the democratic process. and a public meeting offers benefits that a one on one meeting does not. For starters, a private meeting lacks transparency. Since the meeting is held in private there's no record of what's said. After all, the media can't attend or report on a one on one meeting between Rep. Duncan and a single constituent. In a private meeting, a congressman can dodge tough questions with no real repercussions at the ballot box. In private, a congressman can make promises he can't or won't meet. Also, suggesting to voters asking for a public meeting the chance to instead meet privately is contemptuous. Rep. Duncan shouldn't act as if his constituents who want a public meeting should instead be content with an "audience with the pope" style alternative.

Holding town hall meetings is a very traditional part of being an elected official. It's not some nutty, "out there" idea to expect that when someone serves in Congress that person should be willing to have tough conversations in public. Holding public meetings with media present is an important part of the whole concept of sunshine laws. 
This is my 9 year old niece at the YUGE Women's March on Washington. So is she a kook too?

And about that name-calling. Well, in my whole life I've never heard a congressman refuse to meet with a large group of concerned voters while at the same time publicly referring to these voters in this rude, unprofessional way.

As for me, I will likely continue disagreeing with him almost 100% time on the issues. But who cares, right? What does a kook's opinion matter anyway?


  1. You need to voice your opinion at the ballot box.

  2. Another snippet:"Unfortunately, there is more anger in politics today than ever before. And we are receiving many very hateful, very angry e-mails and phone calls from some on the liberal-left side of the political spectrum."

    Not to mention that several town halls and open forums have been disrupted exactly as Duncan described. He issued an open invitation for you, Katie Allison, and anybody else who wants to talk to him to schedule an appointment and meet with him personally. So let me ask you a simple question. What can you accomplish at a town hall that you can't in a face to face meeting?

    And, in all fairness, he did not refer to all who disagree with him or all people all the left as kooks. He said he would not hold a meeting in a venue certain to be disrupted by kooks, etc.

    There's a difference.

    BTW, Nice to have you back!

  3. Rich, A town hall mtg offers many benefits that a one on one mtg does not. For starters, a one on one meeting is held in private so nothing is on the record. Also, in a one on one mtg a congressman can dodge tough questions with no repercussions at the ballot box. Holding town hall meetings is a pretty traditional aspect of holding the job of a congressman. It's not some nutty, out there idea. When you serve in Congress you have to be willing to have the tough conversations in *public.* That is, in my opinion, a very important part of the gig. It's a sunshine law type of issue.

  4. Those who are in the House of Reps generally have to start campaigning as soon as they get into office. As the next election is less than two years away. Absolutely, they will continue to court their supporters. It makes little sense for them to do otherwise. They'd be out of a job. It's up to constituents to figure a way to get to these politiciansand,yes, there will be heat from those who disagree when doing this. There is nothing in it for those who disagree with your beliefs to give you an opening to lose what they have fought to get. There are plenty of ways they can hear, read and see your viewpoints without compromising their positions.

  5. Katie -- I was so afraid when I saw the title of this post that your Congressman had singled you out as a kook, like some kind of internet troll. So I am relieved, in a small-scale way, that he didn't. But dismayed that he -- like so many others -- is too cowardly to meet with constituents such as you.

    I recently moved from Kansas (there for 17 years) to Rhode Island. Can't say I'm disappointed to be back in a blue state. But if I were still in Kansas, I'd be attending town halls and calling my representative and senators every damned day!

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