Adopt a District

By: Wanda Fisher
The Democratic Party, supposedly reeling from 2016, have been invigorated by the widespread opposition to Donald Trump and the prosecution of investigating the possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian Federation. And this month a new tactic was taken for a test drive. Wanda Fischer reports on Representative Sean Patrick Maloney rolling out “Adopt a District”-in Congressional districts where Republican Congress members refuse to hold a town hall while their constituents demand it. Democratic Representatives should lend themselves out to explain the controversial actions of this Republican Congress.

“This is our job,” said Congressman Maloney (D-NY). “It’s called grassroots organizing.”

After passing through the House, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), many Republican members of the House decided not to hold town hall meetings with their constituents. On May 8 in New York’s 19th District, freshman Republican Congressman John Faso chose to attend a fundraising event in Albany rather than meet with constituents in Kingston-the Hudson Valley city that once served as New York’s capital. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) of an adjacent district offered a novel response: He held a town hall in Faso’s district in his stead.

“Get out your phones, those of you who have Twitter,” said Rep. Maloney, of the 18th District. “put in the @JohnFasoNY, and type in, ‘Missing you in Kingston.’” Maloney paused before the crowd, which local media estimated to be about 450 people, and then quipped, “He’ll get the message.” The crowd booed.

Maloney then went on to discuss the fine points of the health care bill passed by Republicans in Congress last week. He responded to questions from the audience about pre-existing conditions, Medicaid and Medicare, and other issues related to the Affordable Care Act. He stressed that the ACA is still in effect until the Senate takes on the House version of the bill.

Maloney told local press that he had the “adoption” idea because his offices had been flooded by phone calls following the health care vote. He said that callers told his staff members that they couldn’t get through to Faso’s various offices, so they called Maloney’s instead. So, Maloney asked, why not explain, in a public forum, what the Republican bill would do, in its present form?

A spokesperson for Faso, meanwhile, criticized Maloney, saying that this was merely a publicity stunt on his part, and a way to insult the 19th District. Faso has always contended that he prefers to meet with “small groups” rather than large, town-hall-type meetings. Faso himself told The Daily Freeman that Maloney was “playing politics,” but that he “has a reputation for that.” Faso also had indicated that he hadn’t been invited to this event until late on Friday, May 5. He had spoken earlier in the day to a group of seniors in Kingston.

Last week, one of Faso’s constituents, Andrea Mitchell (not the NBC news broadcaster, by the way), had an emotional meeting with him and explained her many health care issues. Here’s how the encounter went:

Mitchell: “Do you remember me? Your wife was my school nurse.”

Faso: “She still is…”

Mitchell: “I have a brain tumor and a spinal cord condition and I was kicked off my insurance because of that, I need you to promise me that you won’t eliminate health care.”

[Faso reached out and gave her a hug.] “I promise.”

Mitchell: “I need you to take care of us.”

Faso again promised that he would. (That video above went viral.)

Then he went back to Washington a few days later and voted with 216 other members of Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act (213 voted against repeal).

When Mitchell appeared with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Maddow said, “That [encounter] felt like a conclusive moment,” and asked Mitchell how she felt about Faso’s vote.

“I’m crushed,” Mitchell responded. “I really thought that he would not vote to repeal and replace [the ACA] based on that promise. I honestly believed that promise.”

Mitchell went on to explain that due to her disability and condition, she receives insurance coverage under Medicaid, and she’s worried about the proposed cuts to the Medicaid program. “It’s a gray area,” she said, but she added that she’s “inspired by the activism” she’s seen since November, and that she believes “this vote will have a terrible impact on Congressman Faso.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NazgDPZ5hjA

Returning to the constituent meeting on May 8 with Representative Maloney—he told the crowd that he remains hopeful that other Democrats will take up the mantle and “adopt” Republican districts whose representatives are refusing to hold town meetings with the people they represent. “This is our job,” he said. “It’s called grassroots organizing.”

Faso appeared on a call-in talk show on Public Radio WAMC from 2-3 pm on May 9, the day after the “adopted” town meeting. He indicated that “there’s been a lot of distortion” about the pre-existing condition issue. He admitted that many people benefitted from the ACA, but many didn’t, and that the ACA is “unravelling around the country.” The callers identified themselves as living in his district; they also were, for the most part, civil and articulate—disagreeing with his viewpoint without being argumentative. One of the final callers thanked Faso for voting for the Republican plan, saying that the ACA needs “to go,” and that just taxing rich people isn’t going to solve the country’s problems. Faso expressed his appreciation.

In responding to Maloney’s “adopting” his district, Faso emphasized again to listeners of the radio show that it was a purely partisan move. He mentioned that just a few weeks ago, Maloney had reached out to him to work on health care on a bipartisan basis, and now, Faso said, Maloney acted in a way that would hamper that outreach.

While what will happen to Republican efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, given the fact that it now goes to the Senate, it remains apparent that these representatives from neighboring districts disagree wildly not only on how health care should be delivered, but also on how to interact with constituents. The concept of “adopting” a district may take hold in other parts of the country as Congressional representatives decide whether or not to hold town hall meetings. Or perhaps call-in talk shows will become the vehicle for reaching out to constituents.

What remains clear, however, is that Americans are confused about how efforts to repeal and replace the ACA will affect individuals as the Senate now takes over. We can expect more fireworks as the Senate begins debate.

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Wanda Fischer retired after a 40-year career as a public relations/media relations/marketing professional in 2014. During that time, she exclusively for not-for-profit and government organizations. She is a folk musician and has produced a CD called “Singing Along with the Radio.” She is an avid baseball fan and has written a soon-to-be-published novel about baseball.

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