By: Dr. Christine Eady Mann
From Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin to “birther” John Carter in Texas, Republicans have relied on voter suppression and voting habits to stay in power. The importance of communication between a member of Congress and their constituents is the difference between an informed public and a confused citizenry that is vulnerable to destructive manipulation. Dr. Mann and her group tried to start a conversation with Representative Carter to no avail. If Republicans are confident in their decisions, they should be able to explain them and where necessary, defend them.
In 1774, Edmund Burke said: “Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.”
Several months ago, I organized a group of about 40 friends and acquaintances with the purpose of breaking into small groups and visiting the office of our Congressional representative John Carter to discuss topics of interest. The idea was to have a dialogue with them through a series of meetings on specific topics.
We had a successful first meeting in February on the Affordable Care Act. A group of 14 women met with senior staff for about an hour. The meeting was emotional yet respectful.
Subsequent to that meeting, I requested a second meeting with another group to discuss a new topic. I was notified by email that the office would not be setting up further meetings with my “group” as they knew our concerns and did not need to hear any more. A request for clarification went unanswered.
As the office has an open door policy, I took a separate group for an unscheduled visit to discuss gun laws. We were greeted by an intern who graciously listened to our concerns, as the rest of the staff was out to lunch. All involved calmly related their concerns on this subject, and the intern took notes to pass on.
When the senior staff arrived, one staffer abruptly decided to end the meeting and told us to leave. She stated that groups like this would need to make an appointment.
I asked to make an appointment and was told that I would not be allowed to do so. When I asked why, she stated that I had been “disrespectful” to Representative Carter on social media. She would not provide an example of this.
Access to our government representatives is vital to our democracy. It is the right of every citizen to criticize their government. Dissent does not equal disrespect.
What type of message is Representative Carter sending to his constituents when his staff asserts that he does not want to hear what we have to say? Isn’t that exactly what he is supposed to do as our Representative in Congress?
The legislative branch of our federal government is the branch that is most directly accountable to constituents. It is the only branch that is elected directly by citizens. Unlike the presidency, where votes are assigned to electors, votes that are cast for our legislative branch are tabulated and representatives and senators are selected directly by voters.
As such, the legislative branch provides the most direct access for citizens to voice their opinions and express their concerns. Members of the legislative branch have the responsibility to listen to those whom they represent.
Sadly, in the hyperpartisan politics of today, those we elected to represent us seem to have forgotten this. It has become increasingly difficult for citizens to access their representatives in Congress. Members of Congress rarely hold public meetings, and instead, hold “Town Halls” that are open only to those who are willing to pay, or to those who are members of groups that are already ideologically aligned. Communications departments send form letters filled with talking points that fail to address constituents stated concerns.
We must make it clear to our representatives in Congress that this is unacceptable. We must insist that our voice be heard. And we must replace members who fail to allow us to speak.
Our Democracy depends on it.
Dr. Christine Eady Mann is a practicing physician from Cedar Park, Texas and a Congressional candidate for Texas’ 31st District. Besides having run her own medical practice in two Texas towns she is also a wife and mother of 3. Service is a family affair for the Mann’s as her husband works with incarcerated juveniles. Dr. Christine sat on the board of directors for the Williamson County American Heart Association and a volunteer to help at risk children. Find her on Twitter @DrMann4Congress
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