Editorial: NC's congressional delegation should face voters, not fear them

Wednesday, Feb, 22, 2017 -- The volatile start to the congressional session has left many North Carolina citizens with questions and worries. Our congressional delegation should welcome engagement with voters, not hide from them.

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A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017; Editorial# 8128
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

If there’s one place you won’t find a member of North Carolina’s congressional delegation these days, it’s a town hall meeting with North Carolinians. It seems they’d rather be seen anywhere than with their constituents.

Earlier this week, for example, Sen. Thom Tillis along with 7th District U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, were being entertained in Laredo, Texas by U.S. Sen. John Coryn and touring the Mexican border. Rep. Richard Hudson is in Europe

So, if you happen to be one of the 549,000 state residents getting health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act and all the jabber in Washington about “repeal and replace” has you concerned, don’t expect a chance to talk with your elected congressional representative about it. While Congress may be on recess, there won’t be any opportunities to speak to them in person.

Barely six weeks into the new congressional session and already there was a not-so-tongue-in-cheek “lost” newspaper advertisement placed asking if anyone’s seen U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. “Please return Senator Burr to his constituents by way of a Town Hall meeting or other suitable gathering,” the advertisement pleads.

It’s not that there isn’t time for such meetings, it’s just that many in North Carolina’s congressional delegation, like many others around the nation, simply don’t want to face angry and confused constituents.

They’ve seen and read the reports of the raucous confrontations and are doing all they can to avoid those difficult scenes.

“As of late, it has become apparent that some individuals who are not really interested in meaningful dialogue attend town halls just to create disruptions and media spectacles,” Tillis recently wrote to a constituent who was seeking a public forum with the senator.

It is unfortunate when our elected representatives fear a conversation – heated or not – with the people who elected them. It is not an excuse to refuse to deal directly with them.

Rather than hide from people who are concerned about important issues – even if some are seeking a confrontation – the North Carolina congressional delegation should show some gumption and reach out. Burr, Tillis and other Democrats and Republicans, should schedule a series of town hall meetings around the state to address specific topics of concern – including health care.

Further, they can use the tools of social media to conduct “virtual town hall meetings” where our elected officials can respond live and online, to the questions and concerns of voters. These tools should be used to make sure that the broadest audience possible has an opportunity to participate.

When constituents take to writing “Time to Town Hall” with chalk on sidewalks outside members of congress’s offices, the message is loud and clear.

Traveling off to Europe, Texas or handpicking constituents to talk with merely avoids the necessary discussion of tough issues and breeds suspicion, alienation and distrust of government and elected officials. That is the toxic stew democracy needs least these days.

It’s time for our elected officials to listen to what voters have to say. At the same time, they need to face their constituents squarely in the eye, say what they plan to do and take the praise or criticism that comes with it. That is what democracy is all about.

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