In a radio interview this past Thursday evening, Jon Russell, Republican Candidate for Congress in Washington’s 3rd District (WA-03), said that he has taken the initiative to arrange a series of Town Halls “from Olympia to Vancouver” during the current Congressional August Recess “so the people can speak”. Russell’s interview was on a Victoria Taft Show (KPAM 860AM Radio) that focused on WA-03’s current Member of Congress, Brian Baird, disparaging Constituents and refusing to face them. When asked for his explanation of Baird’s behavior, Russell offered that it seems like “a symptom of a Career Politician” whose “focus is him, not us”.
Meanwhile, where was Brian Baird? Well, he wasn’t on that Victoria Taft Show. On the same day as that show, he was in Toronto, Canada, giving the Keynote Address to the American Psychological Association Annual Convention. Now there’s a fancy way to duck confronting the electorate! And, what plans did Baird have for engaging with the electorate? When Victoria Taft asked about this, during her last interview with Baird, he said that he had changed to Telephone Town Halls. Here’s how those work, as reported in The Columbian:
- If you happen to be sitting near a publicly listed Clark County telephone line on the right day at the right time, your phone will ring.
- In order to avoid software problems, Baird’s office says, the exact date and time will be kept secret from the public.
- If you answer your landline, an automated message will ask whether you have a question for your Congressman.
- Press *3, and you’ll be asked your location and the subject of your question.
- Sitting at his own telephone at an as-yet-undisclosed location, Baird then will choose a name based on its location and the topic.
- There will be no further pre-screening, Baird said. After the call is over, the recording will be posted on his Web site.
As of this morning, the article that included the above description had received 184 Comments. The majority of them reflect the following Comment, from Larch Mountain’s Pam Benson, that was included in the article:
She said she realizes Baird disagrees with her on health care reform. But the lack of town hall meetings makes her feel angrier and more helpless, she said. “He’s supposed to be our representative,” said Benson, a purchasing manager for Portland Cascade Architecture and Engineering in Portland. “He’s supposed to listen to us, whether he’s on our side or not.” Benson said she doesn’t understand why health care reform is moving forward when everyone she talks to seems to oppose it. “We are not nut cases that disagree with this issue,” she said. “There are a lot of very well-informed people that are against this health care thing.” It’s enough to make a Republican like her paranoid, she said. “It makes me feel that there is a conspiracy here to screw up the whole entire United States,” she said with a laugh. “It’s just too much, too fast.”
Although I agree with Jon Russell, that Baird’s behavior on this seems like “a symptom of a Career Politician” whose “focus is him, not us”, he has been a crafty enough Career Politician to get reelected several times so its not surprising that he was, at least, aware of the tumult he had instigated back home. In what seems to have been a move aimed at stemming the tide against him on this matter, Baird hastily scheduled a Telephone Town Hall on Friday. And, today, Baird’s Website trumpets this, saying:
Brian Holds Telephone Town Hall Meeting with 6,000 Constituents
In this article, Baird refers to himself as “The King of Town Halls”. And he says, “Today was an incredible opportunity to talk with thousands of people in Clark County about what is on their mind, and how government can serve them better.”
You may be interested to know that when I came home yesterday, after my workday in Portland, I learned that I had missed out on this “incredible opportunity”. I found a voice mail letting me know that I had been invited to join in this Telephone Town Hall … at 1:01pm on a Friday afternoon. This morning, a 30 minute recording of the Telephone Town Hall was made available on Baird’s Website so, at least, I got to listen to that. For me, it served as another reminder that The Emperor (“The King of Town Halls”) has no clothes and it’s well past time for his Subjects (AKA the Constituents of WA-03) to point that out to him. Here are some of the “highlights” from the recording that you probably won’t get on Baird’s Website:
§BAIRD SPOKE WITH 7 PEOPLE! At the outset of the recording, he says there are 400 people on the call. Just before the next-to-last caller, he says there are 3,500 people on the call. And, as mentioned, on his Website he says there were 6,000 people on the call. BAIRD SPOKE WITH 7 PEOPLE!
§The key issues raised by callers and their frequency was:
o Health Care – 4
o Debt-burden being created by government deficit spending – 1
o Government programs not helping the mainstream – 1
o Request for Baird to have face-to-face Town Halls – 3
§This was a classic example of “Baird marketing Baird”. In starting the Telephone Town Hall, Baird touted the fact that he is a clinical psychologist. And, with almost every question, he first responded by giving his resume-points on the related topic … “I sit on X committee”, “I introduced Y bill”, etc.
§Likewise, this was another excellent illustration of what Jon Russell pointed out … that Baird’s “focus is him, not us”. A Career Politician, who has been in the same job for over 10 years, should be able to speak coherently on the issues. However, as our REPRESENTATIVE, especially after this long in office, he should have some interest and skill in extracting what the voters want. Here again, you heard a lot about Brian Baird’s views but NOT ONCE DID YOU HEAR BAIRD ASK WHAT THE CONSTITUENTS WANT!
Needless to say, it should be quite interesting to watch the continuing metamorphosis of this situation. One specific I’ll be watching for is Baird’s follow through on an offer made by one caller he did talk to. Nan Malin, Chair of the Pacific County (WA) Republican Party, was one of the 7 who got to speak with Baird. She told Baird it was a disappointment that he was not listening to both sides. Then, in response to his claims of anarchy and threats, she said “Come here to Seaview. I will host a Town Hall in my living room. We can disagree and still have a conversation. I will be your bodyguard.” Baird’s response was “I will take you up on that.” We’ll see. This is the same Brian Baird who told Victoria Taft that having the media participate in his Telephone Town Halls “would take some arranging” but that “it could be done.” So far, nothing has come from that implied promise.
The one part of this that I do have confidence in, as these circumstances continue to unfold, is the brave role that Jon Russell is playing. Of course, he recognizes that no matter what he learns from voters at the series of Town Halls he is hosting “from Olympia to Vancouver”, he is not yet charged with representing that in Congress. However, he is an elected official. Taking this action in response to the tumult instigated by Baird shows that he has the experience and maturity to do what is called for. Beyond that, this clearly demonstrates the leadership of one who has a heart to serve. With that in mind, my hope and prayer is that attendance at Jon Russell’s Town Halls will be overwhelming, both to clearly demonstrate that we appreciate the opportunity Jon is making possible “so the people can speak” and that this courageous “leadership of one who has a heart to serve” is precisely what we want and what we desperately need