If you type “define: representative” into google, you are given this definition (emphasis mine):
“a person chosen or appointed to act or speak for another or others, in particular.”
Seems pretty straightforward right? If you’re a representative, the job description couldn’t get much simpler.
Unfortunately for the people living in the 13th Congressional District of Illinois, Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) consistently struggles to get over this low bar, and routinely trips on the whole “speak for others” part.
From now until the 22nd is the congressional recess, a time in which Congressman Davis is required to be in-district meeting with constituents. If you follow him on social media you’ll see pictures of him doing just that. This is a markedly different approach than the one he took during the previous recess, in which after a day or two of posting sporadically about meeting with random groups, his page went silent and no further updates were given. I would say Congressman Davis deserves credit for being more transparent this time around, but if I’m honest, meeting with people and being open about who you’re meeting with is pretty much the bare minimum effort one should be expected to put forth. The fact that we’re only now getting that is less a cause for celebration and more a cause for acknowledgment that the minimum standards are finally being met.
This is also a different approach in that the congressman is actually meeting with people other than favorable groups and campaign donors. His staff frequently said that he met with “small groups of constituents”, but before this recess, there was next to no evidence that was true. It’s good to see him living up to that talking point, but again, does he really deserve praise for finally telling the truth after 4 months of lying?
As I said before, this seems to be the bare minimum effort someone in Congressman Davis’s position should be expected to put forth. Telling the truth, meeting with the people that live and work in your district, and being transparent about who you meet with is something Davis should have been doing this entire time. I’m glad we’re finally getting the bare minimum, but there’s still a tremendous amount of room for improvement.
For starters, when the congressman’s staff said “he meets with small groups of constituents” we had no idea how small those groups were. As those who were lucky enough to meet with the congressman will attest, the number of constituents per meeting was between 1 and 2.
Let that one marinate for a bit….In a district of over 700,000 people, a district in which hundreds of thousands of his constituents have been asking for a town-hall, Congressman Davis uses the limited amount of time he will be in the district to meet with 1 or 2 people at a time. Not only that, these lucky few were barely given the time of day, literally. Meetings were scheduled for 10 minutes. Weeks of calls, requests for meetings, frustration on behalf of those wanting to meet with the congressman, only to be given 10 minutes, and only if you were one of the few to be chosen at all. This is pathetically inefficient, and I honestly can’t wrap my head around the congressman or someone on his staff genuinely thinking this is a good way to maximize the Congressman’s time or an acceptable substitute for a town-hall.
Not only are these meetings absurdly short, Congressman Davis seems to be more than willing to make sure they are as uncomfortable as possible for those that don’t agree with him. According to several of those that met with Congressman Davis, he was rude, condescending, and seemed to get upset when the people he was meeting with spent too much time talking about their concerns.
You didn’t read that wrong, Rep. Davis was reportedly frustrated that he was unable to talk more in a meeting that was supposedly designed to help him understand the issues facing the voters in his district. This behavior is concerning but is made even worse when viewed in the context of a previous statement made by Rep. Davis in response to the numerous calls for him to hold an in-district town hall. According to Davis “we already know where he stands on the issues” and therefore he didn’t need to hold a town-hall.
In case it isn’t clear to you, and in case Mr. Davis or his staff are reading this, this is completely backward. The goal of these sorts of meetings, town halls, and constituent interaction in general SHOULD be to help the congressman better represent the people of his district. He could do this by focusing on listening to the concerns of his constituents, however, Rep. Davis clearly prefers to speak AT them. That’s why 90% of his appearances are on talk-radio, in front of a group he knows is favorable to him, or some other medium in which he can talk, and you are forced to listen. Even his tele-town halls are, for the most part, tightly controlled lectures.
These congressional recesses are specifically designed to help the Congressman understand the will of his constituency so that when he returns to DC he can make informed decisions using that information. If all Rep. Davis cares about is making sure he has enough time to regurgitate the party line, should it be surprising that all he does when he’s in Washington is vote almost exclusively (96% of the time) with the party?
Through his actions and words, Congressman Davis paints a clear and extremely unflattering picture of himself as a representative that completely misunderstands his role as a representative, and cares more about hearing his own voice than hearing and advocating for the voices of those in his district.
Congressman Davis likes to repeat ad-nauseum that it’s important to engage with people that may not always agree with us and that despite our differences, we need to work together. When push comes to shove, though, the Congressman seems to be unable or unwilling to take his own advice (see: his extremely partisan voting record).
From the sham tele-town halls to the pathetically inefficient meetings, his half-hearted attempts at constituent outreach fall far short of what the voters of IL-13 deserve. Call it what you will, ineptitude, laziness, cowardice, Congressman Davis clearly has a long way to go before he fits the definition of a true representative. Looking back at the definition, it’s clear that Rep. Davis is speaking for someone, but who exactly that person is remains unclear (just kidding it’s Paul Ryan).
Photo by St. Louis Public Radio