Meeting with Stefanik, a critique

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro
(Photo provided by Rep. Elise Stefanik)

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro (Photo provided by Rep. Elise Stefanik)

Elise Stefanik, the Republican congresswoman who represents the Adirondack North Country of upper New York, a rural area covering close to one-third of the state, is averse to holding town hall meetings in her district. In fact, she has broadcast questionable reports that her staff members have been verbally assaulted and abused by constituents seeking to talk to her and pressing for town halls. Her alternative has been to conduct a series of small and brief group meetings in her regional offices with North Country residents to hear their concerns and complaints. On March 3, it was our group’s turn.

There were nine of us, activists representing Indivisible groups located in Hamilton County’s central Adirondacks lake region — Blue Mountain, Indian and Long lakes and Old Forge — and we met with Stefanik in her Glens Falls office. If anything, one has to credit Ms. Stefanik’s stamina and determination, since she saw groups the size of ours every 45 minutes or so that day, starting at 9 or 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., a veritable assembly line. She later reported on NPR that she had seen 100 people, i.e., 10 groups, during that eight-to-nine-hour period. Ours was the last meeting of day, for a total of 25 minutes, the same amount of time allocated to each of the preceding groups, and anyone might wonder what we all thought we were going to accomplish in so little time.

We went in with an agenda — to talk to her about the environment, the Affordable Care Act and immigration, and to express our concerns about the adverse impact that Trump’s and the Republicans’ initiatives in each of those areas promised for the Adirondacks.

In the rehash we conducted immediately after the meeting’s conclusion, we agreed that the congresswoman presented as personable and composed; some of us described her as charming, others as disarming. We had noted during the meeting those of her accomplishments we viewed, prematurely as it turned out, as helpful:

¯ Disagreeing publicly with Trump’s failed anti-Muslim ban — version 2.0 was just issued on Monday, March 6.

¯ Voting in committee against Betsy DeVos’ school vouchers, which, interestingly, just emerged today, March 7, on the House floor as HR 610.

All of this allowed her to characterize herself, again with little substantiation aside from the above outliers, as a Republican able to act independently from the Republican leadership’s dictates.

I assume that this is how she’ll present herself from now through the 2018 election. On NPR this past Monday morning, March 6, she patted herself on the back, noting that her decision to conduct these small cozy “tete-a-tetes,” as I term them, in lieu of large and noisy town halls, demonstrated her continued commitment to make herself available to North Country residents. She neglected to mention that these meetings could be boiled down to a series of polite conversations, where she responded with enthusiasm to the issues she could cherry-pick, viz., regional issues pertinent to the environment and immigration which affected the North Country and its economy, but deflected our larger concerns:

¯ Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency and preside over its demise. What does this mean for the Adirondacks?

¯ Trump’s executive order directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security to arrest dangerous and undocumented felons, which has allowed these agencies, in practice, to target any immigrant charged with illegal entry into the U.S. or with past convictions for misdemeanor offenses, hardly the dangerous felons that were the presumed targets of this crackdown. Will itinerant immigrant farmworkers in the Champlain Valley be next?

¯ The “repeal and replace the ACA” strategy advanced by her party. None of us knew that four days later, March 7, her fellow Republicans would announce their ACA “replacement” bill, the American Health Care Act, not a comprehensive, coherent program — Republicans don’t seem to work that hard — but a compilation of House Speaker Ryan favorites, including Medicaid block grants and health savings accounts, that I described in an earlier article (http://www.paddlingupstream.org/trump-in-the-north-country-dismembering-obamacare-its-consequences).

How many North Country residents will lose their health care coverage as a consequence?

A summary of the bill, by Harris Meyer, can be found at Modern Healthcare (March 6) (http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170306/NEWS/170309925?utm_source=modernhealthcare&utm_campaign=mh-alert&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20170306-NEWS-170309925).

Boom, boom, boom. How did the Republicans move so quickly on submitting a bill to repeal the ACA? The New York Times recently reported that the Koch Brothers and their Tea Party surrogates, whose political campaigns they fund, were getting impatient and wanted Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell to get a move on (“Patience Gone, Koch-backed Groups Will Pressure GOP on Health Repeal,” March 5). These are the same individuals and the same pressures that will keep Rep. Stafanik, despite her claims to the contrary, from straying too far on her own. Those of us fighting against the shredding of our social and environmental safety nets must always keep in mind that we and Stefanik are on different sides of that struggle.

At the close of our meeting with Stefanik, as she complained about the tumult that accompanied town hall meetings, we reminded her that some members of Congress had been able to withstand the anger directed their way, and to conduct civil and productive open forums with their constituents as emotions calmed (http://thehill.com/homenews/house/321090-gop-grapples-with-how-to-handle-town-halls). A Sun Community News editorial (March 1) advised Stefanik just last week to bite the bullet and hold a town hall meeting with North Country residents. We advised her that there would be adverse electoral consequences for her should she fail to do what her constituents were asking.

At our post-meeting assessment, we asked one another what we had learned. I would have liked to have said what I do now: that we served Stefanik’s agenda more than ours, that it’s her responsibility to hold town hall meetings with her constituents, and that it’s ours to send to Congress a person accountable to us, residents of the North Country, and not to the interests of morally bankrupt political parties.

Jack Carney, DSW, lives in Long Lake.

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