During the first half of the year, few of Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner’s constituents saw him in person.
Earlier in August, he visited Durango with fellow Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado Rep. Scott Tipton, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Since then, he has held town hall-style events in Colorado Springs, Greeley and Lakewood.
Before that, though, he had held no on-site town halls in 2017.
The senator has been meeting constituents in smaller, carefully chosen groups, but that’s hardly an adequate strategy in a state with more than 5.5 million people.
He has also held telephone town halls, but hearing a disembodied voice on the telephone describing the challenges of affording health care is not the same as seeing a person’s face, whether that face is anguished, angry, hopeless or happy. Postcards, faxes and emails don’t convey the same information, nor do they confer the same sense of responsibility. Constituents deserve to be seen as well as heard.
It’s hard for citizens to believe they’re being well represented when an elected official doesn’t seem to care what they have to say. Before the most recent round of Senate votes on repeal of the Affordable Care Act, he hadn’t told constituents how he planned to vote. While his “yes” votes were no surprise, many felt they had been denied the opportunity to engage with him on his reasons for those votes. Those who agreed with him wanted to vent about why healthcare reform efforts failed. Everybody wants to know what comes next, on many issues.
President Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp of people who spent their time in Washington and had no meaningful contact with people out in the hinterlands. That promise resonates especially strongly with rural dwellers who feel they are underrepresented and unheard. Rural issues often don’t match up neatly with party ideology, and the market forces that average out in more densely populated areas can have very inconsistent effects on small towns.
That’s why public engagement is important: It familiarizes a lawmaker with the on-the-ground results of government and reminds him that he represents real human beings, not political data points.
As Gardner heads back to Washington after the August recess, Coloradans have a right to demand that he not become a swamp thing and instead hold more two-way conversations with us.