Members shouldn't hide from voters
OP-ED by Rep. Rob Bishop, Politico
Roughly a year ago, Americans gathered at town halls to hear from their elected officials. But the people didn't just listen; they spoke up.
They weren't passive spectators. Instead, they let their representatives know exactly how they felt.
The candid exchanges went viral across the Internet, staying in the headlines for weeks. Americans sent a clear message that they were not happy with what Congress was doing in Washington.
These town halls showed that the U.S. political system is vibrant. But for some members of Congress, this political activism and interaction with constituents was frightening. In fact, some have been avoiding constituent contact at all costs ever since.
After those town halls heard 'round the world, certain members replaced them with controlled events. Others opted to avoid traditional town hall meetings entirely.
I can understand why some members may want to hide from their constituents. But it's not right. Just as Americans are demanding a more accountable and responsive government, less interaction with constituents is the wrong approach. Politicians should not hide from constituents.
The sad reality is Congress's structure now insulates and even discourages members from interacting with constituents. The typical congressional schedule has members flying back and forth to Washington every week. Votes typically occur late Monday evening and wrap up early Thursday afternoon. Most members then catch a flight home Thursday evening.
In the typical week, most Congress members spend more time in airports then they do meeting with constituents.
Members need quality time in both Washington and their districts to do their job well. This past year has shown that Congress members not only need more time to get input before a vote, but they also need more time to evaluate the results of their actions after each vote. Effective time in the district should be a priority — not an afterthought.
In addition, more time at home is likely to offer Congress a dose of reality that is often missing today.
Government can ensure citizens' liberty by increasing their voice in government. This cannot be accomplished by policy changes alone but through organizational changes to Congress to create greater member-constituent interaction.
Usually, I don't recommend looking to Europe for an example, but when it comes to scheduling, the European legislative model gets it right. Most European parliaments are structured so that members spend two consecutive weeks in the Capitol and then one full week in the district with their constituents. This gives each member five consecutive workdays in the district, which allows for member meetings with constituent groups, including factory workers, students or civic clubs.
Members have time to clearly understand constituent concerns and ascertain the effect of legislative proposals. This schedule provides more quality time in Washington and the district — and also cuts the cost of government travel in half.
Some members of Congress are likely to oppose this change because they would prefer not to meet with constituents. They believe Washington business is more important. Those are the lawmakers who need to meet with their constituents the most.
By adopting structural reforms of the congressional calendar, we can go a long way toward restoring the link between constituents and elected officials.
At a time when many Americans are questioning the government's ability to address our nation's crises, Congress must act to restore the accountability and efficacy of "the People's House."
Republicans are committed to a number of institutional reforms that would do just that. One important change Republicans should consider when we take back power is to change the congressional schedule to prevent members of Congress from hiding from constituents.
Members of Congress need more interaction and feedback with those they represent — not less. Given the opportunity to again set the congressional schedule, Republicans can make sure this happens.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) is finalizing a series of proposals to reform and modernize how Congress conducts business.