The descriptions of Rep. Elise Stefanik’s interactions with constituents were not particularly flattering.
“Evasive,” said one constituent.
“Elusive, deceptive and vague,” said another.
“Pre-programmed,” said a third.
There has been a consistent unsatisfied chorus from citizens around the 21st Congressional District for more than a year, wanting more than form letters and controlled photo opportunities from their young congresswoman.
These are interesting times for our country, perhaps historic times, and the people are concerned about the direction and future of the country. Many are standing up and demanding answers from their representatives in Washington, some for the first time.
We hope Rep. Stefanik understands that.
We hope she understands this is not all about her, nor is it necessarily about politics — although we concede there might be some of that — but about the turmoil that is enveloping us as a people and a nation.
Regular citizens want to be heard.
Last February, we wrote in an editorial: “What the people who want to meet with Rep. Stefanik are asking is that she do her job. We’re asking, too: Meet with these people and listen to them. It’s your duty.”
We’re asking her again to do her job, only this time it is an election year, and we’re hoping that will make a difference.
For the past several weeks, Post-Star reporter Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli has been talking to the public about their experiences with Rep. Stefanik, the interactions with her office and how it handles constituent concerns. That reporting culminated in a long story published Sunday that addresses those complaints and Rep. Stefanik’s defense that the complaints are not a fair depiction of her constituent outreach.
Many said, when granted access, they were left unsatisfied and felt the congresswoman had not addressed their concerns.
This is an age-old problem where polished politicians have a knack of talking at great length without answering the question. We are very familiar with the art form.
We know from our own meetings that Rep. Stefanik is a polished speaker with an extraordinary grasp of the issues, but we often feel like she is holding back.
After multiple meetings over a number of years, some on our editorial board still feel they do not know who the real Elise Stefanik is, or what she ultimately stands for.
Like many polished politicians, she finds a way to walk the tight rope on controversial issues, showing signs of being a reasonable moderate while taking care not to alienate her core Republican base.
It’s as if she is trying to be everything to all people.
Ultimately, we’re hearing that Stefanik critics want more substantive answers, and clarity about where she stands on issues and how she is going to vote.
There was a time when form letters or photo opportunities during a tour of a local business were enough to keep most constituents happy.
But this is not most times.
It has led to frustration for many citizens and a call for more town hall meetings — well, any town hall meeting.
Emotional legislative battles over health care, tax cuts and immigration have led those holding office to rewrite the political playbook and avoid town hall meetings that might show them in a poor light, especially in this age when everyone is recording video of everything.
We understand that, and we are not advocating public anarchy or harassment of our elected officials. But in the grand tradition of our democracy, elected officials need to stand before the people from time to time and face the music, even if that is uncomfortable.
They must stare back at the citizens they represent and explain their positions, articulate their solutions while acknowledging they are not going to agree all the time.
We call on Rep. Stefanik to take that step and avail herself of town hall meetings across the district.
We’re willing to help, too.
From the Wood Theater, to SUNY Adirondack to the auditoriums at Queensbury and Glens Falls high schools, venues are readily available to accommodate a large audience. We know many respected community members who could act as fair and impartial moderators who can keep the crowd civil, ensure questions are answered and allow for follow-up queries when warranted.
In the end, voters need to hear what their congressional representative stands for. They need to hear it from them personally, and they need to be able to look them in the eye and tell them they disagree.
It’s time for Rep. Stefanik to talk about the issues and her record.
It’s long overdue in a face-to-face setting.