My colleague Helen Ubiñas weighed in last week on public officials who -- contrary to the key word in their job description -- seem to be afraid of answering questions from their....you know, public. She mentioned...That Guy, and his lack of a press conference since late July, but much of her piece dealt with Pennsylvania's junior U.S. senator, Republican Pat Toomey.
When we last saw Toomey, he didn't seem to be angling for a chapter in any sequel to JFK's memorable Profiles in Courage. To the contrary, Toomey for most of the last year has reminded one more of "brave, brave, brave Sir Robin" of Monty Python fame, who, as the song went, "when danger reared its ugly head/ He bravely turned his tail and fled." For starters, there was his bold move of stalling for months on the question of whether he was voting for...That Guy, again -- a question he finally answered at 6:45 p.m. on Election Day when the polls were nearly closed and when the local TV news had switched to the national feed.
Once it sunk in that, for better or worse, this dude was going to be representing Pennsylvania for six more looooong years, some activists decided it was time to hold Toomey accountable to his seeming campaign schtick that he'd be a centrist who would not always support...The Guy on every single issue. The newly minted Tuesdays with Toomey activists have been flooding the senator's Philadelphia office on JFK (oh, the irony) Boulevard every week since the election, attempting to relay concerns about issues like the environment or immigration to Toomey's staff. Cooperation from Team Toomey went from non-committal to practically non-existent, as doors were locked last Tuesday and even phones suddenly went mysteriously unanswered.
As Ubiñas wrote:
Seems as if there's more than a little confusion these days about what it means to be a public official.
Let me help: You're duty-bound to meet with people and the press, IRL - and not just on your terms.
Twitter ain't transparency, y'all.
Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to hike up those big boy and big girl pants, and meet with the public and address its concerns and gripes. Maybe you hold a town-hall meeting. This is where I look all kinds of sideways at Sen. Pat Toomey, who doesn't seem to have held a town-hall meeting since 2013 - and, near as I can tell, nowhere near Philadelphia.
Exactly. I'd also done some research last week, trying to figure out when Toomey, during his illustrious first six-year term, had last held a town hall in Philadelphia to answer the people's questions. The best I could come up with was...never. There were bold press releases from both 2011 and 2013 heralding Toomey's town hall tours, which generally took him to places in north-central Pennsylvania where cows may outnumber constituents. Coudersport looks like a great place to hang out on scenic Route 6, maybe take in some fishing -- but it's not the best spot for co-mingling with your several million Philadelphia-area constituents 268 miles away.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Toomey has say-the-secret-word Philly town hall meetings every Thursday at midnight and we're just not hearing about them. The elusive Steve Kelly in Toomey's press office was in no greater mind to return my emails than he was for Helen, so who knows?
I do know this. My one unrelenting goal for 2017 -- emphasis on the word "unrelenting" -- will be to convince Sen. Toomey that it's in his best interest to come to the belly of the beast and explain himself to his constituents, face to face. (And of course I encourage his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Bob Casey, to do the same.) I'm not talking about an in-and-out-burger of a 30th Street Station presser, but a large public meeting (maybe in a union hall...wouldn't that be grand?) where Philadelphians would get at least an hour to seek answers to so many burning questions.
What do Toomey and his fellow Republicans plan to offer to roughly 500,000 Pennsylvanians who've been able to gain health insurance since the passage of the Affordable Care Act? How will he work to reverse the effects of climate change when so many climate-change deniers are playing prominent roles in the new administration? After campaigning as a middle-of-the-road compromiser on guns, when will he again push for expanded background checks, and how will he seek to help prevent tragedies such as Friday's mass murder in Fort Lauderdale?
Tough questions, for sure. But if you can't stand the heat, don't sign up for six years of kitchen patrol. There's no reason why Sen. Toomey can't squeeze us in for an hour or two -- that's why God created the congressional summer break, isn't it? The only other conclusion would be that a sitting U.S. senator is afraid of the largest city in his state -- which would be too absurd to even contemplate.