Thursday, May 11, 2017

An Open Letter to Rep. Rodney Davis, IL Congressional District 13

Dear Rep. Davis,

On Tuesday, May 9, when you held your "office hours" event in Champaign, I waited in line for nearly four hours to speak with you.  I hoped to look you in the eye, and tell you, as a faith leader in this community, how I feel that your failure to respond to your constituents is not only an affront to the principles of representative democracy, but also a moral outrage.  But it seems you were merely interested in playing a game, as you scheduled a woefully inadequate amount of time for your constituents to talk with you.  Each of us, in practice, was allotted approximately 2 minutes (if we were lucky enough to actually make it into your presence).  So I got frustrated, I got flustered, and I did not articulate my point as eloquently as I could have.  More significantly, I let you get to me, and spoke more sharply than I might have liked, which might have diluted the important messages delivered by other constituents in the room.

I should note here, by the way, that I came on Tuesday during my day off and on my own time.  I identified my title and position because they are part of my personal identity.  But I came for myself as a concerned citizen.  Though your friend Mr. Trump has sought to erode the provisions of the Johnson Amendment, which enshrine the important principle of the separation of Church and State, I still believe very strongly in keeping clear boundaries between these two important institutions.  So I speak here only for myself, and not for my congregation.

On Wednesday, a mutual friend of ours texted you and mentioned that you and I had met.  You replied to her something indicating that I didn't like you.  Because texts lack nuance, I am not certain if you were upset, confused, or amused by this fact.  But no matter.  Both of our lines of work, Rep. Davis, require thick skins.  I let you get under mine on Tuesday, and thus gave you the impression that I don't like you.  But let me set you straight: I detest your voting record.  I decry your grandstanding, and your refusal to have meaningful conversations with those whom you represent.  I am eminently frustrated by your unwillingness to release call tallies, which would clearly indicate how your constituents feel about given issues.  I am disgusted by your continued choice of party over country and over principle, and your refusal to ever repudiate any of the dangerous and offensive actions and statements that Donald Trump has put forward.  Since the inauguration, you have voted with the GOP in support of Mr. Trump's actions time and again, supporting policies such as the travel ban and the AHCA that will do irreparable harm to people within your district, destroying families and maybe even causing people to die.  Only today did I see your first statement remotely questioning  Mr. Trump-- related to his dismissal of Mr. Comey as FBI director, and a statement expressing "surprise" is far from a  condemnation.  But while I may hate the way you choose to govern, and hate the things you believe and how you conduct yourself with every fiber of my being, I don't dislike you as a person.  My faith cautions me against such an attitude.

Instead, I pity you.  I don't know what initially inspired you to get into politics, but I'd like to imagine that it's the same thing that got me into the rabbinate: the desire to help people, and the belief that you could truly make a difference.  In previous communication that I've received from your office, you've touted your bonafides in bipartisan work.  I've seen zero evidence of such efforts since the inauguration.  But I think somewhere along the path, you seriously lost your way.  Maybe Mr. Trump has some dirt on you that keeps you from speaking out; maybe he's promised you some wealth or some position within the administration or the party if you pledge to be a good foot soldier for his platforms.  But I think it's more likely that the position has gone to your head, and that you have simply decided that the political arc that you can ride by being unwaveringly faithful to the GOP party line is more significant than being responsive to your constituents.

How else to explain you ignoring the more than 500 Jewish households in your district who were concerned by the rise of anti-Semitism, while you took more than two weeks to issue a statement against the desecration of cemeteries and bomb threats against Jewish institutions?  I still have seen no statement from you calling out white supremacists Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, and declaring that there should be no place for them within the White House.  You sent a letter obfuscating and stating that you have no standing in such matters, but that's not entirely true, Rep. Davis!  You are a known figure in DC, and your repudiation of hate would not only send an important message  to those setting policy in DC, but would also send reassurance to those of us living and working in IL-13.

How else to explain your embrace of the racist executive order promulgating a travel ban on individuals from Muslim countries, a policy that not only was deemed to be unconstitutional, but would have a devastating real-life social and economic impact on families and institutions (most notably, the University of Illinois) in your district?  Even after analyses showed that this ban was unlikely to impact national security, even after it was noted that there were far more deadly attacks perpetrated in the United States by radicalized right-wing white males than by radicalized Muslims, even after it became clear that exempting Saudi Arabia from this ban ignored the breeding ground for most of the 9/11 attackers, you preferred to remain firm in your support of this decree, rather than working to assuage the fears of lawful citizens who are your own constituents.

How else to explain your vote in favor of the AHCA, one of the most wildly unpopular bills in recent memory, which you supported pushing through without scoring from the Congressional Budgetary Office (a previous version of the bill was scored, not the one brought to a vote) and negotiations behind closed doors?  As an individual with a pre-existing condition, I rely on the provisions of the ACA to provide essential health coverage for my family and me, and I resent you and your cronies being so tone-deaf to the basic needs and rights of real families in this district.  With a median income in the district of $50,211 and a poverty rate of over 10% (source: census.gov), you are consigning a significant portion of your constituents to having to make painful choices between food on their table, a roof over their heads, or essential health services and medication for themselves and their children.  You and your party mates protest that the ACA was unaffordable, but you have made it more so.  Go after the insurance companies and their relentless pursuit of profits; don't go after the hard working citizens of IL-13.

How else to explain your support of a treasonous regime that is clearly embroiled with Russia?  As we met in your office on Tuesday, Donald Trump was firing James Comey as Director of the FBI.  While I disagree with Comey and his recent handling of his job, to fire someone while they are in the midst of a federal investigation of your potential malfeasance is so nakedly inappropriate and has brought our country closer to a constitutional crisis.  People-- real people, Rep. Davis, whom you have sworn to represent-- are angry and scared for the future of our republic.  Real people, like the 240 or so of my fellow citizens who wanted to talk to you on Tuesday, not because we're paid protestors or provocateurs, not because we hate you, Rep. Davis, but because we want to be heard and we want to be hopeful about the future of our nation-- we all need assurance that you've really got our backs in DC.  And when you continually fail to give us such reassurance, then we become ever more committed to securing your defeat in 2018.

I've barely scratched the surface, Rep. Davis, on the ways you've let the people of IL-13 down.  There's also net neutrality.  There's also the attempted dismantling of our national parks and other public lands.  There's also the rollback of Dodd-Frank banking regulations designed to protect consumers.  There's also environmentalism (by the way, I'm sorry that you got stung by a bee at Curtis Orchard, but I'm even more sorry that you found it more significant to focus on that sting than to focus on the real and painful concerns that your constituents were bringing before you).

So, Rep. Davis, I don't dislike you.  When you return to Taylorsville on November 9, 2018, and fade from the public eye, I hope that you and your family will enjoy a lovely life together.  I pray that whomever the voters of IL-13 choose to replace you will listen openly and compassionately to your needs and concerns and to mine and to those of all voters in the district, and behave in a manner that puts country above party and politics.  I pray that we can be led back from the abyss that has arisen through the erosion of the public trust in government and from the repudiation of the American ideal that "all [people] are created equal [and] that they are endowed...with certain inalienable rights."  May your leadership, your votes, and your behavior toward your constituents for the remainder of your term be informed by love for, and empathy with, ALL of the diverse backgrounds, faiths, and ethnicities that comprise the citizenry of IL-13.

With warmest regards,

Alan Cook