When Rodney Davis' office announced "office hours" for Champaign, to be held from 2 pm - 3:15 pm May 9, I had mixed reactions. While I was happy that he had finally decided to have conversations with his constituents, I did the math about what these meetings would actually look like. 75 minutes at ten minutes per meeting would allow for only 7.5 meetings. At 3 people per group (the original plan), that would mean that he would see about 21 people. Not exactly a means of listening to the public openly. Still, it was a minor improvement over hiding from his constituents as he had during previous recesses.
It was my day off, so I was operating on my own time (in spite of the Executive Order from DJT, I still believe in the Johnson Amendment, but that's another story). I arrived at 10:15 am and was told by Rep. Davis' staffer, Tyler, that they'd be signing up for appointments starting at 1 pm. This was different from what was advertised (why not just say in publicity, "appointments will be taken beginning at 1"?), but I settled in to wait. 2 other people were there by then.
By 12:30, the crowd had grown a bit. A female staffer from the office (I didn't catch her name) came out and asked us to get into groups of 4. Some of us protested that the event had advertised groups of 3; a larger group would mean less time for us each to address our concerns. Still, I found 3 others in line and we began to strategize how to use our time. At one point, a participant took the clipboards and tried to organize groups based on common interests...I think the staffer was pleased to see this temporary descent into chaos. The staffer also offered cookies to the crowd; when asked if they were purchased with taxpayer funds, she claimed that the staff had brought them from home.
As 2 pm approached, the staffer approached us and said she was adding another person to our group. We protested that this would further diminish our individual time as we had already planned what we would say. The staffer insisted it was the only way to ensure that a maximum number of voices would be heard (I have a suggestion for another way--it's called a town hall)!
We were group 2. About 5 minutes after group one went in, Tyler tried to have us enter the room where they were already meeting. I objected, stating that we were entitled to our own ten minutes.
We were then asked to wait until the first group was finished. During our waiting, a local politician whom I know from other settings entered the office, cutting in front of numerous others who had patiently been waiting in line-- some (like me) for nearly four hours! Another member of our group politely but firmly asked him not to attach himself to our group since our time with Rep. Davis would already be limited, but this gentleman ignored that concern, and the staff did not intervene at all.
When we entered the office, I (having been designated by our group to speak first), asked Rep. Davis to dispense with the pleasantries in the interest of time and to please avoid interrupting us, as we each had a great deal that we wanted to express in a limited time frame. I spoke first, briefly introducing myself, and expressing in particular how disappointed I was that Rep. Davis has failed to speak out against statements and policies from the administration that are harmful and worrisome to the diverse religious and ethnic groups that make up his constituency. I was fired up by the moment, and cognizant of my limited time, so I did not speak as eloquently as I would have liked (in retrospect, I personally believe that part of the design of these "office hours" was to create just such an environment).
The next speaker expressed that she was grateful for his concern for some environmental issues, noting an appearance he had made earlier in the day at Curtis Orchard. He interrupted to say that he had been stung by a bee there-- a further attempt to disarm us and throw us off message. The second speaker then continued to talk about her healthcare concerns for her son, who works in the restaurant industry for minimum wage.
The third speaker was probably the most eloquent of us. She spoke calmly but firmly about how she was new to town and thus had not voted for Rep. Davis, but that based on what she had seen of his record, she would do everything in her power to unseat him in 2018. She spoke passionately about his apparent lack of empathy for his constituents who are facing real fears about the direction of this country.
The fourth speaker continued on many of the points that had already been stated, and shifted the focus a bit to Rep. Davis' support of the AHCA. The fifth speaker then took over to speak about his mother's struggles with cancer, and how the provisions of the AHCA would be a death sentence for her.
At this point, Tyler walked into the room and tried to indicate that our time was up. But one of the participants in our group had been keeping time on her phone, and showed him that we had not received the 10 minutes allotted to us. After a brief exchange, Rep. Davis let us continue. But the opening had been provided...the aforementioned politician, who had entered the room with our group, now spoke up about his dismay that Rep. Davis has increasingly become a yes-man for the GOP, voting along strict party lines. He mentioned in particular the GOP pushing the AHCA without CBO scoring or open meetings.
Here, Rep. Davis began to respond, and unfortunately it turned into a bit of a shouting match. The people in the group (including the politician) began to challenge Rep. Davis on his contention that the bill was scored by the CBO and that there were plenty of meetings about it (both untrue with regard to the version of the bill that was actually voted upon). Rep. Davis then tried to wrap up by saying that politics of late had become very hateful and polarized. Speaker number three retorted, "Yes, there is hatefulness coming from the administration." Rep. Davis' body language in response to that remark made it clear that he objected to it, so she asked him openly: "Do you deny that the current administration is a hateful administration." He answered, "Yes, I do."
At that point we left the office (our time was pretty much up anyway). My blood was boiling and I was furious to think that my representative, my voice in congress, was so out of touch with my needs and my desires. Rep. Davis has written me letters asserting that our district is one of the few that is fairly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. If this is so, I would hope that he would strive for compromise and middle ground that might best serve the values of all his constituents.
In one of the news stories about Tuesday's event, Rep. Davis referred to Tuesday's office hours as "a continuation of the sort of events that we've held since my election." Baloney. This was orchestrated to fail his constituents while providing optics that would appear to show that he is responsive to the people. He still refuses to hold town halls (I read that he snapped at another participant in a different meeting, "If the people don't like it, let them show that in the 2018 election."), and I doubt we'll even see another circus like this during the remainder of his term.
In the words of Rodney's hero, DJT: SAD!