Elise Stefanik, the Republican Congresswoman who represents the Adirondack North Country of upper New York, a rural area covering close to one-third of the state, is averse to holding town hall meetings in her district. In fact, she has broadcast questionable reports that her staff members have been verbally assaulted and abused by constituents seeking to talk to her and pressing for town halls. Her alternative has been to conduct a series of small and brief group meetings in her regional offices with North Country residents to hear their concerns and complaints. On March 3rd, it was our group’s turn.
There were nine of us, activists representing Indivisible groupslocated in Hamilton County’s Central Adirondacks Lake region – Blue Mountain, Indian & Long Lakes & Old Forge – and we met with Stefanik in her Glens Falls office. If anything, one has to credit Ms. Stefanik’s stamina and determination, since she saw groups the size of ours every forty-five minutes or so that day, starting at 9 or 10 AM until 6PM, a veritable assembly line. She later reported on NPR that she had seen 100 people, i.e., 10 groups, during that 8-9 hour period. Ours was the last meeting of day, for a total of twenty-five minutes, the same amount of time allocated to each of the preceding groups, and anyone might wonder what we all thought we were going to accomplish in so little time.
We went in with an agenda – to talk to her about the Environment, the Affordable Care Act and Immigration, and to express our concerns about the adverse impact that Trump’s and the Republicans’ initiatives in each of those areas promised for the Adirondacks.
In the re-hash we conducted immediately after the meeting’s conclusion, we agreed that the Congresswoman presented as personable and composed; some of us described her as charming, others as disarming. We had noted during the meeting those of her accomplishments we viewed, prematurely as it turned out, as helpful:
I assume that this is how she’ll present herself from now through the 2018 election. On NPR this past Monday morning, 3/6, she patted herself on the back, noting that her decision to conduct these small cozy “tete-a-tetes”, as I term them, in lieu of large and noisy town halls, demonstrated her continued commitment to make herself available to North Country residents. She neglected to mention that these meetings could be boiled down to a series of polite conversations, where she responded with enthusiasm to the issues she could cherrypick, viz., regional issues pertinent to the environment and immigration which affected the North Country and its economy, but deflected our larger concerns:
A summary of the bill, by Harris Meyer, can be found at Modern Healthcare (3/6/17)
Boom, boom, boom. How did the Republicans move so quickly on submitting a bill to repeal the ACA? The NY Times recently reported that the Koch Brothers and their Tea Party surrogates, whose political campaigns they fund, were getting impatient and wanted Ryan and Senate Majority leader McConnell to get a move on (“Patience Gone, Koch-backed Groups Will Pressure GOP on Health Repeal”, 3/5/17). These are the same individuals and the same pressures that will keep Rep. Stafanik, despite her claims to the contrary, from straying too far on her own. Those of us fighting against the shredding of our social and environmental safety nets must always keep in mind that we and Stefanik are on different sides of that struggle.
At the close of our meeting with Stefanik, as she complained about the tumult that accompanied town hall meetings, we reminded her that some members of Congress had been able to withstand the anger directed their way, and to conduct civil and productive open forums with their constituents as emotions calmed (http://thehill.com/homenews/house/321090-gop-grapples-with-how-to-handle-town-halls). A Sun Community News editorial (3/1/17) advised Stefanik just last week to bite the bullet and hold a town hall meeting with North Country residents. We advised her that there would be adverse electoral consequences for her should she fail to do what her constituents were asking. At our post-meeting assessment, we asked one another what we had learned. I would have liked to have said what I do now, that we served Stefanik’s agenda more than ours; that it’s her responsibility to hold town hall meetings with her constituents; and that it’s ours to send to Congress a person accountable to us, residents of the North Country, and not to the interests of morally bankrupt political parties.
Addendum – Impact on North Country Residents of ACA Repeal
(Presented to Congresswoman Stefanik at our March 3, 2017, small group meeting with her in Glens Falls.)
Dear Congresswoman Stefanik:
Enclosed please find the following:
It starts with my wife, Diane Cuff-Carney, a Pscychiatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP), actually the only PNP, working in the Adirondack Medical Center’s out-patient department, and probably one of the few who work in the North Country.
Most of her patients are women, largely in their 30’s and 40’s, who have lived hard lives and bear the burdens of raising children and earning a living, sometimes with the help of a spouse or partner, many on their own.
For the greater part of their lives, they have never had the opportunity, some might say the luxury, of having someone sit in close physical and emotional proximity and listen to them describe what ails and assails them, and be affirmed as women who are brave, smart, resilient and crucial to the well-being of those in their care. Most have never before received the support my wife provides that enables them to incorporate such attributes as part and parcel of their self-identities and to discard the disparaging and demoralizing descriptions often applied to them by others.
Since Election Day, 2016, the apprehension they universally report to my wife is that they will lose the health care coverage, most often expanded Medicaid and private-vendor ACA insurance policies, so recently obtained, lose their and their children’s access to health care, and lose their relationships with my wife and the many other health care providers like her.
I don’t know how much you know about these women, working women, invariably poor and working class. They are not the women most likely to make their way or be invited to your cozy tete-a-tetes; but they are the women you need to hear and they are the women who will come to the town hall forums you have chosen neither to hold nor to attend. Those of us meeting with you today and representing many of our neighbors and your constituents urge you to re-consider what we consider a short-sighted decision.
I assure you that should you not do so and continue to avoid experiencing what the women I described above and those of us in this room actually feel, there will be adverse electoral consequences for you and your colleagues in less than two years.
On behalf of our delegation,
Dr. Jack Carney, Resident of Long Lake
Dr. Carney’s most recent posts are to be found here, along with a mostly complete archive of all articles he has written since his retirement from professional social work practice in 2010. All his blogs have as their focus issues pertaining to social justice; are generally placed in their historical context; and, ultimately, are subjected to in-depth analyses whose aim is to promote a full understanding of the issues being addressed.