Rep. Bob Good­latte

Some con­stituents would like to talk to their rep­re­sen­ta­tive. In some places, that’s not as easy as it sounds.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JENNA PORTNOY IN PORT ROYAL, VA.

(R-Va.) has lim­ited faceto-face con­tact with his con­stituents.

If you’re a con­stituent of long­time Rep. Bob Good­latte and you want to com­mu­ni­cate with him, here are your op­tions: You can at­tend one of the reg­u­larly sched­uled “open-door meet­ings” in his dis­trict, where a Good­latte staffer will lis­ten to your con­cerns and pledge to re­lay them but is not au­tho­rized to re­spond.

Or you can par­tic­i­pate in a “tele-town hall” by sign­ing up online to join a con­fer­ence call, along with thou­sands of your neigh­bors. With no ad­vance warn­ing, one night the phone will ring and con­nect you to a call, of­ten al­ready in progress. A hand­ful of peo­ple on the line are cho­sen to ask the con­gress­man a ques­tion.

And fi­nally, there is Face­book Live, which Good­latte (R-Va.) has used twice this year to an­swer ques­tions he se­lected from among those sub­mit­ted by mem­bers of the pub­lic.

Amid rau­cous protests and town hall meet­ings staged by vot­ers who are an­gered by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the GOP-con­trolled Congress, Good­latte has joined some other law­mak­ers from his party in find­ing less con­tentious ways to in­ter­act with the peo­ple he rep­re­sents.

Through a spokes­woman, Good­latte de- clined an in­ter­view for this story. But he said in a state­ment that he meets with peo­ple who re­quest ap­point­ments and cor­re­sponds with con­stituents who call or email his of­fice.

Dur­ing a March 1 tele-town hall, he ex­plained why he prefers those events to large, in-per­son gath­er­ings.

The phone-in events “pro­vide for an op­por­tu­nity for a very civil dis­course, as op­posed to what you’ve seen around the coun­try where peo­ple turn town meet­ings into mob scenes and have card­board cutouts of elected of­fi­cials and all kinds of other things that kind of de­mean the process and take away from the peo­ple who show up and re­ally want to have a se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion about the prob­lems fac­ing the coun­try,” Good­latte said, ac­cord­ing to a broad­cast of the call that a res­i­dent posted on Face­book Live.

One week ear­lier, ac­tivists had staged a “Peo­ple’s Town Hall” out­side Roanoke with a card­board cutout dubbed “Flat Bobby” as a stand-in for Good­latte.

The con­gress­man’s hands-off ap­proach is frus­trat­ing to some of his con­stituents, par­tic­u­larly Democrats liv­ing in ur­ban pock­ets of

an other­wise deeply con­ser­va­tive dis­trict who faith­fully at­tend some of the “open-door meet­ings” that Good­latte staffers hold weekly, bi-weekly or monthly in 21 lo­ca­tions.

‘Let’s see him’

“It’s re­cess time, let’s see him,” Len Sherp, a 70-year-old re­tiree from Front Royal, said last week to Emily Wicht, a staffer who ran last week’s ses­sion at a pub­lic li­brary near Sherp’s home.

“Do you know of any­thing on his sched­ule that is open to con­stituents?” Sherp asked. Wicht was re­lent­lessly cheery. “No, sir, I’m not given his sched­ule, but ev­ery­thing pub­licly posted is on his web­site,” she said.

Be­sides the meet­ings, there were no pub­lic events listed on Good­latte’s web­site. His spokes­woman said later that Good­latte was sit­ting down at that mo­ment with Pres­i­dent Trump in the Oval Of­fice to dis­cuss im­mi­gra­tion and other is­sues. The White House con­firmed the meet­ing.

Good­latte, now in his 13th term in Congress, pre­vi­ously held town halls in the dis­trict, but he doesn’t any­more. Asked why he stopped, a spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment.

The con­gress­man has vis­ited busi­nesses and held pri­vate meet­ings over the past two weeks, dur­ing the spring re­cess, but has not made any broader pub­lic ap­pear­ances.

Sherp and other crit­ics said they ex­pect more from their rep­re­sen­ta­tive, the se­nior Repub­li­can in the Vir­ginia del­e­ga­tion and chair­man of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

“The peo­ple are an­gry,” said Sherp, an or­ganic farmer who was wear­ing a “No Farms, No Food” cap and a “Chair­man of the Gourd” T-shirt. “They’re an­gry over the di­rec­tion that the coun­try seems to be headed. They’re an­gry over the un­will­ing­ness of Con­gress­man Good­latte to come and meet with us.”

Seven of the 11 mem­bers of Congress from Vir­ginia — Repub­li­cans Dave Brat, Thomas Gar­rett and Scott W. Tay­lor and Democrats Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Ger­ald E. Con­nolly, Don Beyer and A. Don­ald McEachin — have each held at least one in-per­son town hall meet­ing this year, in some cases en­dur­ing heck­ling.

Those stick­ing to tele-town halls and Face­book Live events, in ad­di­tion to Good­latte, are Rep. H. Mor­gan Grif­fith (R), a mem­ber of the hard-line Free­dom Cau­cus who rep­re­sents all of South­west Vir­ginia west of Roanoke; Rep. Rob Wittman (R), whose dis­trict runs from Prince Wil­liam County to the sub­urbs of Rich­mond; and Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock (R), whose North­ern Vir­ginia dis­trict is a top tar­get for Democrats next year.

Good­latte’s dis­trict stretches 200 miles down the Shenan­doah Val­ley to the Roanoke Val­ley and east to Lynch­burg, the home of Lib­erty Univer­sity. Trump beat Hil­lary Clin­ton by 24 per­cent­age points there. Good­latte clob­bered his Demo­cratic chal­lenger.

But the dis­trict is home to patches of lib­eral out­rage, in­clud­ing a vo­cal con­tin­gent in Front Royal, about 70 miles west of Wash­ing­ton. Even if they can’t change his mind, they de­serve to be heard by their rep­re­sen­ta­tive, they say.

In­stead, they have Wicht’s ear.

‘What do you have today?’

“Hey, Len!” Wicht chirped, as Sherp walked into a small room in the li­brary on April 12.

Sherp ex­plained he couldn’t stay very long; he was due at noon at the gazebo in the cen­ter of town for his weekly “Vigil for Democ­racy” protest.

Wicht wrote on the white­board, “Wel­come to Con­gress­man Good­latte open door meet- ing. We’re glad you’re here!!” That was fol­lowed by a smi­ley face.

She heard from John Cer­mak, 81, a re­tired elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer who said he hoped law­mak­ers could fix the Af­ford­able Care Act through hard work — not over drinks at Mar-a-Lago.

“I have faith that Con­gress­man Good­latte has the char­ac­ter, if he hears from the peo­ple, to say, ‘OKAY, I re­ally need to do some­thing here,’ ” Cer­mak said.

Wicht turned to an­other voter at the ta­ble. “Ms. Roush, what would you like me to —” she said, pick­ing up her pen.

“I have a list,” said Kath­leen Roush, a 64-year-old re­tired pe­di­atric in­ten­sive-care nurse. Then she read from her phone:

Trump should help chil­dren in Flint, Mich., who were poi­soned by lead-con­tam­i­nated drink­ing wa­ter. He should re­veal his sources of in­come and ties to Rus­sia. He should pre­serve arts fund­ing. His trips to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., cost tax­pay­ers too much. Nepo­tism. Congress should not have changed the rules to ease con­fir­ma­tion of Supreme Court Jus­tice Neil M. Gor­such.

“Also, I for­got to men­tion ed­u­ca­tion,” Roush said. “I think that there’s a lot of waste in ed­u­ca­tion, but just to cut ed­u­ca­tion funds is un­fair.”

Wicht wrote down ev­ery word and then looked up at an­other woman at the ta­ble.

“Mered­ith, what do you have today?” Wicht said.

Mered­ith Parnes, a 45-year-old homemaker, com­plained about At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions and paused for a mo­ment.

“And Sean Spicer,” she said with a sigh.

“Poor thing,” said Bob Har­ris, 63, a re­tired mail car­rier.

“Some­body needs to take him to school,” Parnes said.

“You know the thing with him is . . . he is just not a word­smith,” Har­ris said. “He can’t ex­plain his way out of a pa­per bag.”

Then some­one brought up the hasty plan­ning of the an­nual White House Easter Egg Roll.

“How in­ept can they be?” Har­ris said.

Turn­ing to Wicht, he said, “I don’t ex­pect you to write that down.”

“I write ev­ery­thing down,” Wicht said.

Roush said she knows it’s not Good­latte’s job to man­age the chil­dren’s event, but she wished he could use his in­flu­ence to change things for the bet­ter.

“It’s making Amer­ica look fool­ish,” she said. “Any­way, I’m go­ing to go. Have a happy Easter.”

She ad­vised Wicht to be safe and wear sun­screen on her up­com­ing va­ca­tion.

“Have a great day, Ms. Roush,” Wicht said.

The re­main­ing res­i­dents trick­led out un­til Wicht was alone. She cleaned the white­board and gath­ered the sign-up sheet and note­book con­tain­ing the morn­ing’s work.

At ex­actly noon, she stood up and turned off the light.

PHOTOS BY JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

TOP: Pick­eters hold a “Vigil for Democ­racy” on Main Street in Port Royal, Va., to show their displeasure with the Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion. ABOVE: Front Royal res­i­dent Len Sherp tells his con­cerns to Emily Wicht, a staffer for Rep. Bob Good­latte. Good­latte is meet­ing less with con­stituents face to face, but his staffers hold “open-door meet­ings” around the dis­trict.

JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Re­becca Al­tizer, left, and Laura Hen­der­son take part in a “Vigil for Democ­racy” held weekly in Port Royal, Va. Some peo­ple in Vir­ginia’s 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict are up­set that their long­time rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Bob Good­latte, is not at­tend­ing pub­lic meet­ings, opt­ing in­stead for Web or phone events and send­ing staffers to meet con­stituents.

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