For a time last week, it appeared that the controversies surrounding clashes between disgruntled Democrats and Republican members of Congress would flare up in our region.
A confrontation was brewing over a Phoenixville town hall style meeting that Congressman Ryan Costello, R-6th Dist., declined to attend. The meeting was hosted by the Concerned Constituent Action Group, promoted as a discussion of topics such as health care, the environment, education, immigration and ethics in “the new age of government.”
The meeting was a success: About 380 people showed up and brought forward questions on topics from immigration policy to President Trump’s attacks on the media. People were still in line to ask questions when the meeting was ended due to time constraints.
The questions were directed at Costello even though he was not in attendance, captured on videotape to be sent to him.
While some questioned Costello’s absence, he does not fall in the “no-show” category of others in Congress who are ducking protests in their home districts.
Costello said last week the group did not reach out before scheduling the event and he had already made commitments for that time slot. He said he has tried to be transparent by hosting several town hall meetings, including one on Facebook Wednesday afternoon. “Constituents know I’m accessible,” he said. “My record speaks for itself.”
While Costello and a spokesman for his office last week called Saturday’s event “a political stunt,” they moderated that stance on Saturday. Vince Galko, senior advisor to the Costello campaign, sent a statement via email saying that the congressman “has never taken issue with a political organization affiliated with Chester County Democrats ... utilizing the school district’s space to host a political event. Political activism should be celebrated and forums opened for such purposes,” he wrote.
We have never taken issue with Costello’s accessibility to his constituents or his visibility in the district. He is tireless in his attendance and interest at positive public events. And this weekend, he demonstrated willingness to meet with those who may challenge his views, holding an impromptu pop-up town hall meeting on Friday with protesters who had gathered outside his office in West Chester.
He answered questions about President Trump, health care, Russia and immigration in a session that lasted about 90 minutes.
In contrast, a Texas congressman last week invoked the January, 2011 shooting of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a civic rally in Tucson as a reason to avoid this week’s town halls. Giffords public response was swift and to the point: “To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls.”
Our elected representatives were voted into office to represent the people of their district, including those who may disagree vehemently with their positions. Meeting with people face to face and hearing their questions is part of the job. You don’t get to pick and choose which groups you represent.
The Phoenixville town hall demonstrated a passion to question those in office, and Costello’s meeting with protesters on Friday showed his willingness to hear those questions. It’s unfortunate that passion and willingness did not meet in the same place on Saturday.
An opportunity for much-needed dialogue was lost.