Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Bretta, and I’m filling in for Susan this week while she’s traveling.
Now, before I proceed, I have to make the disclosure that the title of this letter is slightly misleading. I do not currently live in NY 23. Actually, my current address is in Washington DC. We’re neighbors! I will, however, be a constituent of yours in the near future, when I make the move from my current job as a lab technician at the National Institutes of Health to a PhD program at Cornell. And guess what! Students in my program take an average of five and a half years to complete their degrees, which means that on at least two occasions in the next decade I will find myself standing in a voting booth, deciding whether to check your name, or that of your Democratic opponent. From where I sit right now, it could go either way, but one thing is sure: I will be there, and I intend to be ready.
Since this is my first letter to you, I thought I would begin by telling you about myself. First, some demographic data: I’m a twenty-seven year-old unmarried white woman. I hold three college degrees. My first is an Associate’s degree from a community college in the SUNY system. My second is a Bachelor’s in Biology from the same small Christian liberal arts college where Susan teaches. My third degree is a Master’s in Public Health from Boston University, which I completed in 2012. I have spent the five years since in a variety of short term jobs in fields ranging from food service to international non-profit work to higher education.
Like Susan, I am a Christian – more specifically a non-denominational Protestant. I was raised as a PK (Preacher’s Kid) and I still cleave to my spiritual roots. I go to church regularly, (perhaps you know it? The District Church in Columbia Heights?) and attend a weekly small group. With the aid of the Holy Spirit, and frequent muttered prayers, I strive to live my life in accordance with the example of Jesus Christ, and I trust him for my salvation.
I am also a registered Democrat. This is a source of significant bemusement and (sometimes) dismay to my parents. They have to crane pretty far over their left shoulder to see me, and what they see often makes them shake their heads. Many in my extended family have never even considered voting for a Democrat. I, on the other hand, have yet to cast a vote for a Republican. Not that I’ve voted for many Democrats either. Like many people my age, my voting history is quite spare. A brief history of my political activity to date:
- The presidential election of 2008: I filled out an absentee ballot for McCain, stared at it gloomily for several minutes, then tore it up and went back to studying for exams.
- The presidential election of 2012: I was living in Haiti, and hadn’t thought to apply for an absentee ballot. I felt vaguely guilty about this, but when the results were in I went to bed thinking “all’s well that ends well.”
- The Democratic primary of 2016: I donated $50 to Bernie Sanders, and cheerfully cast my vote for him.
- The presidential election of 2016: I voted for Hilary Clinton, and for all the Democratic candidates riding her coattails.
You may have noticed that 2016 marked a shift in my level of political engagement. And I’m sure you haven’t had any difficulty in guessing why. There is a lot that I could say about our current president, but I promised Susan I would be on my best behavior, so I will refrain. Suffice it to say, the outcome of the Republican primary, the general election, and the first 60+ days have successively shaken my faith in our electoral system, and have led me to consider my responsibilities as a member of the electorate. How should I respond to the election of a man whom I consider dangerously unfit for the office of President? Should I rail against the electoral college and punctuate my social media posts with #notmypresident? Should I vow to #resist, and call for the head of any Democrat who dares to compromise with the Trump administration? Should I threaten to move to Canada? Or should I declare that democracy is a sham, that politics are a shell game, and that I am renouncing both so I can spend my time more productively watching cat videos?
Hopefully the fact that I am writing this letter makes it clear that I have not opted for any of these responses. In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe the system is rigged. I don’t believe that politicians are soulless suits. And I don’t look across the aisle with hatred. I believe that if you want to solve any problem, you must begin by addressing the log in your own eye, and mine is not hard to find:
I have been inexcusably lazy.
For most of the past ten years I have succumbed to apathy: failing to vote in midterm elections. Failing to communicate with my elected representatives. Failing to learn vital facts about important political issues. In more recent years, I have found new ways of being lazy: Consuming an unbalanced media diet. Voting for Democrats without knowing a thing about them beyond the fact that they are Democrats. Reflexively attributing sinister motives to those with whom I disagree.
Well Tom, if I am really going to own my role in creating the problem it behoves me to make some constructive changes to my approach. So here they are:
- For the next five years, I will make it my business to exercise my right to vote at every opportunity I am given (primary and general, national, state, and local).
- I will never again cast my ballot for a candidate solely on the basis of his/her party affiliation.
- I will adopt a right-leaning media outlet (I’m thinking The Economist) to supplement my current media diet.
As you can see, I have my work cut out for me, and I’ve already begun my research – starting with you. I’ve taken out a subscription to the Ithaca Journal, and I’ve started to read up on your voting record and watch clips of your latest townhall meetings on YouTube. I’ve even dug up a few subcommittee hearings on the House Ways and Means YouTube channel (which I found much more interesting than their view counts suggested they would be). So, what have I learned about you so far?
Out of all the data I have sifted through so far, the most interesting to me was the video of a Town Hall meeting in Ithaca, my soon-to-be new home, earlier this month. I have to hand it to you, that was gutsy. You had to know what was waiting for you there. Ithaca is probably the single most staunchly liberal municipality in Tompkins county – the only county you lost last year. I watched the video with interest (notwithstanding all the yelling and stamping, the poor sound quality, and the Planned Parenthood signs blocking the camera).
Overall, I thought you were remarkably patient, respectful, and pleasant in a palpably tense situation. I liked that. I also appreciated your conversation with Assemblywoman Lifton. It was fascinating to me to see the gears of state government meet the gears of national government. Seeing that interaction helped to humanize something that has always been abstract to me.
Most of the meeting was spent on a Q and A focused on your party’s efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Minus the bullhorn, the scene was very similar to what Susan described at the town hall meeting she attended. Most of the people in that room like the ACA, and they took the opportunity to vent some frustration at your expressed support for repealing it. You countered their concerns about lost health coverage by saying that you have heard anecdotes from other constituents who have suffered under the ACA.
That did not go over well.
I have to say, Tom, it’s going to take a little more than that to justify your position in my eyes. For every anecdote you can report of struggling business owners, and people not getting to see the doctor they wanted, I can counter with two more about the dire straits faced by the uninsured. It leaves me wondering: how did you reach your decision to support Repeal and Replace?
-Were you moved by the stories of constituents of yours who were negatively impacted by the ACA?
-Did you review scientifically collected data that convinced you that the ACA had a net negative impact on your constituents? On the country? If so, what was it?
-Do you hold Conservative doctrines and values of self-sufficiency above your constituents’ expressed desires and practical needs?
-Were you pressured by your party to toe the line?
-Were you, as suggested by one constituent at the meeting, motivated by a vindictive desire to obliterate the legacy of a Democratic president?
Here is what I hope: I hope that I can trust you to represent the best interests of your whole district. I hope you are a compassionate person who takes consideration of the most vulnerable people in it. I hope that you are a reasonable person who is capable of being swayed by solid arguments and data. I hope that you are a wise person who is able to understand the complexity of the problems you are tasked with solving. I hope you are an open-minded person who is willing to see the perspective of the opposition and, on occasion, to compromise with them. In short, I hope you are the kind of person I could vote for. I don’t know yet if you are, but fortunately your next election is a long way off, and I will have lots of time to do my homework.
I hope you come to Ithaca again this year. If you do, I will be there.
Your almost constituent,