I’m not a political blogger. This may become very clear as you read this piece, or you may be a little more like me: less aware of all the details surrounding the questions that politicians face from their potential constituents. Isn’t that why we’re asking them the questions anyway?
I went to a meet and greet dinner for our 2014 Democratic Congressional candidate for the 23rd District of New York State. It’s quite a large district, spreading from the Southern Tier counties of Chautaqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany all the way up to Tompkins county where our candidate, Martha Robertson, resides. It was likely a typical political gathering, a lot of back-patting and braggadocio — because I understand, the candidates have to make themselves look good to attain the office for which they are running.
We heard a letter written to our own Allegany County Democrats from the Governor, telling us how much he appreciated our support. We heard from many of the local candidates running for various districts in this county. And finally we heard from Martha, who you can read more about at marthaforny.com. She sounds good, hitting all the political points that she needs to hit. Maybe a little tired. She is, after all, on a whirlwind tour. Telling us about the great number of stops she has made on her road to the Congressional seat, for which she is vying against incumbent Republican Tom Reed. Starting out by telling us that Tom Reed is scared. She knows this, because he has trackers following her from town to town to record what she has to say. Waiting for her to slip up, perhaps contradict herself. He’s looking for ammunition with which he can shoot down her positions.
After speaking, Martha asked for questions from the audience. While she was waiting for us to form our questions, she continued to speak about something — money, I think, and how much she needed to run this campaign. A woman in the audience raised her hand. Martha pointed to her, and the woman said something rather open-ended, wondering what Martha had to tell us about fracking.
Martha’s immediate response was to put her off for a moment, while she finished stumping about campaign funds. Then she brought up the topic of fracking again, and first said “Excuse me a minute,” while she reached for her glass to take a much-needed sip of water. One would think she was thirsty after all that talking anyway. Then she put down her glass, smiled and said “Ahh, clean water.” There were a few snickers in the room at the cleverness of her opening. Fracking is of course, a very hot topic in this area. Martha spoke about how important this particular topic was because of where we lived. Most of what she said wasn’t news to us. After all, we do live here. We know there’s a lot of shale beneath our feet, and a lot of gas to be had from it.
Next, I raised my hand to ask, “What’s your understanding of Obamacare and why do the Republicans hate it so much?” She had another clever response for me regarding the second part of my question. “They hate it because they’re afraid it’s going to work.” Some more quiet laughter. She went on to non-answer the first part of my question, referencing the story of late night host Jimmy Kimmel — who apparently asked a number of people whether they approved of the Affordable Care Act versus Obamacare. They overwhelmingly preferred the ACA. Of course, I understood they were one and the same, but the joke isn’t really that funny because so many people don’t get it.
What she didn’t explain, and I have since learned through internet research, is that there have been at least two bills introduced: America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200), was never passed by Congress. A completely different bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590), became the basis for what is now known as “Obamacare.” Both of these are many-paged documents, leading to much confusion and hearsay. It takes an expert to really understand it. Isn’t that what our politicians are in office for? To become experts in this stuff? Or am I mistakenly naive?
Martha ended by telling me, there should be “navigators” — at least, I think that’s the word she used — “navigators” in the Allegany County Democrats group who could answer more of my specific questions.
The third question came from one of our local candidates, Joel Kassirer (pronounced K-ass-ear-a) running for a district seat in Allegany County. Joel wondered about school funding for the arts, a subject which is important to him as well. Why is it always the first thing to be cut? How can that be changed. I did not listen well to Martha’s answer, partially because I was still processing the information she doled out in response to my own question, and partially because I was beginning to see a pattern in her responses.
She only had time for those three questions. That was it. I can only believe that she wrote up those responses in advance, or someone wrote them for her and she had pat answers in the bag for questions that she was bound to receive. Because I don’t feel that she really answered any of our questions. I felt as if we were brushed off.
On the way home, my husband said to me “I could tell you weren’t too impressed.”
“Oh yeah, what gave it away?” I wondered.
“Your body language,” he replied. “You kept tapping your finger on the table.”
He was right, of course. I wasn’t impressed. I am tired of being offered political candidates who appear better than the guys in office, but may not be. Martha gave me no good reason to vote for her, except for the fact that she’s a Democrat, and that’s how I’m registered.
My favorite speaker of the night was actually a registered Republican. David Porter, who is running for a seat in another Allegany County district in which I do not reside, spoke from his heart. Admitting he was a registered Republican, he also said that he doesn’t necessarily vote party lines. He registered to vote in the Primaries, but he votes for who he thinks will get the job done. Done well. I agree with that philosophy. I registered Democrat, but I’ll vote for the person that I like — and that’s not always the person in my party.
Chances are, I will vote for Martha. Not because I necessarily like her, but because I don’t care for the record of our current representative, Tom Reed.
Is that good enough for her? Perhaps. After all, she wants my vote and she’s probably got it. She’s likely got the vote of most of the people in that room. But she was speaking to an overwhelming majority of Democrats. If she wants the votes of the people who are on the fence, or if she wants crossover votes from the registered Republicans, she’s going to have to work a lot harder to impress them. She needs to find out more about the people she’s working to impress. Find out what resonates with them. She needs to really answer their questions. She needs to admit that if she doesn’t know the answer, she’s willing to find out and get back to them — if that’s the case.
I wasn’t impressed because it appeared that she didn’t care enough about little ol’ Allegany County to take proper care in fully answering the three — count ‘em, THREE — questions that were asked of her. It made her appear to be like every other ass-kissin’ politician out there. I don’t want to be flattered. I don’t want to be bragged to. I don’t want to be asked for money before I believe in your cause. I’m not even clear what your cause is. Are you?
Or is it the power of being in office that attracts you? Are you starting to be impressed with your own press? Is the fact that you are recommended on Emily’s list something to brag about to the average Joe? Because, before that night I had never heard of Emily’s list. Most of the people you want to vote for you are not that politically savvy. Most of us are just dead tired of all the crap that’s happening in Congress right now, and we want real people in there who will give us real results. We want honest, direct answers to our questions. And if you don’t know the damn answers, find out. Get back to us. You can’t change the status quo, if you are completely unaware of our status. Know your whole audience, Martha. Not just the ones who already love you. Persuade every audience to believe in you and your causes. Get to know us. Try harder to impress us. I want to believe.
At the end of the night, I sought out Barbara Hetzel, a politically active Democrat in Allegany County. I asked her about the “navigators” that Martha mentioned. There are none. But Barbara did answer my question more fully than Martha did. She addressed my specific concerns. She took the time to find out what it is I needed. She directed me to others who might be able to answer even more questions. She told me more about the mandatory clause of the new health care act, and how it will be enforced (through your annual income taxes). Most importantly, when she didn’t know the answer, she admitted not knowing. She was direct, concise, helpful and passionate about her politics. Something I’d like to see in Martha. I listened to you, Martha. Are you listening to me?