4/14/2003

 

Will Rep. Renzi lend an ear?

 

Rep. Renzi has the opportunity coming up to show if he really is the representative of all his constituents. A group of Prescott citizens opposed to the war have been trying to get an appointment with him for months. There's a long record of calls, letters, the office being closed when they were told it would be open, a canceled appointment, etc. The last time they tried to make an appointment and couldn't, they walked to the local office of Sen. Kyl near by. There, although Kyl is just as much a supporter of the war as Renzi, they were all welcomed into the office and had a long discussion with his staff. Out of it came the idea that perhaps Kyl could hold a town hall on the issue.

 

I'm not sure the status of that idea, but a few days later Renzi's office proposed a meeting in Prescott. I suspect the elder Kyl put a bug in the freshman's ear that shutting out constituents, even if you disagree with them, is not smart.

 

Now, nobody expects either side to change the other's mind. When the group first approached Renzi's office the war hadn't started, and they were trying to present a petition that urged congress to make the White House stick to the authorization congress had granted; to use force in Iraq only if it was the only option.

 

If a group feels strongly about a government policy, isn't one of the appropriate channels to talk to your representative? Isn't that part of the job of a representative?

 

Now that we have started the war, the group wants to hear if Mr. Renzi has truly thought through his reasons for supporting the war, and all the ramifications of it.

 

For instance, one of the group is Candace McNulty, a fifty-something resident of Prescott, who, like most, works hard for not a lot of pay. She is concerned enough about the country's future to educate herself on some details. She sees Afghanistan being left in an unstable state where extremism will breed anew, and with no one really watching the border with Pakistan there will be a lot of people back and forth and Pakistan will be drawn into it. Remember that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Their government could over react to problems, or fall to extremists.

 

She feels that simply dealing with that part of the world by sheer force is not smart. That we could be setting ourselves up for an endless round of mutual retribution between ourselves and various groups in that part of the world, much like the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, or like the Israelis and Palestinians. Since Renzi is our representative and votes on issues such as war authorization, she wants to know if he's thought some of these things through.

 

A few days ago the group talked with two of Renzi's staffers about the format of the meeting. They find the proposed format to be all one sided. It is scheduled to be only an hour long. For some portion of it, maybe a lot, Renzi will talk. Then, if it's like his town hall, questions that have been pre-submitted on cards are picked for Renzi to answer. No chance for a follow-up.

 

The group suggested, for one, that he limit his remarks. After all, he has plenty of chances to communicate through the press. This is a chance for him to hear back from his constituents. They also suggested a genuine moderator that could keep both sides focused. The questions could still be on cards, but a moderator could, for instance, indicate to Mr. Renzi when the time for his talk is about up, or ask someone who's question has just been read if they think it was answered, and perhaps repeat the question to Mr. Renzi, or could interrupt a group member if they're out of line. The result could be a genuine give and take, but in an organized way.

 

His staff took the suggestions and said they would pass along some of them.

 

Much as I disagree with British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the war, I do have to give him credit for not hesitating to meet with large groups of dissenters for long periods, tirelessly trying to make his case. This will certainly be more regulated than that. But it will be interesting to see if Rep. Renzi will take the opportunity to give his constituents a genuine ear, and a genuine response.