In DC on 9/14/09: The Beltway Cocoon

Even though Scott Brown won the U.S. Senate special election in Massachusetts, do you really think Capitol Hill is listening?  If my pilgrimage to Washington DC in September 2009 is any indication, I doubt it.

I’ve shown you the pictures I took at the 9/12 rally here and here.  But I haven’t told the bitter story of my visits to the DC offices of Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and Representative Adam Smith (D-WA) . . .

Until now.

To say I’m miffed would be an understatement.  The anger I felt then and for many weeks afterward prevented me from blogging about it because, whenever I reflected on the experience, I couldn’t see straight, let alone think straight.

I’ve lived the vast majority of my life in Ohio, but there are brief seasons of my life when I’ve lived elsewhere.  I’ve been a candidate for the Ohio General Assembly twice, and I blog about Ohio politics, which I’m quite familiar with.  I arrived in Washington state from Ohio in April 2009 and intend to return to Ohio in early 2011.  When I became so alarmed about the federal government’s agenda that I vowed to trek to Washington DC to express my umbrage, I didn’t have much money at my disposal.  I had to factor in the cost of a 6,000 mile round trip plane ticket, ground transportation, and lodging.  I couldn’t afford more than a 5-day trip, and the cheapest round-trip flights include weekend stayovers, flying out on a Friday and flying back on a Tuesday.  I’d only have Saturday, Sunday, and Monday available to me to achieve my purpose.  Once I learned of the 9-12 rally, it made it easy for me to pick the most productive Saturday, and I’d visit legislative offices on Monday.  That was the plan.

Senator George Voinovich

The highest priority visit, for me, was Senator Voinovich’s office.  He was the only Republican on my list.  I thought he’d be the most sympathetic toward my point of view.  The MSM had reported that he’d take an active role in the anti-casino campaign last fall, and competing Cuyahoga County reform measures were on the ballot.  Voinovich is the only non-judicial Republican politician from Cuyahoga County who currently represents the entire county.  I sought out his views on these matters so I could blog about them.  Also, on national issues, I pointed out my alarm that such legislation as cap-and-trade, health care, and government takeover of corporate giants (via bailouts) were pointing our nation down a path where the people would be subordinate to its government (tyranny), when our founders intended that the government would be subordinate to its people.

In preparation for my visit, I sent a lengthy email to Voinovich, explaining my views on the issues, requesting Voinovich’s views on the issues, and announcing my intentions to visit his DC office.  I also wrote a letter that I would hand-deliver when I arrived at his office.

Wearing my best suit and tie, briefcase in hand (containing my letter), I passed through the security checkpoint and made my way into the Hart Senate Office Building.  The Hart Building is the most modern of the Senate’s office buildings.  Stepping into the atrium is like stepping into a different world, with it’s sleek opulent styling.  So few of the people scurrying about the building appear to be ordinary constituents, such as myself, as evidenced by the proliferation of ID badges dangling from blazers and suit coats.  The beauty of the building, the beauty of the offices that honeycomb the sides of the open atrium, and the beauty of the staffers themselves, can quickly mesmerize a person and lull them into a fantasy far removed from reality.  If the mesmerizing effect is so pronounced that I can feel it in an instant, imagine the anesthetizing effect it has on Senators who serve 6 years at a stretch.  This is the first time I could actually visualize the cocoon which insulates Congress from the nation’s people who live outside the DC Beltway.

I entered Senator Voinovich’s office and nearly had my breath taken away by the beauty of the staffer who’s desk was positioned closest to the entry.  I managed to stammer about who I was and what my purpose was in visiting the Senator’s office.  I was seeking the Senator’s views on the topics I’ve already disclosed, above, and I intended to blog about them.  The staffer, rather than make an effort to accommodate my inquiries, indicated that she could not provide me with the information that I requested!!!!  She said that the Senator would have no prepared statements on local or state matters, such as the county reform or casino issues, and that I should make contact with state representatives instead.  I’m already well versed on what state reps throughout Ohio were saying.  For Pete’s sake, I was a state rep candidate twice myself.  I’ve actually met the majority of state reps and state senators in person at one time or another.  I wasn’t lacking that information, I was lacking Voinovich’s information.  She did not address the issues of national politics that I had raised, either, such as the concerns expressed in my email.

I reached into my briefcase and retrieved my letter.  She placed it in a tray on her desk and said that it would be forwarded to the Senator, but to not expect a reply because my current address was outside Ohio.  Isn’t it funny how Senators on the campaign trail can welcome an influx of support from all over the country in an effort to get elected, and then ignore those same supporters during the day-to-day workings on the job?

And let’s recount the ways in which I’ve supported George Voinovich:  I’ve voted for him every single time his name appeared on my ballot.  I volunteered as an intern in his office on the 29th floor of the Riffe Tower when he was Governor helping file the “Governor’s Clips” gleaned from print media for ready reference at his fingertips.  I’ve listened, in person, to his campaign speeches at venue after venue, including the swanky digs at Landerhaven for a very formal fundraiser where I had to make a large campaign donation to even gain entry.  I’ve distributed his campaign literature door-to-door, even as I was doing my own campaigning for state rep in 2004.  I’ve manned phone banks to help drum up commitments for donations, yard signs, and GOTV efforts.  I’ve defended him against his adversaries in letters to newspapers and postings on internet bulletin boards.  On my own blog and on the blogs of others, both on the left and on the right, I have vouched for Voinovich as a principled man, and have highlighted his strengths while others were bemoaning his deficiencies.  I even went so far as to reprint one of his press releases in its entirety on my blog which I prefaced with my compliments to the Senator.

I thought we were on the same team.  I was mistaken.  I was rebuffed and repudiated.

And as for my non-Ohio address, I had only been absent from Ohio for 5 months.  George Voinovich has been absent from Ohio, inside the Beltway, since he was elected to the Senate in 1998.  By the time I return to Ohio, Voinovich is slated to return at about the same time as he retires from the Senate.

I was offering Senator Voinovich the opportunity to remain relevant to the voters back home in Cuyahoga County and the rest of Ohio.  I flew 3,000 miles to do it.  As each year passed that Voinovich has been in the Senate, he has become more and more distant to Ohioans, enveloped in the cocoon of the Beltway, steeped in the Beltway mentality, surrounded by a surreal environment with beautiful staffers and lobbyists who, in kissing up to the Senator, crowd out and squelch the din of dissatisfied Ohioans.  After flying 3,000 miles back from DC, on September 15th, I found three Voinovich press releases issued by Garrette Silverman in my email inbox, none of which addressed the issues I’d raised.  After being rebuffed like that, the Voinovich staff feels they can still USE me and my blog as an unthinking mouthpiece?  They won’t give me the time of day when I approach them, but they think that I’ll keep parroting their talking points ad infinitum?

Never again.

I still get a press release in my inbox from time to time, but, from that day to this, I’ve never gotten a reply to the queries I posed in my email or my hand-delivered letter.

I was shown that I was nothing to Voinovich.  And when Voinovich finally goes home, he’ll be nothing to me.

Senator Sherrod Brown

Did you know that I’m a political blogger because of Sherrod Brown?  It’s true.  It used to be that I contented myself with commenting in the forums at LorainCounty.com when I had the urge to publicly express myself about politics.  But, during the primary season of 2006, there were some things that rubbed me the wrong way about Sherrod Brown’s actions toward the Paul Hackett campaign.  I vented on the forums at LorainCounty.com.  As always, I don’t use foul language and didn’t call names, but I did express my displeasure.  My criticisms of Brown were deleted.  I wasn’t violating the website’s terms of use, yet I was being censored.  After several attempts to re-enter the criticisms and post them, only to have them deleted, I discovered that they redirected my attempts to post by submitting my comments to website moderators, as if I was a new member of the forums (though I’d been active on the site since 2002), and my comments would not be visible to forum readers until 24 hours later.

Apparently, the First Amendment of the Constitution doesn’t apply to anyone who would criticize Sherrod Brown.  He’s a king.  I suppose when you’ve spent your entire adult life after college in elected office, you are more than just an Ordinary Joe.  You begin to have an aura of invulnerability and a path toward aristocracy, ever rising in the ranks of nobility.  Therefore, those who diss Sherrod Brown will be censored, ignored, or ridiculed with a dismissive air.  Make way for his Highness.

Another visitor to the forums, however, by the name of Scott Bakalar, had started his own blog.  He asked for permission to reprint some of my forum comments on his blog, the now-defunct Word of Mouth.  He pledged that he would not alter or distort my comments in any way.  Loraine Ritchey, another visitor to the forums, vouched for the sincerity of Scott’s pledge.  I found the request quite appealing, considering the censorship I’d just been subjected to.  One thing led to another, and eventually, Buckeye RINO launched.  I control the content of this blog.  I won’t be censored on my own blog.

Sherrod Brown’s staff is a little bit better at outreach than Voinovich’s.  However, the outreach isn’t designed to obtain your input as a voter or constituent, because Sherrod’s already got his mind made up about the perfect solution to any problem.  Instead, the outreach is designed to woo you to hop on the Sherrod Brown bandwagon, because he’s already got things figured out.

When the first health care proposals were being brought forward at the outset of the new Obama administration, I received an email from Brown staffers touting his proposals, inviting me to read through them, and encouraging the dissemination of Brown’s talking points.  I replied that my own views on health care reform were already fairly well defined.  I’d formulated it during my 2004 state rep campaign, and reprised it on my blog during the 2008 primary season.  Sherrod Brown’s end goal is a single-payer system, like Medicare.  My own platform is couched in marketplace reforms.  The Brown staffers pointed out a tiny area of agreement between Brown’s proposals and my own, but it was clear that, in the big picture, our two platforms were entirely dissimilar, and that Brown had no intention of pursuing a more free marketplace, so there wasn’t much common ground upon which to sustain the conversation.

Nevertheless, I arrived in Sherrod Brown’s DC office on the afternoon of 9/14/09 to express my dissatisfaction with the health care reform and cap-and-trade proposals before Congress.  The staffers, again, far removed from the real world within the confines of the lofty Hart Senate Building, acted like they’d never seen a lone constituent before.  Apparently, constituents are supposed to arrive in packs on Thursday mornings to have “coffee” with the Senator, or are otherwise to request Capitol Tour tickets.  I wasn’t there on a Thursday morning, I wasn’t there to request tickets, and I didn’t arrive in a pack.  I just wanted to appear in person to express my views on legislation being considered by Congress.  The first staffer didn’t seem to know what to do.  The second staffer saw the perplexed look of the first staffer and said, “I know what we can do.”  She reached over to a bound volume that was perched on a file cabinet and opened it to a page.  It was a guest register.  I was to write my name and address on a line and there was a tiny, tiny space at the end of that line to leave a comment.  Since the Voinovich staffer balked at my Washington state address, I simply put my email address on Sherrod Brown’s guest register, hoping that would increase my chances of getting a response.

So that’s it.  You show up in Sherrod Brown’s office from 3,000 miles away, you sign your name in a guest register, and you don’t hear back.

Senator Maria Cantwell

When I arrived at Senator Cantwell’s office, I arrived at precisely the same time as a group of  five or six Beltway lobbyists had arrived, ID badges dangling from their suit coats.  A staffer was there awaiting them, rolling out the red carpet, greeting them warmly, and ushering them into a conference room adjoining the reception area where they could talk turkey behind closed doors.  The lobbyists had instant and immediate access.  The Senator’s staff looked forward so eagerly to meeting with them.

The corridors of the Dirksen Senate Office Building are more spartan in appearance than the atrium of the Hart Building, yet the humbler outward appearance of the office doesn’t mean that the beautiful staff is ready to stoop to the lowly level of obliging actual voters who’ve arrived in town from 3,000 miles away, who, again, aren’t interested in tour tickets and aren’t there on a Thursday morning for “coffee”.  Monday afternoon is the time I had available to me, and my purpose was to appear in person to express my views on current legislation so that my Senator would know not everybody back home is on board with Obamacare, among other things.  The receptionist politely asked my name, yet didn’t bother with my contact information, just offered her assurance that she would relay the message to the Senator.  That’s less than what they did at Sherrod Brown’s office.

And it’s far, far, far less than what they did for some Beltway lobbyists who couldn’t even cast a ballot for Senator Cantwell if they wanted to.  But Senator Cantwell wants to hear them.  Not me.  She doesn’t want to respond to me, either.

Maddening.

On the subject of Obamacare, I heard Senator Cantwell on the radio congratulating herself that she inserted language into the Senate bill so that certain Obamacare provisions would mirror Washington state’s public health care program, Basic Health.  She’s so far inside the Beltway, and so far removed from the hearts and minds of Washington state voters, that she doesn’t realize that an Obamacare resemblance to Basic Health is not a selling point.  Basic Health is unsustainable.  It can’t be adequately funded.  The waitlist to enroll numbers in the tens of thousands, while the state is seeking to disenroll thousands from Basic Health due to budget constraints.  Basic Health is the poster child for the rationing that arises in a public health care system.  Senator Cantwell, apparently, is oblivious to all this.

Senator Patty Murray

This is not the first time I’ve lived in Washington.  I lived here before, in 1992, when Patty Murray first launched her campaign that brought her to the Senate.  In 1992, she ran with no political resume.  She ran as an outsider, common folk like you and me.  My how times have changed.  Patty Murray didn’t change the Beltway.  The Beltway changed Patty Murray.  The money her campaign receives from PAC’s of all stripes runs into the millions of dollars, and her voting record is a reflection of that money.  The state of Washington is cutting Basic Health, public education, and any number of programs that Patty Murray would deem politically expedient, but Patty Murray isn’t voting as if she’s the Senator from the state of Washington.  She’s voting like she’s the senator from New York, or New Jersey, or Connecticut.  I can understand why Senator Schumer, or Senator Menendez, or Senator Dodd would cry out for the financial sector bailouts on Wall Street.  The Wall Street fat cats are their most influential constituents.  But are they Patty Murray’s constituents?  Why should taxpayer dollars from Washington residents be funneled to save the rear ends of irresponsible bankers from New York, to the detriment of the Washington economy?  Clearly, Patty Murray is no longer the Beltway outsider she once was, and her political and economic interests no longer mesh well with those of Washington state voters.

In Senator Murray’s office within the Russell Senate Office Building, it was quiet as a mouse.  I was invited to sign the guest register and sign up to receive Senator Murray’s newsletter.  Also, there was another sheet where I could write down my concerns about pending legislation, and, again, sign up to receive Senator Murray’s newsletter.  I could see from the guest register that not very many voters arrive each day in her office from 3,000 miles away (we’re talking single digits).  There was no discussion with any staffer about my concerns, even though two staffers were on hand in the reception area and no one else was there.  The phone wasn’t even ringing.  At any rate, I quietly wrote down my concerns on the paper and filled out the guest register and made doubly sure that I was signed up for Patty Murray’s newsletter.

From that day to this, I’ve never received a response from Patty Murray’s office, even though I filled out my contact information twice.  I’ve never even received Patty Murray’s newsletter.

Representative Adam Smith

In August, I attended a town hall hosted by Rep. Adam Smith and his staff.  On that occasion, I filled out a form listing my concerns about the legislation before Congress, especially the process of legislating that we’ve all come to distrust.  There were certain pledges Rep. Smith made at that town hall regarding what kind of a health care bill he would support.  I hadn’t heard a reply to the form I filled out at the town hall, so I sent an email in advance of my departure for DC that fleshed out more of my concerns about pending legislation.

I arrived at the Rayburn Office Building and saw that it was less glamorous than the Senate office buildings, by far.  The cocoon of the Beltway is less evident here, but Rep. Smith has now been in office since 1996.  He still directs his staff to respond to constituents, but he’s been caught up in that bad Beltway habit of promising one thing and then voting something else.

It was getting later in the afternoon.  I signed the guest register.  I was about the 5th or 6th visitor of the day to sign in, so, again, not too many constituents show up from 3,000 miles away.  The staffer closest to the entry listened as I described my purpose.  I told him I hadn’t received any reply to either query.  He had a computer in front of him, and he was able to retrieve the email message I’d sent.  We talked about it for a bit, and then I went my way.

After returning from DC, I received two form letters in reply to my query.  They didn’t specifically reference my correspondence, but at least they were relevant to the topics I wished to be addressed.  The form letter on health care reform reiterated the pledges he’d made at the town hall.  The form letter about the legislative process stated that Smith favored having each bill on display for 72 hours prior to being voted on by the House.  The second letter didn’t hardly scratch the surface of the criticisms I voiced about the legislative process.

When the House finally approved their version of Obamacare, Smith had voted in favor of it even though, in many of its provisions, it was contrary to what Smith had pledged.  I sent another email to Smith’s office and received another form letter in response that basically confirmed that he’d caved in to Beltway demands, in violation of what he’d told voters back home.

Scorecard: 5 visits to legislators’ offices, though other traffic through the offices was non-existent, except for the lobbyists visiting Cantwell, I was never offered access beyond the reception area, just three even had a guest register, only one had a form specifically designed to collect voter input, and only one ever attempted any sort of reply.  They might say with their lips that they hear you and that lobbyists are the very devil, but they lie.

I certainly have hopes that Scott Brown will adhere to his pledge to be the people’s Senator.  But I’ve seen how the Beltway mentality seduces members of Congress over time.  They don’t emerge from DC the same way that they arrived.  I know this, though: the fresher they are in office, the less they are removed from the voters that sent them, and, conversely, the more veteran they become, the less they resemble anybody back home.  They become creatures of the Beltway.

Ohio will elect a new U.S. Senator this year.  For the GOP primary, I prefer Tom Ganley.  He’s been in the hinterlands and felt the brunt of the mismanaged economy.  Rob Portman is a Beltway creature already.  He hasn’t felt our pain.  He’s only heard faint echoes of it.  After reading the foregoing, I hope you understand why I favor Ganley for Senate.

I hope President Obama, with Sherrod Brown at his side at Lorain County Community College, will be able to glimpse the Tea Party signs in the distance, even though they endeavor to envelope themselves in a bubble of purple-shirted supporters.  I hope they understand that the special election in Massachusetts was not just a fluke.  A vast number of Americans far and wide aren’t on board with the current agenda.

12 Responses to “In DC on 9/14/09: The Beltway Cocoon”

  1. Largebill Says:

    Dan,

    Appreciate the detailed review of your visit to DC. Sorry to hear it was (predictably) disappointing. I have limited my dealings with congresscritters to phone calls. Sadly, my experiences with Voinovich were no better. His staff clearly gives the vibe that citizens/constituents are a nuisance. Some have told me that his office was decent prior to his embarrassing performance during the John Bolton nomination hearings. Maybe they took so much grief over it that they are just riding out the rest of his term. Brown’s staff is definitely friendlier, but never agree with me so my calls to his office are just a waste of time to get crap off my chest. My representative is Boehner and his staff is very responsive, though they did misspell my name in a return letter.

    Hey, continue to spread the word about getting the bums rush. I hear about folks that get great constituent services (heck, some use constituent service as their excuse for voting Kucinich). Well, people need to hear about those who treat their bosses (constituents) with disdain.

    • buckeyerino Says:

      The protocol for how DC staff handle constituent visits needs to change.

      To think the prior Saturday, tens of thousands of people rallied on Capitol Hill about the unresponsiveness of Congress, and the following business day . . . unresponsive.

  2. Ben Keeler Says:

    As Bill said, predictably disapointing.

    I would have thought they would have had at least some staffer type out a form letter for you if they knew you were on your way. Unfourtently, I imagine once you become a Beltway Insider, you forgot where you came from and how you got there, and most importantly who got you there. Patty Murray herself probably illustrates this better than anyone.

    Also, the Hart Senate Office Building is so nice….it really is like a different world. I applied for a job there with a Senator in 2007. Didnt get the job, but it was a cool expereience.

    • buckeyerino Says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Ben.

      Yes, you’d think a staffer would do something, especially when they aren’t busy doing anything else.

      It bears repeating: The protocol needs to change.

  3. It’s about the jobs, Mr. President « Buckeye RINO Says:

    […] In DC on 9/14/09: The Beltway Cocoon […]

  4. Brian Says:

    Dan:

    I have been following the US Senate, studied the its history and now blog and run a discussion group calling for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, which took away the power of the states and made for the direct election of our US Senators by the populace, which was contrary to the founders plan.

    Too much to say here, but please check out the document I have posted to the right side of my web log. This is not some antiquated discussion, but one of the most important issue that illustrate why our country is out of control.

    http://repealthe17thamendment.blogspot.com/

    • buckeyerino Says:

      Repeal the 17th Amendment blog is a fixture in my sidebar blogroll under the heading of State of Ohio Blogger Alliance. I recommend the site to my readers. Thanks for calling attention to it, Brian. The 10th Amendment would probably be less endangered these days if we’d never ratified the 17th Amendment.

      The Democrats in Massachusetts wouldn’t have had to be embarrassed by the election of Scott Brown, as their Democrat state legislature could have appointed someone of their own party, so there’s an upside to repealing the 17th Amendment whether you’re on the political left or on the political right.

  5. Reprint of Voinovich’s Senate speech opposing Kagan selection for SCOTUS « Buckeye RINO Says:

    […] and Ohio political blogger who has, in times past, supported Voinovich candidacies in many ways, visited the Washington DC office of U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and came away from the expe… (putting it mildly) by the stonewall treatment I received.  The Voinovich staff likes access to […]

  6. Congress predicted to be more Republican, but I’m still not happy « Buckeye RINO Says:

    […] experienced legislator than an inexperienced one?  The more experienced you get as a legislator, the farther removed you are from the constituents you represent, and the closer the orbit around lobbyists becomes as you are […]

  7. The passing of George Voinovich | Buckeye RINO Says:

    […] Voinovich and what George Voinovich meant to me, I have to own up to making a hero out of him.  By September 2009, I was disenchanted.  Now, I find my criticisms a bit harsh and now I find myself wondering why I didn’t try to […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s