Missing Lawmakers Dismay Residents
JACKSON HOLE, WY – Frustrated Teton County residents filed into the county building on Thursday for a meeting with field reps from the offices of Sens. Barrasso and Enzi and Rep. Cheney. Since the start of the congressional session in January, all three representatives have eschewed facing their Teton County constituents. Thursday’s meeting, a normally scheduled event that field reps host quarterly, reminded voters of their representatives’ recalcitrance.
“It felt like we were just putting slips of paper into a comment box that was shot into space,” said Christie Koriakin of the activism group JH Activate. “The form letters, lack of responses, and [lawmakers] sending minions to sit in for [them] is getting old.”
It is not difficult to see why the meeting’s format would exacerbate already irked voters. Some residents scrawled their comments on pieces of paper while others aired their grievances for field reps who did what they could: sat silently scribbling people’s remarks onto notepads.
Several folks in the audience asked why they had yet to see the faces of Barrasso, Enzi and Cheney in Teton County, which elicited booming applause from the room of about 60 people.
Thursday’s meeting came about one month after the first congressional recess of the year, when residents invited Barrasso, Enzi and Cheney to a town hall meeting in Jackson on February 24. The lawmakers declined invites to the meeting, organized by five locals, citing other obligations in different parts of the state.
Those “obligations,” however, included a fundraiser for Barrasso in Teton Village the same day as the meeting. So while a cardboard cutout sat in the senator’s place at the town hall meeting, he appeared at an event that supporters shelled out $1,500 per individual and $5,000 per political action committee to attend, according to The Intercept, which obtained a physical invitation to the fundraiser.
“The [fundraiser] has been scheduled for more than six months,” Laura Mengelkamp, press secretary for Barrasso, told PJH in February. She went on to rattle off a litany of other Wyoming towns where Barrasso spoke to constituents instead that week.
That Wyoming’s representatives like Barrasso are opting to schmooze with campaign contributors instead of talking with the people they’re paid to represent has fueled the ire of valley residents. People like Jackson Town Councilman Jim Stanford, who attended Thursday’s meeting.
“It’s ridiculous that our senators come to Teton County with their hands out for high-dollar fundraisers, yet they won’t take the time to hear the concerns of working folks in the community,” Stanford told PJH. “It has been years since they’ve held a public event to talk about issues with constituents. And Rep. Cheney doesn’t even know the local elected officials in her supposed ‘hometown.’”
The town councilman pointed to Barrasso’s predecessor, whose accessible legislative style was in stark contrast to current legislators. “The late U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas came around often, met with the press, sometimes got an earful, but was willing to listen and share his perspective.”
The meeting Thursday was on the heels of several votes in the House and Senate that have outraged people on the left and the right, including Congress’ vote to overturn the FCC’s landmark internet privacy protections. Now internet service providers can access and sell people’s browsing history.
Stanford mentioned this to field reps, along with representatives’ attacks on Planned Parenthood, as two inflaming moves. “I’m pretty irate that our representatives would somehow think that’s a good idea—for telecommunications companies to be gathering information about the websites we visit, the news we read, the products we buy. That’s our business … other than the tens of thousands of dollars our representatives have taken from telecommunications businesses, I can see no rationale justifying voting for that bill.”
Tea Partier Bob Culver also lamented the Republican vote to overturn internet privacy rules. “When we talk about the internet privacy act, that’s something I do not want—federal or local or state or anybody poking around on what information I choose to read or look at.”
Almost every single senator who voted in favor of overturning the internet privacy rules is a Republican. Every single Democrat and Independent senator voted against the resolution. The final vote in the Senate was 50–48, with two Republicans voting against the resolution, and another two opting not to vote.
Of the Wyoming representatives who all voted in favor of selling off people’s internet privacy, each has collected thousands in campaign contributions from internet providers that will benefit from overturning the regulation.
According to the nonprofit watchdog opensecrets.org, in 2016 Barrasso received $48,000 from the telecommunications industry while Enzi took home $17,000. Their career-long cash-ins up to this point are substantially more, however. Throughout their legislative tenures Barrasso has collected a total of $263,300 from telecommunications companies and Enzi has taken home $202,396.
The freshman representative Cheney has collected $15,500.
As Wyoming’s congressional delegation continues to vote in favor of big business over individuals’ rights, folks like Koriakin are hoping Wyomingites are paying attention.
“This is no longer about politics,” she said. “It’s about humanity, ethics, and the safety of our country.”
A video of the meeting that includes residents’ concerns—from health care and Trump’s proposed budget to the coal industry, climate change and national parks—can be found on The Planet’s Facebook page.