We Think: The Swamp is Not Draining

April 24, 2017.

Last week’s announcement by state Sen. Jennifer Wexton that she will oppose Rep. Barbara Comstock for Virginia’s 10th congressional district seat has put an even brighter spotlight on the second term incumbent and the performance of Congress as a whole.

The seat was moved from “Lean R” to “Toss Up” by the Cook Political Index, and may end up as the most hotly contested House race in the nation next year, and a referendum on congressional leadership.

We like elected public servants who say what they believe, back it up with facts, work constructively to advance those beliefs, and hold themselves publicly accountable. We may disagree on substance and merits, but that’s an approach we expect from everyone who serves in federal, state and local government.

Sadly, it’s getting increasingly lost as the new year wears on, at least in Washington, D.C.

There’s still a lot of bluster coming out of the White House, too often without facts to back it up.  Yes, those nagging things called facts; things that can be documented not simply asserted.  In part because of this approach to governance, there is little to show in the first 100 days when it comes to advancement of new policies and programs. Executive Orders don’t count. They’re easy, every president does them, and they require no real engagement with other stakeholders.

A big part of the problem is the failure of Congress. The majority cannot discipline itself to emerge with consensus positions on health care, international affairs, trade, immigration and more. At least not yet, and that doesn’t help the White House move anything of consequence forward, or gain the public’s confidence.

What’s also disconcerting is the lack of accountability. We’re treated every day to name-calling, finger-pointing, ducking of hard questions, and rhetorical parries that distract from substantive discussion. Everything except accountability from Democrats and Republicans who were elected to get something done.

Democrats in congress don’t get a pass on this. The leadership does not feel compelled to offer its own ideas, and some are acting like jeering observers, eating popcorn and watching the dysfunction.

Public confidence in the new Administration is low, and the swamp of incumbent-protection politics and partisanship does not appear to be draining.

In Loudoun, epicenter of Virginia’s 10th congressional district, Rep. Comstock has been chastised by Democrats for not holding a town hall meeting – a face-to-face engagement with constituents. Sure, there will be organized protesters at such a meeting. But why not do it anyhow, face them and move on, just as other Republicans have done across the nation. By not engaging, the matter of accountability only looms larger.

Democrats in Virginia are understandably buoyed by all of this. Their candidates for Governor are winning the head-to-head match ups with their Republican counterparts, and national Democrats are crowing about Wexton’s announcement.

We say all this not on the basis of partisanship, but rather as message to those who hold the keys to the power of the federal government. They happen to be Republicans now, and they should be more mindful that the great majority of Americans who went to the polls last year — including those on the left and right – wanted change, regardless of their choice for president.

They wanted more political courage, integrity and accountability. They wanted fearless problem-solvers to represent them in Washington and get something done. It’s why Donald Trump won, and why Bernie Sanders battled Hillary Clinton so effectively.

We don’t doubt that Rep. Comstock is a smart, capable legislator. We urge her to engage more, and with specificity.

We don’t doubt that Sen. Wexton is smart and capable too. We also want to see her engage with substance and specificity, not mere partisan rhetoric, as her campaign for the nomination of her party unfolds.

We urge both, along with the other Democrats in the race, to speak directly and regularly on the issues before the Congress and the nation. Not just with consultant-scripted press releases from their campaigns and national organizations, but in person.

To meet with citizens and the press across the district, in open, un-orchestrated forums. To listen to what people have to say, and have an open mind. To offer their own views, back them up with facts, and face the critics. That’s the sort of dialogue that America needs more of these days.

The race for the 10th district congressional seat should be a good test of who is more committed to swamp draining — perhaps an exemplar for the nation too.