Herrera Beutler makes time to meet in-person with brewers, so why not with constituents?

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is in Clark County today, but don’t get your hopes up that the Republican congresswoman from Camas is actually heeding constituents’ requests for an in-person town hall.

She’s actually here to talk beer. Herrera Beutler “hopes to hear directly from some of the 33 breweries and brewpubs in Southwest Washington about the hurdles they must clear to succeed and thrive … about the challenges they face as small businesses and discuss what she and Congress can do to help,” explained the media-invite from Herrera Beutler’s office.

While it’s great that local brewers — who help our economy and add to this area’s overall appeal — are getting some much-deserved attention, this one-on-one with Herrera Beutler is a slap in the face to many constituents, who have been asking the congresswoman to meet with people in person for several months. The congresswoman has said she believes in-person town halls will only draw “outsiders” who will drown out local residents.

Instead of meeting in-person with the people she represents, the congresswoman has been holding “tele-town halls.” The response has been great, too. In April, nearly 4,300 people took part in the Camas Republican’s 90-minute town hall via telephone.

The Columbian described that telephone town hall as “cordial” with “no shouting, no booing and hardly any interrupting.” Why is it so hard for Herrera Beutler to imagine that an in-person town hall might draw the same cordial, respectful constituents?

It’s hard to buy the argument that “outsiders” are coming in to mess things up for Herrera Beutler’s “real” constituents. However, it’s worth noting that, if outside groups are indeed showing up to town halls en masse, it’s a trick they learned in 2009 and 2010, when riled-up Tea Party groups — often coming from outside their home districts — dogged Democratic congress members and senators about the Affordable Care Act.

Speaking of the Tea Party, you know exactly what many members of Herrera Beutler’s own party would call her if she happened to lean a little more to the left and were ducking in-person town halls: they wouldn’t hesitate to write her off as a triggered snowflake looking for a safe space.

If the congresswoman truly wants to show local people that she cares so much about their concerns, Herrera Beutler needs to do more than just hold glorified conference calls. She needs to show up. To, in the words she has posted on her own website, “provide community meetings throughout the region.”

If her constituents are upset and worried about things like health care and immigration and human rights and the environment, she needs to see it in person, to witness people’s anger and frustration staring her in the face. Her job is to represent the people. All of the people. How can she understand the angst and fear circulating amongst her constituents if she insulates herself with technology?

There is no reason to believe that local, in-person meetings will become overly contentious. After all, the congresswoman was one of a few moderate Republicans who shot down the first version of the ACA replacement because it would have hurt too many Medicaid recipients, making her a perfect candidate to help constituents understand what is happening with health care on a national level.

If there is common ground to be found somewhere, we believe that an in-person town hall, where people can look each other in the eye when they’re talking about these types of life-or-death issues and where they can show their raw fear, is that place.

After all, if the congresswoman has time to meet with beer brewers to “discuss what she and Congress can do to help,” surely she has time to do the same for the people she represents.