Letters to the Editor

How do you share concerns with a representative who won’t hear them?

In this BND file photo, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, speaks to veterans at VFW Post 4183 in Belleville on May 31, 2017.
In this BND file photo, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, speaks to veterans at VFW Post 4183 in Belleville on May 31, 2017. snagy@bnd.com

As an organization, Indivisible admires and respects journalism and journalists. The principles of the free press are enshrined in our First Amendment because they are the most effective force in speaking truth to power. And the reporting team at the Belleville News-Democrat is second to none in that regard.

However, on July 15, the BND Editorial Board wrote an unexpectedly harsh take on our group, the Indivisible 12th, a coalition of concerned constituents from Belleville to Alton and East St. Louis to Waterloo. We are young parents, empty nesters, teachers, civil servants, physicians, farmers, mechanics, veterans, retirees, college students, and so much more.

But to hear the Editorial Board describe us, you’d think we were “formed by Democratic Party insiders.” This could not be further from the truth. For one, although we subscribe to progressive values, we are nonpartisan: we don’t care if you’re a Democrat, an Independent, or a Never-Trump Republican. We invite you to help us create a better political system for our families and our future.

If you’re interested in learning what Indivisible is about, there’s a manual written by, yes, Democratic staffers in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Read it and decide for yourself. Regardless, our loyalty lies not with party, but our country and the progressive values and ideals we believe in. And we will not support any candidate who does not share them, Democrat, Republican or otherwise.

For many of us, Indivisible is simply a way to channel our individual political power into protecting and preserving the historic social values and contracts that we feared would be under attack by this administration.

And sure enough, President Trump and Rep. Bost went right after Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, threatening to strip anywhere from 23 million Americans of health care. So when the Editorial Board complains about a town hall being an “ambush,” they are denigrating the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and coworkers of people whose very lives depends on prohibitively expensive appointments, tests, and treatments.

Shannon Russell Provided

And Rep. Mike Bost voted for the version of the Trumpcare bill that was demonstrably worse in terms of how many would lose insurance. Sen. Mitch McConnell managed to get that down to 22 million Americans, but moderate senators still wouldn’t touch with a 50-foot pole.

And how are we supposed to express our concerns with our elected representative? According to an argument as hackneyed and sloppy as the Photoshopped graphic that accompanied it, the Editorial Board says that real town halls aren’t necessary because “we now have quick, high-tech ways, like email, to communicate with our leaders.”

Are you kidding me? The first thing I tried was sending an email asking a list of questions about the ACA. You know what I got back? A form letter. That isn’t an answer.

Next, we’re told to use Facebook. Again, tried that. The only response we get on Facebook is clearly by Rep. Bost’s staffer, and if it’s not, then he’s not answering questions there either.

“But staff are just as good as speaking to the congressman,” I hear the Editorial Board grumble. While Reps. Rodney Davis (IL-13) and John Shimkus (IL-15) say they hold open office hours, Rep. Bost does not. He’s now offering office hours with staff, but this 2014 interview with The Southern, he explains how office hours with staff is no substitute for office hours with your congressman.

What’s more, in our one meeting with Bost’s staff, we were repeatedly told by Dustin, a junior staffer, that he couldn’t answer our question, but if we wrote our phone numbers on our questions, they’d get back to us. Guess how many callbacks we got: zero.

Finally, if we’re really lucky, our congressmen bestows upon us a tele-town hall. Except Rep. Bost has only held three tele-town halls this year, calling over 85,000 constituents and letting a lucky 15 or so ask questions.

This means that your odds of getting to ask your Rep. Bost a question in the past six months is about 1 in 1,889, slightly less than the 1-in-3,000 odds of being struck by lightning during your lifetime. Or, more relevantly, far worse than the 1-in-14 odds that a someone in the 12th District would lose their health insurance under the bill Rep. Bost voted for.

This is why we want – no, need – a town hall where he’s not only on the record, but he has to look us in the eye when he says that voting for Trumpcare was in our best interests. Because as Rep. Bost said in that 2014 interview, “If you’re going to … truly be the representative that you need … then you need to keep open lines of communication.”

He went on to criticize his opponent, former Rep. Bill Enyart, for holding a tele-town hall meeting. “They’re not town hall meetings,” Bost said. “A tele-town hall meeting gives you a buffer, and a very good buffer.”

On July 15, the Editorial Board of the Belleville News-Democrat decided that it is perfectly OK for a U.S. representative to give himself that buffer when voting on a bill that just 25 percent of Illinoisans supported.

And, indeed, tele-town halls have been a “very good buffer” for Rep. Bost, as evidenced on May 18, when a veteran asked him about the CBO score and our congressman interrupted him seven times in the course of a three-minute call before hanging up on him.

It’s rather ironic that the Editorial Board chose to lecture constituents on civility toward a congressman who can’t answer a simple question without talking over the citizen and who cut his teeth throwing tantrums on the House floor.

In gratitude for the political cover, Rep. Bost read the entire editorial at his July 18 tele-town hall, eating up a good chunk of very limited time. That was a very nice buffer courtesy of the BND Editorial Board.

They could have expressed support for our First Amendment right to petition for redress of grievances, the way The Southern did, but instead the Editorial Board of the Belleville News-Democrat chose to speak truthiness to the powerless.

Shannon Russell is the traditional media lead for the Indivisible 12th Illinois, a political group dedicated to bringing progressive change to Illinois’ 12th Congressional District.