Rep. Mia Love held “open office hours” last week and the media applauded her for her accessibility and innovation in listening to constituents. The representative mentioned safety concerns, and said that she “can’t raise Utah’s voice if [she] can’t hear over the clutter,” a reference to rowdy town halls and an excuse for why she won’t hold one.
This weeklong event was a nice PR stunt for her; she used the media to tell her story about the threats she has received and to amplify her message about how raucous constituents at town halls leave no room for dialogue. Now she can point to the flattering media coverage and pat herself on the back for being an accessible politician.
Do not be fooled. She met with no more than 200 constituents when town halls would have allowed her to meet with 2,000. The fewer the people she has to interface with, the greater her control of the message.
Love has been excellent at managing the narrative about herself. Members of the media that I’ve spoken with say that her office rarely returns requests for statements; she has a reputation for keeping out of sight and, therefore, out of mind. This strategy makes sense; Love rode a wave of far-right, Tea Party activism to get elected. But, once in office, she toed the party line and voted for the Republican establishment’s poster-child, Paul Ryan, for speaker of the House.
And now she faces an insistent, and increasingly vocal sector of her constituency — likely a large portion of the Democratic and independent voters who allowed her only a narrow 5 point win in 2014 — who are disgusted with her implicit support of Trump and are angry that she voted for the AHCA, a bill that would have devastated the health of Utahns had it become law. She is in an increasingly difficult position, so her plan of action is complete control of the story, or silence.
While I do believe the representative’s claims about threats to her safety, I do not believe that she would have held a town hall last week had she not received such threats. It is an excuse even if it’s true; there are plenty of ways to ensure safety at a public event. In fact, I and five other constituents sat down with her staff twice in February to explain a detailed plan for a town hall that we had taken the time to put together and that would have created a safe environment that was conducive to conversation.
This was prior to the terrible shooting of Rep. Scalise and prior to the threats to Love. We were told then that she would not hold or attend a town hall, but that “she has held town halls in the past and will continue to do so in the future” — a line we’ve been hearing for months, now.
Love does not hold town halls because she can’t hear over the “clutter”, but what she and the Tribune editorial staff who published the glowing piece about her open office hours do not understand is that the clutter is what she is supposed to be hearing. People are angry, deservedly so, and it is her job to listen, not preach at us from a platform and not use us in publicity stunts.
If she cannot face her constituents in a situation where we, not she, control the narrative, then she has no business in public life and does not deserve to sit in our seat in Congress.
It’s not “clutter,” Congresswoman, it’s democracy.
Katie Matheson is chair of Utah’s CD4 Coalition.