Rodney Davis offers a form letter and a “tele-townhall,” whatever that is

After calling his office on January 3 about the Office of Congressional Ethics, I received a response from Rep. Rodney Davis of the Illinois 13th district last night. It outlines the OCE, how the Goodlatte amendment would have changed it, and why he thinks changing the OCE is important. (Refresher course for those who have forgotten what this is all about is here.)

Davis opens by saying “I do not support eliminating the OCE.” I suggested no such thing. In my call, I said that I was concerned about the OCE losing its independence. Under the Goodlatte amendment, the OCE would have lost its power to “investigate anonymous tips or refer criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors without the express consent of the Ethics Committee, which would gain the power to summarily end any OCE probe,” according to the Washington Post. The fox, in other words, would have been put in charge of the hen house.

Reasonable people can disagree on how the OCE is best run, and Congressional bodies should be subject to change and improvement. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree on this issue, however, Davis fails to answer a key question: Did he support the Goodlatte amendment when it was debated in the closed-door Republican caucus? His letter implies that he did, but it also avoids saying. This is clearly an attempt to keep from having a vote haunt him in the future.

Form letters have their place, but, particularly on complicated issues, they’re insufficient. Previously a spokesperson assured us that “he is try increasing engagement with folks,” but he has a funny way of showing it.

Clearly, he is not eager to engage directly with his constituents and reporters in environments that require immediate interaction and accountability. Individuals, as well as groups like the local chapter of Action for a Better Tomorrow, have been requesting a townhall on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act for weeks.

Today, Tom Kacich of the News-Gazette reported that Davis would “soon” host a “tele-townhall,” whatever that is, for constituents to ask questions. That’s an improvement over stonewalling, but it begs more questions than it answers. Will questions be screened by staff ahead of time? How much notice will we be given to ensure we can attend? Will there be follow-ups? Why can’t it be in person, typical Congressional schedules being what they are even while in session? Would he say the same things at such an event if there were TV cameras pointed at him?

It shouldn’t take our representatives weeks to promise an undefined “tele-townhall” at some undetermined point in the future, especially given the current political situation.

The Trump administration is making it clear that they are willing to lie on issues large and small — whether something like inaugural crowds or the availability of the president’s tax returns. They’re also making every attempt to stifle dissent and obscure reality by placing gag orders on federal agencies and refusing to release the full text of executive orders until well after they’ve been signed.

House Republicans, meanwhile, are using Trump’s outrageous behavior to distract constituents from the party’s own unpopular actions. Trying to ram through a repeal of the popular Affordable Care Act without a meaningful replacement or improvements in place is surely just the beginning.

Under these circumstances, it is absolutely vital that members of Congress deeply understand their constituents’ concerns, put those concerns ahead of cheap partisan gain, and keep people fully informed. Instead, Rodney Davis is dodging and delaying real engagement with his constituents.