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Column: Chris Collins steers clear of his constituents

Role reversal in politics is common as situational ethics prompt elected officials to adopt or abandon positions as expediency dictates.

But rarely is it as blatant as that exhibited by Rep. Chris Collins and other Republicans now running from the very folks they used to claim always know best.

The GOP, after all, is the party that won power by tarring Democrats as "elites" who dictate from on high without bothering to listen to the people they are supposed to represent.

So imagine my surprise – shock, actually – to hear Collins, the Clarence millionaire, explain his refusal to hold town hall meetings by telling WGRZ-TV such sessions are "useless." In fact, he explained, "They are not what you hope they would be, which is a give-and-take from people actually interested in getting some facts."

Of course, under his scenario, they’d get those facts from him.

The primary purpose of a town hall is for the politician to listen. The aim is for him to get the facts from the folks intimately affected by government policy so that he has a better understanding of how his votes and the policies he pushes affect average people, not just those is in his income bracket.

Yet the guy Roll Call pegged as worth $23.8 million in 2015 thinks he knows all about your life without ever coming out to listen to you.

To be fair, he was that arrogant long before his GOP colleagues began cowering in the face of angry constituents steamed at politicians who would snatch the Affordable Care Act out from under the very voters who pay for Congress’ health insurance. In fact, Collins has long eschewed town halls, just like Democrat Brian Higgins. But at least Higgins didn’t flaunt his disdain by expressing dismay at being unable to lecture the governed.

Collins' resistance to holding town halls stirs opposition

All of which raises some obvious questions left unanswered by Collins’ tweetfest during President Trump’s address Tuesday night:

• When you are one of Congress’ wealthiest members but the median income in your district is $55,000, is it your constituents or you who really needs to hear "some facts"?

• When you’re handing out insider stock tips in congressional cloakrooms while the average Western New Yorker is just looking for a job tip, which one of you is in need of "some facts"?

• When you bash the federal government at every turn, dismissing its ability to help average Americans, yet say you want to spend at least 14 more years in Congress, who really needs "some facts"?

As Republicans plot "telephone town halls" or abandon the sessions altogether to avoid angry voters, a group pressing Collins to respect his constituents enough to listen to them is not letting up. After two "Where’s Chris Collins?" Buffalo billboards expired, a new one went up near Rochester this week. Such efforts will continue "until he holds a town hall meeting," said organizer Michelle Schoeneman, who acknowledges that listening to those who hold different views may not be pleasant for elected officials like Collins.

"Unfortunately for him, it is his job to do that, to hear from as many constituents as possible," she said.

After all, this is the same Chris Collins who told City & State last year, "These Washington elites say, ‘We know better than the American public.’"

Now, apparently, he’s become one.


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