Reporter editorial: Congressman must meet constituents

Congressman Lee Zeldin
Congressman Lee Zeldin

It’s no secret that citizens opposed to the policies of President Donald Trump and others in Washington are stealing pages from the Tea Party playbook.

Values from that movement, which took root in 2009 and carried through the 2010 mid-term elections, are now showing up in the White House following Mr. Trump’s inauguration. Detractors of the president and his supporters have begun to organize in a way very similar to what we saw in 2009.

The Women’s March on Washington (and other cities) is a perfect example of this effort, but we’re talking specifically about a more grass-roots approach that is taking shape locally.

Since East End Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who represents Shelter Island, returned to the capitol for the 2017 session, a group of local residents has been seeking face time with him, meeting with his district director first at the congressman’s Riverhead office and then at a crowded meeting at Riverhead Free Library last week.

Again last week, many of those same constituents — including Shelter Islanders — took a new approach, marching from the Riverhead courthouse to Mr. Zeldin’s West Main Street office. There, they demanded that he agree to host a town hall meeting — yes, the same type of meeting his predecessor, Tim Bishop, hosted at the height of local Tea Party efforts in 2009.

It’s essential Mr. Zeldin host such a meeting — if not because these particular residents are demanding one, then because these are the sort of forums all local representatives should host. Especially elected federal officials who cast their votes far from their home districts.

When Mr. Bishop hosted a series of town halls in 2009 — most notably one centered on health care reform — he did so knowing there would be widespread opposition to the proposed Affordable Care Act.

The meeting was quite raucous, with a capacity crowd of 900 at Sachem East High School in Farmingville and another 500 protesters outside. Press estimates at the time, based on cheers and jeers, concurred that the crowd leaned slightly against what would become known as Obamacare.

Yet Mr. Bishop appeared that night, answering the many fiery questions thrown his way and keeping his composure as best he could despite some very obnoxious behavior from the audience.

Mr. Zeldin, who was first elected to the New York State Senate in 2010 on the heels of the Tea Party movement, should face the same level of scrutiny, particularly regarding his views on health care reform, immigration and myriad other issues facing the Republican-led Congress in Washington today.

The residents calling for the town hall meeting should also expect that they might be outnumbered, just as Mr. Bishop’s supporters were in 2009.

A community meeting would be loud and ugly and might not do much to change people’s minds on any issues. In other words, it’s not exactly democracy at its finest, but it is democracy, as opposed to carefully choreographed photo ops, which Mr. Zeldin seems to prefer.