One of the cardinal rules of politics is do not, under any circumstances, allow your opposition to define you.
Congressman John Faso knows all the rules. Over a 30-year career, he may have invented some. But he has repeatedly defied and/or ignored the cardinal rule. Faso has allowed opponents to define him as a lily-livered wimp afraid to confront his constituents face to face.
Faso by now has probably met with thousands of his constituents on a broad host of issues, but only on his turf, usually privately and under controlled conditions. A master of inside baseball, Faso needs to bring his game to the people.
Faso has refused to attend so-called town hall sessions with constituents (Monday’s public session at the Kingston Library was a partial exception), citing in most instances previous commitments. That stance feels to an increasing number of his constituents like a bone in the throat. When pressed by media, where he is readily accessible, Faso makes no bones about what he considers highly partisan, well-organized gatherings aimed at vilifying him and his fellow Republicans counterproductive.
Obviously, I’d like to see Faso under live fire. I’ve covered him in several campaigns. He ain’t no shrinking violet, even if he has assumed that persona in federal office. If anything, Faso’s testosterone can prove damaging. In the 1998 campaign for Assembly between comeback kid Kevin Cahill and Sean Mathews, a 26-year-old not-ready-for-prime-time alderman, Faso, as Assembly minority leader and director of the Republican campaign committee for his house, ran such an uber-negative race that the former assemblyman actually became a figure of pity. Thanks to Faso, Cahill became assemblyman again for the next two decades. (In truth, the Democratic campaign committee was only slightly less vicious.)
Back to the present, Faso’s no-shows were met first with surprise and then with extreme prejudice. And why not? People wanted to hear directly from their new representative.
“Grow a set, Johnny!” somebody yelled shortly after it was announced Faso would not appear at one of the early forums in Kingston, attended by over 700 people. (For the record, I’m pleased to inform Faso or anyone else interested, that they actually grow these things in Woodstock — or is it Rosendale? — and sometimes in New Paltz. Brass is extra.)
Reflect, reconsider and reload
Speaking of brass, how would retired congressman Maurice Hinchey have handled this situation? Hinchey, recall, was almost the deciding vote on Obamacare in 2010 and one of its staunchest advocates. I suspect how he would have reacted. Hinchey would have arrived a few minutes late for an anti-ACA forum, (no such event occurred), strode across the stage with that bantam rooster walk of his and told everyone to go to hell if they didn’t like the bill.
But enough of specious comparisons. These are serious times, and increasingly conflicted. If House Republicans had passed the original 2010 ACA bill word for word, protests would have broken out all over the country. To hard-shell Democrats anything Republicans do is anathema these days.
Upward of 500 people jammed the Senate Garage event space in Uptown Monday night to hear visiting Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney take Faso apart. I recognized a lot of Democratic faces. If any Republicans were in attendance, they were disguised as potted plants. The parking lots were full of Priuses. Local liquor stores and bars did, I imagine, a brisk business in Chardonnay.
Maloney did not disappoint, characterizing his congressional neighbor as ignorant of the nuts and bolts of the Republican healthcare bill, mean-spirited and gutless. (I paraphrase, but only in degree.) Preaching to an appreciative choir, Maloney was a huge hit.
Faso, reportedly scheduled for a fundraiser somewhere, was again a no-show. In separate interviews, he called Maloney’s foray into his district “sad,” but par for the course. One wonders what it takes to get this guy pissed.
I don’t get to sit in on those secret skull sessions where politicians make all the big decisions, but if so, I’d advise Faso to reflect, reconsider and reload.
Faso should be able to convey his views to even a hostile crowd, as he did at the library, without being tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. He should do so. I mean, what can possibly go wrong?
Calling out Maloney
From what I read in the papers and view on the tube, Maloney looks like a pretty good congressman. He’s active, engaged, outspoken and progressive. He seems to get things done in Washington, and seems to play well with the other children, which is to say his colleagues. I like his advocacy for veterans, for instance, though I think he takes more credit than necessary.
I really don’t like the idea of Maloney or any other congressman showing up in my congressional district to speak against the resident colleague, who some may recall was elected by a fairly decisive margin only last November. If Faso won’t face the music and enough people don’t dig his tune, well, we can vote him out.
While the old rules don’t seem to apply any more, there is long-standing protocol among legislators — call it professional courtesy — that says members hearken to their own districts, the better to deal with the issues facing their own constituents. That Maloney and Faso differ fundamentally on healthcare reform is something that will ultimately affect everyone in every district is beside the point.
Maloney and Faso debating national issues face to face on local cable is a good thing, useful and informative. Maloney invading Faso’s district to give one side of a highly controversial issue is not. Having both congressmen at a similar forum would be much more productive and informative.
Of late, some of Faso’s critics have been attacking the freshman congressman for allegedly deceiving voters last November by posing as “a moderate.” I didn’t see it that way. Faso’s record as a conservative was long-established, just as Democratic opponent Zephyr Teachout’s was from the left. Both drifted toward the center, but not much. Voters had a clear choice. They chose Faso.
Some say Faso has moved rightward in a Congress dominated by conservatives. I imagine he’s quite comfortable there, even if a bit out of step with the majority of his constituents. I liked, for instance, his recent statement that tax money belongs to the taxpayers, not the government. Millennials might find that quaint, which in fact it is.
I hate to correct a correction, but for the last time, former congressional candidate Julian Schreibman is running for the Democratic nomination for state Supreme Court judge, not for Congress. Also making the rounds are Kingston Corporation Counsel Kevin Bryant and Family Court Judge Tony McGinty.
Meanwhile, Gareth Rhodes, 28, of Kerhonkson (Kingston High Class of ’06) has joined an expanding Democratic field to challenge John Faso next year.