Thursday, March 15, 2007

Let the Sunshine In

At times, trying to keep up with Representative Scott Garrett is draining. Commonsense stuff and decisions of principle should be no-brainers for Representatives, but not Garrett. Good government practices and openness are things Garrett talks a lot about, but as is often the case when given a chance to back up his words with votes he falls flat on his face. Voters should have guessed something was up when he chose to talk about arranging tours in his weekly newsletter, instead of discussing anything of substance. Now, I've been told when he has time he's gracious enough to conduct the tours himself, but he could have used the newsletter space to discuss why he voted against the clean water bills last week or would vote against the majority of accountability measures that came up this week. The disconnect really brings up one of the fundamental issues I have with his tenure as our Representative: An almost complete lack of accountability.

Maybe I'm too big of an idealist, but this is the information age and the people paying the salary of a Congressman and his staff have a right to know what's going on and more than enough tools exist for him to provide the information. During moments of the campaign when I actually allowed myself to think I might win (these were few), I often thought about the accountability issue. I basically thought about how my Saturdays and Mondays and the allotted District work periods would be spent in the District. Townhall meetings, regional mayors meetings, regional chamber of commerce meetings, visiting every school in the District, etc. Those are the old school techniques with which I'm familiar and are standard (not sure if Garrett does them, but all the good Congresspeople I've known have).

There were also the little things I wanted to do to harness the Internet and bring young folks into the fold. These are things Representatives could and should be doing in this day and age, but painfully few are. After running into so many folks my age and younger who have given up on the process after only having the right to vote for a small number of years, I wanted to find ways to engage more people in the process instead of promoting the institutional indifference we seem to be stuck with. Our generation is getting closer to running the show with each election cycle, and the fewer people engaged in the process, the fewer good leadership choices we'll have down the road and the worse off our nation will be.

While the consistency of his voting makes it relatively easy to guess which way Garrett will vote on our behalf, usually there are no quotes in the Congressional Record, no statements on his website, and no interview with the press explaining why. Other than a parody of his recent votes against increasing protections for whistle blowers, against increasing accountability of the Executive Branch, and against increasing ease of access to information about our government, there is precious little to go on.

To Garrett's credit, he did vote for increasing the transparency of who donates funds to Presidential Libraries (a slick way around the ban on foreign and corporate campaign donations) and for better federal contracting accountability. Unfortunately, I can't even give him a pat on the back for saying the right thing along with doing the right thing (a rarity these days). I'm sure there will be spin forthcoming about protecting taxpayers with his two votes, but what about the other three? On such a fundamental issue as accountability, batting .400 for the week is unlikely to get you into the Hall of Fame and it makes one question whether you believe in a government "for the people, by the people" being accountable to the people.

If Garrett opened up I still wouldn't like the rigidity of his politics, the effect he's having on our District, or the fact he has a blatant disregard for the opinions of the majority of voters in our District. That said, if he opened up and the folks of our District still embraced him, I wouldn't feel like the only reason he's in office is his being a practitioner of the sins of omission and evasion.


Dino P. Crocetti said...

Look, as a right wing conservative living in a liberal CD, I can sympathize with your plight. As an independent liberal living in what is perhaps the most conservative CD in the state, you are frustrated at the lack of representation for your ideology. That being said, we should probably switch residences!

All kidding aside though, according to a list posted by Enlighten-New Jersey while Rep. Garrett leans conservative, he's really not that staunch a conservative. He actually borders on middle of the road. Even the most conservative Republican Congressman(Jim Saxton (R)NJ-3) only scored 66.3% whereas the Democrats score well into the 80 and even 90 percent range.

As far as the the majority of the fifth CD is concerned, they seem to be more conservative than Garrett himself. They voted for President Bush twice and Bret Schundler in '01, all by landslides.

So while I understand your frustration, the only way I see how Scott Garrett is not serving his constituency is by not voting more in lockstep with the conservative majority he represents.

rmfretz said...

Thanks, Dino. I saw that post, and I covered the National Journal rankings with this post post. I wanted to make sure the conservative base didn't think Garrett had left them, and more complete stats show he didn't.

rmfretz said...

Oh, and about the liberal thing. It's only recently that my views have fallen into the "liberal" definition. I don't mind people saying it about me, frankly I expect it, but it's important to note that in Bergen growing up my views were considered very conservative. Funny how time changes things.

Jill said...

I think it's more a question of how the so-called "center" has shifted to the right. But let us not forget that Garrett ran initially on a platform of "I'm just like Marge", and as you know, Matt, there are still enough morons in the district who still think Marge is our representative. I am not at all convinced that Scott Garrett represents the so-called "conservative" 5th. Perhaps Sussex and Warren counties are Garrett conservatives, but Bergen is hardly a right-wing hotbed. It is Republican because it is affluent and there is this mass delusion that Republicans are somehow better on economic issues -- a fallacy unfortunately not addressed and debunked by Democrats.