August 16, 2013 in City

Cathy’s ‘effective’ at sticking to the plan

By The Spokesman-Review

Shawn Vestal
(Full-size photo)

Cathy McMorris Rodgers – as you may not know if you’re not Eric Cantor – is back in Eastern Washington, having an “effective August recess.”

Most of you wouldn’t really know that, because her August is a very effectively managed one. She’s been spotted at a fundraiser with Cantor, the Virginia Republican. She’s been here and there around Eastern Washington, at tours and roundtables and “Coffees with Cathy” – now that she is, like Cher or Bruce or Hillary, on a first-name basis with us all. There is, apparently, some discussion of a potential town hall – you know, a pesky open forum where anyone can ask questions – but as of this week, her people say they are still working out the details of that.

Still working it out, with August half over.

It seems, in other words, that her tour of the region is exactly as much about hearing from the public as you might expect from the strategy that she helped pitch to the House GOP in a planning kit for the August recess, “Fighting Washington for All Americans.” It seems not about hearing spontaneous and honest feedback – as she did at a raucous town hall in September 2011 – as much as it is about staging faux public events, pre-screening participants for their political suitability and pretending, pretending, pretending.

Which is only to be expected from a group that passes more pretend bills than a junior high mock legislature.

You’ve probably heard about the “Fighting Washington” planning kit, which outlines very, very specifically how House Republicans ought to manage “public” events during the August recess. An example is the “ObamaCare media tour,” in which lawmakers are urged to find businesses and employees who hate Obamacare – and only those who hate Obamacare – to discuss Obamacare:

“Confirm the theme(s) prior to the event and make sure the participants will be 100% on message. [Note: While they do not have to be Republicans, they need to be able to discuss the negative effects of ObamaCare on their employees.”

But what if they have a different view, these not-necessarily Republicans, about the effect of Obamacare on their employees?

Never mind.

McMorris Rodgers and her ilk are surely not the first politicians to pretend to gather “input” while actually spewing “output.” But there is something extra brazen about the House plan, which so rigidly outlines its approach to fake public events – with specialized, bulleted plans for how to stay on message, screen participants, manage the media and establish “themes” that predetermine the nature and tone of the discussion.

Would it be naïve to expect that a congresswoman serving in the lowest-regarded legislative body in history might come to hear the thoughts and concerns of her constituents, unfiltered and prepackaged? Would it be ridiculous to suppose that she might, Ed Koch-like, come to ask: How am I doing?

She is here to tell us how she’s doing.

“The work we have accomplished here in Congress is invaluable to those back in our districts,” she wrote in her introduction to “Fighting Washington.” “We are really fighting for people – for all people.”

That “all people” thing – it’s important to the GOP these days. It’s a big part of the show. In fact, the House strategy outlines a whole category of events intended to get in touch with “all people,” if you know what I mean. They’re calling it a “meetup.”

The meetup is its own category, presumably covering groups that wouldn’t be a part of all the other rainbow of public events. It’s meant to “ensure that the Member is engaging with all demographics in his/her district” and can include “women, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and millennials.”

Can African-Americans come to the meetup? So long as they’re 100 percent on message?

“Invite at least 3-4 people with whom the Member already has an established relationship,” the strategy says. “This will strengthen the conversation and take it in a direction that is most beneficial to the Member’s goal.”

A large part of the House plan involves when and how to involve the public and the press; a lot of it involves when not to involve the press, which is – even in this day and age – how a certain significant proportion of the public might find out what their “Member” is up to.

Cathy’s effective August has included very few public details about where she will be and what she’ll be doing. To judge by her Facebook page, she’s been at Fairchild, posed for pictures in front of some flags with Miss Spokane, had a meetup with millennials, attended a 30-year anniversary for an Avista biomass plant in Kettle Falls, gone on a KXLY radio program, scheduled a couple of “Coffees with Cathy” and hung out with Cantor and some donors, who are very definitely beneficial to the Member’s goal.

How about a town hall? An unfiltered forum? A little actual engagement, uncomfortable as that might be for the Member, instead of all the kabuki?

I called Cathy’s office last week and was told the details of a town hall had not been finalized. I contacted Cathy’s office this week and was told, via email: “We are still working out the kinks for time and place, but a town hall is in the works.”

It’s still possible. Cathy’s effective August isn’t over yet.

Contact Shawn Vestal at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

There are 110 comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email