Barr’s town hall: long on talking points, short on constituent response

Drew Bowling
Drew Bowling

I had the opportunity last week to attend Congressman Andy Barr’s town hall gathering in Mount Sterling. Since this was the first time I’ve ever actually been in the same room as Barr, I was immediately struck by something puzzling about him and his performance.

This elusive something, like a misplaced word on the tip of the tongue, nagged at me for the rest of the day. It wasn’t his obviously rehearsed talking points or his ability to stick with them despite exclamations erupting from the crowd. It wasn’t the way he cracked wise in the face of hostility. And it wasn’t even the uncanny smugness he maintained almost to the end.

And then, it finally hit me: Barr doesn’t understand his job.

What he seems to have either forgotten or ignored is that he is a representative. For us. He was elected by residents of Central Kentucky to advocate on our behalf. Contrary to this simple job description, Barr made clear that he wasn’t there to hear our concerns. Rather, he was there to talk at us about what he thought should be most important to us.

Or, one could say that Barr has inverted his ethical responsibility: Instead of representing Kentuckians, he demonstrably represents the purposes of Washington, D.C. Throughout the hour, you’d be forgiven for believing that some federal body had designated Barr as D.C. envoy to the 6th District, to dictate to us plebes the plans D.C. has for us.

Barr routinely overwhelmed constituent concerns with spirited, heavy-handed infomercials about loosely adjacent policy that he personally is excited about.

Concerned about losing medical benefits if the Affordable Care Act is repealed? Barr will tell you “Obamacare” is a failure. Worried about fiduciary ethics? Barr will tell you that Washington would hate to hurt the feelings of financial advisers. Roads crumbling in your town? Barr will tell you about exciting tax breaks for corporations.

So I ask, what is the point of Barr’s office if he’s unwilling to truly represent Kentuckians other than himself? If his main function is to serve as a relay runner for dictates from Washington, why do we need this position? We have the internet, social media and hundreds of television channels from which to plumb this same information.

If the position is as useless as Barr makes it out, let us save ourselves the hassle and wholly eliminate the office. Just quarter the district and annex them to the neighboring districts. Less government waste, no?

If that solution is unpalatable, may I propose this: Let’s find someone who understands what a representative is supposed to do, and let’s send that person to D.C. to actually represent us in 2018.

Drew Bowling of Lexington is a fair-housing advocate working on a masters in social work.