Finding Faso

Cartoon by Joe Gallina.

Will the real Congressman John Faso please stand up?

This is a question that we have been asking since he took office in January. Unfortunately, we know we’re not alone. 

Late last month, the Hudson Valley chapter of Citizen Action of New York organized a town hall meeting at George Washington Elementary School in Kingston. The goal was simple: invite Faso to appear before the people he is sworn to represent and answer their questions and concerns. 

The room quickly filled up to capacity, leaving hundreds to wait outside in the hopes that Faso would eventually arrive. Except he didn’t. Like most House Republicans, the first two months of the Trump presidency have made it hard for them to go home, stand up and address constituents face-to-face. Faso later said that he won’t attend town halls, commenting that the format is “not productive.” 

Neither is silence. 

This has been the same case for fellow New York Republicans like Congresswomen Claudia Tenney and Elise Stefanik. Tenney initially avoided in-person town halls, opting for telephone town halls until she was pressured into reversing her stance and faced her constituents. Meanwhile, Stefanik, who was elected as the youngest woman to Congress with a campaign promise to be transparent while in office, now only takes meetings with constituents through small, vetted meetings in her congressional office. 

To not speak with the media is to not speak with constituents, and Faso’s lack of communication robs them of the opportunity to speak to local officials and engage in community activism. It’s no secret that conservative-leaning students are vastly outnumbered on campus and in the community. If Faso is writing off the college’s student newspaper simply because of the town’s liberal culture, he is only adding to the alienation and underrepresentation felt by Republican students. These students supported Faso and deserve to see the value of their votes reflected in his actions.  

We at The New Paltz Oracle demand accountability and transparency from our elected representatives, especially from Congressman Faso. Hiding from constituents, avoiding confrontation and being unresponsive to media requests are not hallmarks of leadership. They are the traits of establishment politicians who make campaign promises that are never actualized because they are politically inconvenient.  

As a student-run publication in the heart of the 19th Congressional District, we pride ourselves on being civically involved and asking our leaders the tough questions. Last September, during a contentious campaign, we conducted an hourlong interview with Faso in our office on campus. Both he and Democratic candidate Zephyr Teachout agreed to separate interviews and acknowledged that as journalists and citizens of this district, they owed us answers for how they intended to represent us in Washington, D.C. 

In 2009, Democrats hid from constituents due to controversial elements of the then-proposed Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “Obamacare.” In 2017, it’s the Republicans who are making the same mistakes with the exact same piece of legislation. To the credit of Congressman Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Tom Cotton, they attended town hall meetings and engaged with the angry crowds, but several other Republicans like Congressmen Jimmy Duncan and Darrell Issa were nowhere to be found. 

Unfortunately, it appears that Faso has also lapsed on that responsibility. We cannot speak for other media outlets, but we have personally sent Faso’s office nearly a dozen requests for an interview, either over the phone or in person, since the start of the new year. Each time, like clockwork, we were told by  his staffers that they are working on opening up his schedule, only to hear nothing back. Two months into office, we’d love for Faso to return to his commitment of being our representative. 

Interestingly enough though, on Jan. 3, the day he was sworn into office, Faso tweeted a response to Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, saying, “Democracy is inseparable from transparency.” Obviously, we are not seeking unlimited media access to Faso. He is a very busy man and such a demand from a student-run newspaper would be an unreasonable request. However, what we are asking for is the very same transparency that he said was inseparable to democracy. To us, that seems like a reasonable request. 

The late 1860s saw the emergence of the “Radical Republicans,” a faction that clashed with President Abraham Lincoln over the issue of slavery and how to carry out Reconstruction in the South. Now, in the late 2010s, we have the “Runaway Republicans,” a collective of conservatives who tacitly support President Donald Trump and flee from public view in order to limit the damage done to their reputations. If the policies that encompass the conservative agenda are that strong, then House Republicans should be able to stand before their voters and defend them.