An aspect of Congressional offices that is never mentioned in campaigns or accounts of representative’s and senator’s service is the work their staffs do for constituents. Senator Tim Johnson’s office went through the closing process this month. It won’t be replaced. His successor as U.S. senator for the state will not have a field office in Aberdeen.
Rep. Kristi Noem does not maintain a service office in Aberdeen, either. She has a staff member who comes to Aberdeen occasionally, but she does not have any staff members who consult with constituents and on their behalf to resolve issues. Sen. John Thune has an office in Aberdeen, the one vacated by Tom Daschle’s staff. However, that office was literally forced on him. As a congressman, Thune decided not to have an Aberdeen office, but prominent members of the Republican party in the Aberdeen region were incensed by
his neglect of their part of the state. He was opposed to or showed no interest in projects for developing this part of the state. Party members dragged him into the area and “educated” him on the projects and insisted that he have a functioning line of communication that a field office provides for the Aberdeen area.
In contrast, the Democratic congress people have had fully staffed and very busy offices in Aberdeen. My spouse worked on the staffs of Sen. Daschle and Rep. Herseth Sandlin. While staff members worked on legislative business in representing their employees, a huge part of their job was helping constituents navigate the government bureaucracies. Such help might range from someone encountering visa problems in a foreign land and needing action by the state department, someone needing help in solving a social security problem, a farmer needing advice and assistance with a conservation program matter, or someone who has encountered confusion and difficulty with any aspect of government. Often people seek federal help in coordinating matters involving state and local government.
After Tom Daschle and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin lost elections and their offices were closing down, the staff members spent days shredding the case files the offices had accumulated working in behalf of constituents. Staff members not only worked in their offices to be available to constituents, they were assigned counties which they visited regularly to represent their Congressional employer and meet with people to answer questions or offer assistance.
The question in the operation of the field offices is not a matter of big government. It’s a matter of making government work for the people and providing direct communication between constituents and their elected representatives. For 8 hours a day, the offices were busy with people who needed consultation or assistance from Congressional representatives, and the phones were ringing constantly. As one who volunteered for work in the offices, I was often asked to fill in when the staff members had to be out of the office at staff meetings or constituent business to take messages so that staff members could get in touch with any constituents who came to the office or called. The staff members conscientiously followed up on all inquiries and concerns. The field offices were incredibly busy and productive in providing information and services to constituents and making government work for the people.
The GOP congress people make nominal staff appointments of people who occasionally visit the county, they don’t believe in providing the vigorous service that actually solves problems and otherwise makes government work for the people. The difference between the parties is most starkly apparent in they way they regard and treat their constituents.
When Democrats were in office, Aberdeen had three offices carrying on the business of government. Now it is down to the one office that John Thune grudgingly established when his party supporters insisted that he have a presence in our part of the state.
Noem has never offered much in the way of response or service to this part of the state. Rounds has indicated he will follow her lead.
The voters ultimately get what they ask for. In the cases of Noem and Rounds, nothing.