Tags: Coronavirus | Cybersecurity | people | politician | zoom

Politics Is About People, That Even Transcends a Pandemic

politicians and the people they need
(Andrii Yalanskyi/Dreamstime)

By Tuesday, 23 June 2020 04:47 PM Current | Bio | Archive

As Former Congressman Geoff Davis puts it, "Communicating with the Congress can be like trying to have a conversation in the mosh pit at a rock concert" [1] . . .  And now, thanks to COVID-19, it just became a lot harder.

Or, in the words of singer/songwriter Harold Melvin, of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes fame, "If you don’t know me by now, you will never never never know me."

Sticking with the music theme, The Three Degrees as well as Shakka both had a hit song "When will I see you again?"

Indeed, our First Amendment right to petition for redress of grievances has become incredibly more difficult thanks to COVID-19. How can we raise hell with Congress if we can’t meet with them? This right is certainly not gone but perhaps it has changed permanently as knocking on congressional doors seems as distant as embracing an old friend at the neighborhood bar.

Recently I sent a survey to every member of Congress to find out how constituent interaction has changed. Understandably, most of the surveys that did not actually get caught in spam filters were treated as if they did anyway. I can’t blame anyone for this.

I too have ignored such surveys. However, I did get enough feedback to learn a few things.

Every respondent reported an incredible spike in emails as if they weren’t overwhelmed already. In fact, the research of Dr. David Rehr of George Mason University found that on average, pre-COVID-19, only 50% of congressional staff report reading more than half of their emails. That’s right, half the staff only reads half of their emails, all of the time.

Since the pandemic's outbreak congressional staff report the number of emails has gone up from 100 to 300%.[2] Most of the new inquiries are related to COVID-19 but staffers report that other matters such as fiscal year 2021 appropriations are still moving. In other words, Congress hasn’t completely devoted itself to COVID-19. There are plenty of other issues.

Face-to-face meetings have become almost nonexistent as even the most technological Neanderthal now knows how to use Zoom, Microsoft teams, or WebEx. By the way--never say there aren’t winners in a crisis. Zoom subscriptions have gone from 10 million in December to over 300 million![3] Their stock has rocketed from $108 per share to $222.

Of course, they are not alone, if you bought into Amazon and Netflix in January, you will be cursed with a 2021 capital gains tax liability so high that the rest of us will be jealous.

Unfortunately, learning the technology does not mean we have mastered conversational flow. How many times a day do you hear -- "Is this on?" . . . "I agree completely but let me just add briefly" . . . "Sorry that’s my golden retriever" . . . "Am I on mute?" . . . "Can you hear me now?"

While conference calls have a few hurdles, most staffers and K Street advocates like them. 3:00 p.m. calls actually start at 3:00 p.m.

There is no getting stuck in traffic or security lines. People tend to get straight to the point.

The downside for staffers is that all calls last for 30 minutes as opposed to the normal 15-minute clip that in-office meetings take.

Conversely, the upside for advocates is it does last 30 minutes.

All their clients get to speak.

I have spoken to congressional offices that have described the virtual interactions as a "game changer." Many offices have concluded that they are so much more productive without face-to-face meetings that they plan to allow some staffers to continue working from home even after the pandemic is over.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., utilizes conference calls to connect with constituents and to get a select industry on the phone. "We can get the right people on the phone for very specific subjects. If we want to target healthcare providers, firefighters, or teachers we are able to do it much more effectively."( Schultz, Rep. Debbie W. (2020, May 27). [E-mail].)

While it’s killing D.C.’s hotel, transportation, convention, and restaurant business; associations know that it’s saving thousands of dollars. One staffer said "it makes you question if face-to-face meetings are needed at all. Think cell phone or cable. You never expect to meet the person on the other line, but it doesn’t stop you from discussing your issue."

There is a downside, however. Again, from Former Congressman Geoff Davis: "You miss the side conversations, the subtleties and body language of face-to-face meetings. Not only are staffers policy experts, but they are expert gatekeepers."

When you are not there in person you don’t have those serendipitous hallway encounters with others who may have been dodging you for weeks.

Eventually the happy hour, the restaurant meal, and the crowded airline flights will return with normalcy, but there’s no doubt COVID-19 will leave its Hill legacy.

The 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building led to closing off part of Pennsylvania Ave and eventually closing the streets surrounding congressional offices. After the 1998 shooting in Tom Delay‘s office and 9/11 the visitor screening became far more thorough.

Before then the hallways looked like a subway full of tourists, professionals, and bicycle couriers. After the 2001 anthrax attacks letters sent to Congress were diverted for weeks for security screening.

We don’t know what marks COVID-19 will leave.

If it’s more conference calls and less human interaction, we can be assured our beloved First Amendment rights will prevail if for no other reason than politics is a people business. You can’t keep the politician away from the people and you can’t keep people away from the politician.

We will see each other again.

[1] Davis, G. (n.d.). Lobbying Congress in a Post Covid-19 World. Lecture. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from George Mason University

[2] Rehr, Dr. David (2020, May 26). [E-mail].

[3] Chitkara, H. (2020, April 24). Zoom is facing an uphill battle trying to convert 300 million users into paying subscribers. Retrieved May 03, 2020, from Business Insider

Former Congressman Jack Kingston served in Congress for 22 years representing Georgia's First Congressional District in Southeast Georgia from 1993 to 2015. He served as vice-chairman of the House Republican Conference, the sixth-ranking post among House Republicans, from 2002-2006. He also served on the powerful Appropriations Committee – chairing its Subcommittees on Agriculture and Labor, Health, and Human Services and Education. He also served on its Defense Subcommittee for many years. In Congress, Rep. Kingston earned a reputation as an effective legislator with a keen ability to resolve complex matters by reaching across the aisle. Prior to his service in Congress, Rep. Kingston was a member of the Georgia State Legislature and was vice-president of Palmer & Cay Insurance Services. He was the only Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) in Congress. Currently he works at international law and lobbying firm, Squire Patton Boggs. Read Congressman Kingston's Reports — More Here

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You can’t keep the politician away from the people and you can’t keep people away from the politician. We will see each other again.
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Tuesday, 23 June 2020 04:47 PM
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