Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tim Johnson on the line

My congressman made the New York Times yesterday: Tim Johnson (R, Illinois-15), who retires this year, was the subject of a short profile that emphasized above all his habit of telephoning his constituents:

“I am almost like a dinosaur,” said Mr. Johnson, who would agree to be interviewed only by, yes, phone. “I think people think I am unique,” he added, clearly embracing the notion of understatement. “My style makes you sufficiently out of the mainstream, and people can wonder how effective you are.”

He cuts a slightly disheveled swath through the Capitol at all hours, his calling often cited by colleagues as his chief accomplishment after a decade of service here. “Tim had his finger on the pulse of his district,” Speaker John A. Boehner said in an e-mail, “and always reminded members that at the heart of every democracy are representatives who will listen first, learn, and then lead.”
I’ve never understood what’s so extraordinary about this phone habit. According to the Times, Johnson calls 4,000 constituents a year. (His district has a population of 700,000.) Skip Thanksgiving and Christmas and the calls average eleven a day. Count only working days (251 in 2012), and the average jumps to sixteen, still not that many calls to make. Johnson has never called me, though he has sent long and thoughtful responses to several letters and e-mails. The one occasion on which I heard him respond to constituents, a 2009 “town-hall meeting” on health care, was deeply dispiriting. I wanted to hang up.

[If you click through to the Times article, don’t miss the lively comment thread.]

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