Politics is In-Person Business

DC Politics Health Care Human Rights


Denver            This is such a Twilight Zone, unbelievable time that it buggers the imagination, but in reality, there are constant reminders that politics, and especially the lawmaking that politics sometimes produces, is not easily adaptable to remote work, but remains in-person business.

A Republican state senator in Alaska is finding this out the hard way.  This ideological hard-Trump woman wants to refuse to wear a mask on airlines.  She complains there is a “mask tyranny.”  I’m sure that’s not a thing.  Remember though that she’s in Alaska, well-known as a state not only larger than Texas, but with way more wide spaces, even if not that open, requiring all sorts of travel between the very isolated towns and the handful of cities.  Alaska Airlines is clear about the federal mask mandates.  One of the differences between regulated companies like the FAA’s airlines and say, unregulated ones, who say what they want and do the opposite companies, like for example Facebook, is that their rule goes for everyone, and there’s no exception for politicians and VIPs.  Alaska Airlines notified the recalcitrant state senator: no mask, no fly.  She ranted and raved a bit, but then had to crawl on her knees and ask for a leave from the legislative session until next February, because she can’t fly to the state capitol in Juneau.  She could get there, but it would take her 19-hours by various manners of conveyance, and it’s not worth it for her to represent her constituency, as opposed to make headlines for being a blowhard.  She is right about one thing though.  You can’t just mail it in, if you want to be part of the lawmaking process of politics.  You have to be there.  Mask on, sister, mask on!

In Missoula recently, I heard the same story from a longtime friend and comrade now in the Montana legislature representing his district along the rim of the city.  We had first met when he was working as an organizer out of Billings for the Norther Plains Resource Council, and I was there intermittently every couple of months doing training and working with them on strategy and tactics, including during the efforts to fight the Colstrip power plant and its strip mined coal.  The company had ended up having to post a bond that wouldn’t be voided until they had successfully proven that they had reclaimed the land they had mined.  The bond had come up this year during the pandemic.  Ranchers, including old activists with NPRC, still didn’t trust the company, and why would they, so they wanted the state to keep the bond intact.  The company, feeling that they had met the terms, wanted to be relieved.  My friend, a rookie representative, knew the parties and was drafted to help craft a settlement and compromise, which he was more than able to do, as it turned out, but, as he told me the story, that included not attending the sessions remotely but being able to go to Helena where he could negotiate face to face with the opposing parties.  It also meant that they had to push him to the front of the line to get the vaccine.

If you’re going to serve and represent the people, it is not about the headlines, talking heads, or social media, it’s about doing their business and, like the old saying goes, you can often get somewhere just by “showing up.”  In an in-person process like politics, you get nowhere long distance.  You have to be face to face to make change happen, even if that means with a mask over your nose and mouth.