Renita Fisher has been asking for a meeting with Rep. Jason Lewis since January. She’s called, emailed, texted, posted on Lewis’ Facebook page, tweeted and visited Lewis’ congressional office in Burnsville with some regularity in hopes of having a face-to-face meeting or even a response that wasn’t a form letter about some of the issues she’s concerned about. Those issues include Lewis’ vote to repeal Obamacare and his refusal to have a pre-announced town hall meeting that’s open to the public.
She and other members of the Indivisible Resistance of Eagan Burnsville (IREB) are convinced Lewis is stonewalling and has no intention of meeting them. Lewis’ staff says the group is on a list for future meetings he will hold. “There is no list,” says Fisher.
Video of IREB’s meeting with Lewis’ staff on Aug. 8 shows the frustration Fisher has been facing. In the video, two Lewis congressional staffers are seen deflecting questions about when the group can meet with their congressman.
Asked why Lewis was willing to meet with employees of Prime Therapeutic but not them, a staffer replies, “Yeah they invited us to do an employee town hall meeting and … yeah.”
“Wouldn’t that be a business meeting if that’s not open to the public? If it’s only the employees of that business?” asked a Lewis constituent who was recording a video of the conversation.
“Ah.. it was an employee town hall they invited us to and … yeah,” says the staffer.
“Can you show us the schedule when he’s going to meet with us?” asks one of the IREB members.
“We don’t disclose the schedule,” says the staffer, prompting laughter from IREB members.
Lewis has done “tele-town halls” but Fisher says even those are not really advertised to the public. “If I do know about a town hall it’s because somebody posted something on Facebook because somebody got a secret handshake invite.”
Constituent Frustration With Lewis Grows
Video at top: Jason Lewis staff meet with Indivisible Resistance of Burnsville Eagan.
Videos below: Minnesota Second Congressional District candidates Angie Craig (DFL), Jeff Erdmann (DFL) and Jake Cassidy (I) speak outside Jason Lewis’ Burnsville office.
“We are getting frustrated. And when people are frustrated this is what you get,” Fisher tells Lewis’ staff. “You get this anger that’s building up, and we aren’t angry people. We’re just frustrated. We have questions. We have concerns. But Jason won’t listen. And we’re getting to that point where if he won’t listen it leaves us with very little choice but to keep coming. And we will keep coming, and coming, and coming and talking about why we can’t get heard and asking for a town hall. “
“It’s becoming a never-ending cycle of coming and getting the same response. ‘He’ll see you in January. He’ll see you in February. He’ll see you in March. He’ll see you in D.C. He won’t see you.’”
The staffers then say they’re listening for Lewis and will pass along the group’s comments. Fisher says to tell Lewis that the group feels they are being stonewalled.
“I’m just wondering if you can get out his schedule book and put us down for a time?” asks another member of the group.
“No,” replies the staffer. “I’m not going to get out a schedule book right now. But like I said, you guys are on the list of dozens of other organizations.”
“Can we see the list? You don’t have to show the ones above us. You can cover over those. Can we see our name on the list? “
“No,” replies the staffer.
“It is not OK to hide from your constituents,” said DFLer Angie Craig, who narrowly lost to Lewis in 2016. She and other candidates who are running against Lewis in 2018 spoke to IREB members after they left the congressional office. Craig echoed IREB’s complaints of Lewis’ vote to “kick 20 million Americans off their health insurance. It is not OK. It is not freedom when people don’t have the freedom to live in good health in America.” She vowed to make Lewis a one-term congressman.
Jeff Erdmann, who is also seeking the DFL endorsement to run against Lewis, blamed the political money system for Lewis’ stonewalling of his constituents. “We’ve gotten to a point in our politics where money is more important that representation.” Erdmann said if money were taken out of politics and congressional districts weren’t gerrymandered to favor one party or another, candidates would “have to move back to the middle where they can actually work together. And so that type of political reform is absolutely something we need so that we can have representatives who genuinely have to care about the constituents they represent. And until we get to that point, it’s going to be the same old, same old.”
Jake Cassidy who is seeking the Independence Party endorsement said Lewis doesn’t show up when it matters and “pretends to do the work the work on social media and that’s not really representation.”
Lewis responded to the IREB visit on Facebook — not by addressing the issues IREB raised, but by complaining that the group violated “well-established security rules” at the office. That violation apparently was recording video of the meeting despite a sign in the office that says “office policy prohibits unauthorized use of cameras or recording devices.”
Lewis spokesperson Stephen Bradford said the policy is for the protection of the staff and asked that we blur the faces of the staffers in the video because the staff has a “reasonable expectation of a right to privacy and their explicit denial of consent to be filmed.” He also said they “felt intimidated”.
As far as being inaccessible, Bradford says Lewis “has been crisscrossing the district talking to families in the Second District and hearing their concerns as often as he’s been at home. When there are votes in D.C. he’s spoken by phone to thousands more folks.”
(Related story: Lewis video recording policy compared to other Minnesota congressional offices)
Lewis also complained on Facebook about an unrelated group that visited his home in Woodbury to protest congressional Republican attempts to cut Medicaid. A group of about 20 people organized by TakeAction Minnesota delivered a letter to Lewis’ home and then chanted when no one answered the door. They live-streamed their video of the visit.
Lewis said the visits were “dangerous targeting of people, staffs, associates and now families.” He said that “must stop. And stop now.”
Fisher said Lewis was trying conflate IREB’s office visit with the TakeAction home visit and called it a “veiled attempt to muzzle” First Amendment rights and that “if there was any ‘fear or concern” by (Lewis’) staffers, that is no way evident in what was recorded.” She said that Lewis’ home is “sacred and deserving of respect.”
IREB organizer Mark Frascone also issued a statement in response to Lewis:
“It is unfortunate that the congressman is using these disparate events to weave this fake news story. The visit to the representative’s home was not something those of us who visited his office on 8/8 would have approved of or in any way supported. During the meeting at his office, a few attendees were using personal recording devices in the public space of a government funded office. There arose a question about the filming rule in that space but when asked to further explain no answer was provided by the staff and the recording was allowed to continue. In Lewis’ response on 8/9, he ties this visit to that horrific attack in DC just to ratchet things up. I heard Lewis describe Steve Scalise as a friend, and now to see him use that unfortunate incident to avoid his constituency is quite possibly the worst thing a friend could do.”