Massachusetts Tea Party Visits Congress

Posted June 25th, 2011 by Jim Ettwein

…or, How To Organize a Trip to See Your Congressman.

A month or so ago Kelly from the Chelmsford RTC sent an email around to gauge interest in a trip from Boston to DC to visit Senators and Representatives.  To let them know that we’re still out here.  To let them know that we’re watching what’s going on.  To let them know that even when there aren’t any headlines about what we’re doing, we’re working hard behind the scenes.  Preparing for 2012.

A Field Trip by Bus

Kelly’s original proposal was for a cadre of us to travel by motor coach to DC, visit with Congressmen, stay overnight, and return the next day.  It seemed like a lot of time wasted to participate in a few meetings.  We did research on buses and costs for hotels.  We finally decided to fly to DC and return.  All in one day.  The trip started to become real as we looked into plane fares and train fares.

Making Appointments

We decided that in order to be as productive as possible we’d set up appointments in advance to make sure that we weren’t just going to “walk the halls” of the Congressional office buildings.  We conducted some online discussions to decide who we wanted to meet and then analyzed if any of us had any contacts that would make scheduling easier.  We divided up the names and got to work.  We called and called.  We emailed.  We left messages.  But we weren’t getting any appointments.  We never gave up, however.  There were 4 or 5 of us calling various offices. 

Eventually, we decided that it was looking next to impossible to actually see Senators or Representatives.  They just didn’t have time for us.  In a way we understood.  In another we didn’t.  We began to accept meetings with staffers from the various congressional offices.  Things started to look more promising.  We got one appointment.  Then another.  Then another.  Soon we had enough to justify the trip. 

Citizens Petition

We knew we didn’t want to just show up and chat.  We had several items we wanted to make sure were discussed.  We also wanted to have more than just our own points to cover.  I devised a petition to gather support for what we wanted to say.  We began to take it to every Tea Party meeting we went to.  We also took it to our own Republican Town Committee meetings, and our Republican Assembly meetings.  There are other political meetings we go to and we got signatures there as well.  In the weeks leading up to our trip we gathered nearly 600 signatures supporting basic Tea Party principles: smaller government, decreased spending, and repealing Obamacare.  The petition became the foundation for our discussions with each office we were to visit.  Our other purpose was to make sure that we offered to help each member of Congress our promise to help in any way. 

Meeting Planning

As we put together our schedule with each meeting laid out, hour by hour, we realized that we’d have extra time to do other things.  We decided to “drop in” on other offices that hadn’t agreed to meet with us to drop off copies of our petitions and put faces to our delegation of Massachusetts Tea Party members.  We generated a list consisting of those we had meetings with, those to whom we wanted to deliver a message, and others that we just wanted to leave a one page letter.  We wrote letters to cover the petition packets and provide some context for the meetings we had scheduled.  We wrote similar letters to cover the petitions for those offices where we didn’t have a scheduled meeting but wanted to give a packet of information.  We also each had a sheet of our talking points to make sure we covered all the topics we had on our agenda.  The list had common points but each was also specific to each specific meeting.

Appointment Schedule

We took slightly different routes to Washington.  Four of us flew to Ronald Reagan National and four flew to Baltimore-Washington airport.  We met up at Union Station, just block from the Capitol office buildings.  We walked in the June heat and humidity that is DC, down First Street to our first meeting of the day in the Hart Senate Office Building with J.R. of Senator Marco Rubio’s office.  Senator Rubio is a key supporter of the Tea Party and the TP worked hard to help him get elected in 2010.

Our next meeting was at 11:30a.m.   But we had two conflicting appointments.  One with Rep. Darrell Issa, and one with Sen. Jim DeMint.  We split our team into two teams of four and went to our respective meetings.

After lunch we met at Speaker Boehner’s office with several of his staffers.  The final congressional meeting of the day was with staff in Peter King’s office.

Reality vs Expectations

We embarked on this trip not really knowing what kind of reception we’d get at our various meetings.  Would they view us as the kooks portrayed in the media?  Would they take our materials and say, “thanks” and show us the door?  Would they take us as seriously as viewed the entire mission?  We weren’t sure, but we certainly hoped for the latter.

Prior to and between our Senate meetings we dropped off our letters and petitions at the offices of: John Thune, Scott Brown, Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, Kelly Ayotte, Tom Coburn, Mitch McConnell, Paul Rand, John Boozman, Patrick Toomey, Joe Manchin, Chuck Grassley, Jon Kyl, Joe Lieberman, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul.

Meeting at Marco Rubio’s Office

Our first meeting of the day was with J.R. Sanchez of Senator Marco Rubio’s office.  He brought along an intern to the meeting.  There were several groups already conducting meetings so we sat down in the reception area and chatted with J.R. for nearly a half hour about our points.  J.R. couldn’t have been a better person to start the day with since his attitude toward the Tea Party, and our visit to Washington, helped set the tone for all that was to follow.  J.R. was the liaison for Sen. Rubio in Florida during the 2010 campaign.  His job in DC seemed similar and he was gracious and listened to us for as long as we wanted to talk.  We never felt rushed.  We never felt like we weren’t important.

Our focus was on making sure that he knew we were very happy he was elected  and that we knew he shared the Tea Party’s conservative values.

Meeting with Issa’s Office

Four of us went to see Michael O’Neill of Darrell Issa’s office.  We wanted to review and understand Rep. Issa’s influence in the House, his reputation as a fiscal conservative, his prior efforts to balance the budget and current happenings with respect to ATF and the gun sales to Mexico.

Meeting with DeMint’s Staff

The four of us who chose to meet with James Holland of Senator DeMint’s staff were not disappointed here either.  James was extremely knowledgeable about the Tea Party and was very supportive of the Tea Party goals in general and our specific mission that day.  James not only listened to what we had to say but also offered to link us up with Heritage Action for America, a citizen action organization within the Heritage Foundation umbrella.  This linkage will be extremely useful for us in the coming election cycle.

We are very interested in getting other like-minded conservatives elected to help Sen. DeMint with his focus.

Meeting with Mr. Speaker

We knew we weren’t going to see Speaker Boehner himself, but his staff was very helpful to us and spent nearly 45 minutes listening to us and offering helpful suggestions.  We met with Emily Porter and presented our petitions to her to present to the Speaker.  The office was one of the high points of my day.  The activity level was amazing.  The security was present but not intrusive.  I even picked up a couple of golf tees emblazoned with “Speaker John Boehner” on them.  Nice souvenir.

We wanted to make sure that Speaker Boehner continued to be reminded of our focus on repealing Obamacare.

Close Encounter in the Hallway

As we were about to go into Rep. King’s office I noticed Mike Pence in the hallway talking to some other folks.  He was wrapping up and as our team was about to go into Peter King’s office, I motioned to Rep. Pence that we’d like to say hello.  He didn’t seem to notice and went into his office door… but he returned to the hallway a few seconds later as he realized that we were motioning to him.  We met him in the hallway, spent a few minutes talking about our mission and reviewing how much we respect his positions on most issues.  It was a fun impromptu session that turned out to be one of the highlights of our day.  Rep. Pence was most gracious, posed for pictures with us and never made us feel rushed or a bother.

Meeting with Peter King’s office  

We left the Speaker’s office and proceeded on to Peter King’s office in the Cannon House Office  Building.  We met with Adam Paulson in a separate conference room and had a good discussion about the Tea Party, Rep. King’s potential for continuing his hearings on Islamic Extremism and Terrorism. 

Meetings at the NRCC

We were scheduled to meet Pete Sessions at the offices of the National Republican Congressional Committee on First St.  Rep. Sessions could not attend due to a vote on the floor but we had an excellent meeting with Michael Bober and one of his interns.  This meeting was also very productive and led to other additional points of contact.  Michael took our petitions and promised to review them with the leadership at the NRCC when they assembled later in the month.

Results

We met with representatives of two US Senators and five US Representatives.  We dropped off materials about the Tea Party and our petition at many other offices of Reps and Senators.  We got to personally establish contact with over twenty staffers in these offices, got phone numbers and email addresses (not those rinky-dink email contacts from the website.  All in all, an excellent day.  Well worth the time and money to get there.  Well worth the effort to set things up. Well worth it in every aspect.  I think we exceeded our expectations for the trip in nearly every category.

2 Responses to “Massachusetts Tea Party Visits Congress”

  1. Pam Frattallone

    Thank you so much for your detailed discription. That was a wonderful report and shows that going to DC is not a waste of time but a very productive undertaking. I congradulate all those that did this most important work.

  2. Christine Morabito

    This was a great summary of our day, Jim. Thank you for helping to spread the message of how valued and respected the Tea Party is!