Talking out the issues

Today I received an incredibly surprising phone call from a fellow McCallie graduate. However, it wasn’t the usual classmate calling to catch up or to meet me for lunch somewhere. Today’s call was from a member of the Class of ’76 who also happens to be my representative in the U.S. House: Zach Wamp.

Now, let me be clear, I don’t know Rep. Wamp personally. I met him once at a friend’s Eagle Scout ceremony (Wamp is a family friend of theirs), and I played fantasy football one year with his son, who I believe was an eighth-grader at the time. I thought better of wasting his time by mentioning either of these, and instead I stuck to the issue at hand, presidential signing statements.

I blogged about this issue once before, and I did that for two reasons. First, I thought it was strange that such an issue was basically flying beneath the radar in the news. We have Iraq and Israel-Hezbollah to deal with, so I suppose that’s reasonable, but President Bush’s abuse of this executive power has been staggering (which is the second reason). So, I responded as best as I thought I could: I blogged, and I tried to contact my congressman.

Doing the former was quite simple, but I was rattled enough by this issue that I found Representative Wamp’s home page, which has a section under “Contact Me” where you can send him an e-mail and request a response from Rep. Wamp himself. You have to live in the Tennessee 3rd District, but I do, so that was no problem. I explained my concern over this issue about like I did on my blog, and I requested a response.

All of this happened about three weeks ago, and I didn’t really think much of it when I didn’t receive a response within a few days. I expect my representative to be a busy person, so I didn’t get my hopes up about a quick turnaround. I was half-expecting a generic letter drafted by a secretary to come in the mail, but it didn’t. No, rather than e-mailing me back, Rep. Wamp took some time out of his travel schedule today to respond by phone (I left a phone number on the site when it verified that I was indeed from the TN-3rd District).

The conversation mostly consisted of Rep. Wamp explaining his understanding of the issue and agreeing with my point, that the current executive branch is taking far too many liberties with “signing statements.” He noted that this trend has been increasing during the last few presidencies (which is true, as Reagan, Bush Senior, and Clinton were also culprits) and insisted that he and others were concerned about that issue. Wamp went on to explain that with Congress split down party lines on so many issues, it’s hard get much of anything done, although he assured me that they were working on it. That point led our conversation down another road, talking about the estate tax/minimum wage compromise that was recently proposed.

Rep. Wamp was remarkably frank, discussing the issues in a non-partisan manner and with not even a hint of campaigning for his re-election this fall. I was incredibly impressed with his genuine tone, and I’m actually quite amazed that he can converse at such a high level with someone whom he doesn’t know at all.

Anyone who knows me will probably think it’s odd that I’m gushing over a Republican right now, but I’ve never discussed the issues directly with someone in Rep. Wamp’s position, and I enjoyed that opportunity. He treated me with the utmost respect, talked straight, and thanked me for being an informed citizen. I thanked him for taking time out of his busy schedule to discuss the issues with a constituent.

Today, the power of the internet proved to be truly remarkable. Now it’s up to the people in Washington to get some things done.

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