Constituents calling on Collins for more communication and Collins says he does communicate
It's almost like it's a misunderstanding that a little bit of communication might clear up.
Patricia Dieck, a resident of Batavia, is worried about maintaining health care coverage for her family, which is one reason she was participating in a protest on East Main Street this morning, across the street where Rep. Chris Collins was meeting with members of his "coffee club."
Asked later about Dieck's concerns, Collins said the issues she raised wouldn't affect her family as New York residents.
Dieck said she is worried Congress might still pass the so-called "repeal and replace" bill for the Affordable Care Act, known as the American Health Care Act, and though the bill seems to be dead, she thinks Collins should listen to her on the issue.
"I have serious concerns," Dieck said. "I have a child who is on Medicaid who depends on it. I also have a child who has a pre-existing condition. Where is he going to get health care if that goes through? He (Collins) needs to start walking in our shoes and stop thinking like a billionaire."
"None of that is true because in New York, and in every state, the commissioner of health decides on the essential benefits package," Collins said.
According to Collins, many of the objections people had to the AHCA were based on a misunderstanding about how much responsibility for deciding coverage packages still resides with the states.
"I would say she totally misunderstands what’s going on, which is kind of a shame because in many cases, these protesters are deliberately misleading people into things that are just not so," Collins added.
It's even a misunderstanding, Collins said, that he won't listen to constituents who disagree with his positions on this and other issues.
He just won't do it in the "town hall" format protesters are asking for because he doesn't think these events are productive.
"What folks are advocating for is more of an organized protest," Collins said. "They’re not interested in a conversation of any kind. I would rather spend my time meeting with constituents one on one, have them come in the office, or speak with groups at lunches and so forth, and open it up to any kind of questions."
Dieck said she and the other protesters don't believe their opinions matter to Collins
"We just want to be heard," Dieck said. "We want a chance to have a civil conversation with Chris Collins. Many people here have sent letters, we have called him, and we get no response. We’ve asked him to do a town hall. We understand he never did town halls before, but everyone else is doing them. We want one. That’s what the constituency wants, so we’re asking him to do one."
Collins disputes that constituent communication is going unanswered or unheeded. All calls, letters, and emails are tracked, he said. Staff will cull specific letters for him to see or provide summaries of constituent communications on issues.
"I do get individual letters that I look at," Collins said. "I do trust my staff, we’ll call them a filter of sorts, but I’m comfortable that they don’t keep things from me.
"We absolutely track what comes in over the telephone," Collins added. "We track what comes in the mail. Sometimes it’s a postcard campaign and you can get 5,000 postcards, and you just treat those as they are, but we track as best we can the mood of our constituents."
Some of the communications end up in staff scheduling meetings with Collins in his office, but he said he thinks some people misunderstand how little time he actually spends in the district. The past several weeks, for example, he's been in Washington, D.C. Now he has two weeks home to travel the district and meet with as many people as possible.
He had two events in Batavia today, among 10 events in the district this weekend, and the coffee club meeting was the only one that was a campaign fundraiser.
Asked if she or any of her fellow protesters had protested at other fundraisers elected officials might have, such as a $500 or $1,000 per plate dinner for Sen. Charles Schumer, Dieck said she felt this event was different.
"This is a $55 coffee club," Dieck said. "My husband is a Republican and he wasn’t invited. It’s an exclusive club. I don’t think he (Collins) should be doing it. I think it should be open to everybody."
Collins said it is open to everybody.
"We want as many people as we can," Collins said. "It’s what we would consider a lower dollar event at $55 and that’s a year’s membership and we do 10 or 12 of these a year and we do them all around the eight counties. This is a not small group of special invitees. If somebody wants to join our coffee club, they should. I had 50, 60 people there. They asked questions. I answered the questions. I told them what’s going on in Washington. There could be Democrats there. There can be, whatever, there."