by Emily Hartman
On April 20, 2017 I attended the “Chat with Brat” held by Congressman Dave Brat at the Titan Tire Store on Hull Street. I work full time during tax season, January – April 15th, and I had been too wrapped up with work and my two teenage kids to attend his February town hall or the chat in Culpepper on Tax Day. When I noticed on the Congressman’s Facebook page that he would be holding a chat in Chesterfield the next day, I jumped on the opportunity to attend.
I knew I would be nervous; I do not like public speaking. I also wanted to be specific and concise when I asked my question, because the Congressman had only published that he would be at the event for 45 minutes. I knew he would draw a big crowd in Chesterfield, even in the middle of the workday. I arrived an hour early, prepared to ask my question. I patiently waited for 25 minutes while Rep Brat spoke about the Affordable Care Act and how he would attempt to abolish it. He mentioned several times that the polling of the Repeal and Replace law is only 17%. He did not mention that currently 64% of those polled say the ACA should be allowed to stand as is, or be improved from its current form.
Congressman Brat finally called on me about 25 minutes into his 45 -minute chat. He said, “you have been waiting, did you have question?” I opened up my piece of paper and said, “I get nervous speaking in public so I typed up a question.” The Congressman interrupted and said, “This is a question, not a dissertation?” Then immediately he said, “I have to get to more people.” (“Wait a minute,” I thought, “You just said I had been waiting and did I have a question?”) I persisted by starting to read from my single sided paper. My question was: “Why are my tax dollars going towards the personal business of the adult sons and daughter of Donald Trump? Why are tax dollars going to protect Eric, Don Jr, Jared, and Ivanka when they travel on personal business outside the country? And if the money is not reimbursed to the taxpayer, will the congressman ensure that the family must report this as income on their tax return by receiving a 1099-Misc or a W-2 so that they will be taxed on the benefits.”
Congressman Brat’s first response, “Well the Obamas…” I then interrupted him over the boos from the audience towards his remarks: “Rep. Brat, we can only move forward; that is why we must hold the Trumps accountable. I expect you as my congressman to be a good steward of my tax dollars no matter how small a percentage.” There were a few cheers.
Brat’s next response was, “If I want my side to win we need to take the politics out of it.” To Congressman Brat I say, I don’t want my side to win or your side to lose! I want our legislative branch to be good stewards of our hard earned tax dollars. I do not want my tax dollars to go to some one’s personal business. I don’t care if it is a tire store, or a handbag collection. I don’t want my tax dollars going towards these expenses. I want our tax dollars spent on new roads, better schools, and the military. Jared, Ivanka, Eric, and Don Jr. have enough money to pay for their own Secret Service protection, and travel expenses. It is a conflict of interest for them to receive any taxpayer dollars for their private businesses.
Congressman Brat then turned and took a question from a gentleman standing on the other side of the room. It did not go unnoticed by me or others that Brat did not interrupt him or make a comment about the length of his question. Maybe this was because he was standing among those in the audience with Brat stickers? I hope it was not because he is a man and I am a woman. The Congressman answered his question and then “high tailed” it out of there, cutting the 45-minute chat short.
The following night Congressman Brat posted several pictures of the session on his Facebook page. Several of his online supporters wrote that I and others were “Left-Wing Plants.” I’d like to note that I have lived in the 7th District of Virginia longer than Rep. Brat. I attended Bon Air Elementary School, Robious Middle, Midlothian High School, and only lived outside the district for four years while studying at James Madison University. I am not an economist and I did not attend seminary. I do have a degree in finance, and I am a Christian who believes whole-heartedly in the “separation of church and state.”
I took away several things from my brief “Chat with Brat.” First, Congressman Brat does not seem to enjoy meeting with his constituents. By scheduling last minute public events with less than 24 hours notice, he does not seem to value or respect our time. I find this very surprising, being that Brat ran on a platform of holding town halls. Yet he refuses to hold a town hall where the greatest population of his district is located. His strategy now is to hold “chats” that are in the middle of the workday and he gives less than 24-hour advance notice. Secondly, there seems to be a trend that Congressman Brat does not respect his female constituents. Brat made comments on camera in December saying, “Since the election the women are up in my grill!” During my chat he constantly interrupted the women. It was clear he did not want to hear what we would like for him to support in Congress. He did not, however, interrupt the men with the same fervor. Finally, when holding these “chats” the Congressman should talk less, and listen more. We need him to represent us. Therefore, it is important that he first listens to us and then act on our behalf.