Are you like me in that you often follow your politicians from afar? That you keep your politics at arm’s length from the rest of who you are? That what you know about them is likely just what you read in the paper or see on television? I think many of us might know something about our local representative such as their party affiliation, perhaps one or more of their hot topic issues. I think we know that when Congress is not in session, they often make home district visits and host town halls to hear directly from the voters who elected them. That they have offices in our community, and you can contact their staff for assistance if needed. But if you’re like me, you might never have ever attended a town hall to see and hear from your representative directly.
I finally got to experience what that was like. Congressman Mike Thompson held a “Coffee” at the Redwood Café in Cotati on Tuesday morning. Congressman Thompson has served for two decades and represents the 5th Congressional District of California. Like me, you may have seen him at other events and functions because he’s very active in the local community. But his coffees are a town hall by a different name and format. It’s not just an appearance at a parade, charitable event, or brief public appearance with a few prepared remarks on the topic or event of the day.
Congressman Thompson started his “Coffee” events almost by accident a few years ago in Sonoma. A meeting was unexpectedly cancelled so he and the staff decided to use the opportunity to have coffee with his constituents. It seems to fit his folksy style, wit, and self-perspectives. Scheduled to speak at 10AM, folks gathered in the café for breakfast and a chance to perhaps talk with the Congressman one-on-one well before the official start time. His Santa Rosa District Office Senior Aide, Mr. Stephan Gale was also present to meet and greet the crowd and to help answer any questions folks had.
If you ever visited the Redwood Café you already have a visual of the setting for this coffee. The crowd was in excess of 50 folks but grew as time went on with standing room only and likely in excess of a hundred attendees. I would estimate the average age of attendees was somewhere around 50 years old. The official event kicked off a few minutes late with Cotati Mayor John Dell’Osso introducing the Congressman and explaining the format. The format was simple. The Congressman would make a few, very limited remarks then open a Q&A session. As he explained, these events are for him to listen to the folks he represents and although he got in some partisan quips along the way it certainly was not a campaign event.
The Q&A lasted approximately 90 minutes. Folks would raise their hands and an aide to the Congressman would walk around the room and hand them a microphone. About 20 folks had an opportunity to ask him questions with a few of the questions being two or more parts. Often, not unexpectedly, the question was preceded by a short issue speech or plug. Then the Congressman would try to address their question or issue. Also, not unsurprisingly, the answer might include what the Congressman had done in the past, is attempting to do now, or plans to do in the future.
The topics of the questions varied but certainly the hot topic was the “Impeachment Inquiry” underway in the House. Another was Climate Change. Yet a third focused on Veterans Issues. Also, addressed were questions on immigration and DACA, PG&E Public Safety Outages, and Corruption in Public Service. Trustee Tim Nonn of the Cotati-Rohnert Park School District also asked the Congressman about how we can get affordable housing to help the school districts in Sonoma County recruit and retain teachers, many who have to work multiple jobs in order to live and work in their districts.
The Congressman assured Trustee Nonn that “I will do whatever I can from Washington” to address this need. Linked into this issue was an earlier response to the DACA question that he used as an example. According to the Congressman, California is already 7 thousand teachers short. We also have approximately 5 thousand teachers who are currently protected by DACA. If that gets overturned by the courts, the 7 thousand shortage may become 12 thousand further impacting education of our children.
I liked how the Congressman sprinkled his answers with real stories about real people who are impacted by many of these issues. Two in particular stood out to me.
The first was about how he and his staff do constituent services. He explained when you bring an issue to his office, they have you fill out an Advocacy Form. This form basically gives them permission to research and seek solutions for your issue(s). The example he used was a homeless veteran. The vet had been homeless for 10 years. A friend of the vet approached the Congressman for assistance. They signed the form and the Congressman, and his staff went to work.
This was about 4 years ago. They started with addressing medical issues. That resulted in positive outcomes for other issues and now the Vet is healthy, employed, and he and his spouse have their own home. Obviously, the Congressman who is a combat wounded vet, and who founded and co-chairs the Veterans Caucus in the House has a passion for his fellow Veterans. As a fellow vet myself I appreciate both his service then and now for that community.
The next story, in response to the affordable housing shortage in Sonoma County both before and after the fires of 2017 was when he rented out his house in St. Helena to a nurse and a teacher. He got a firsthand look into how hard these folks worked to serve their communities and how important it is for folks in these professions as well as many other service professions to be able to live and work in our communities.
Congressman Thompson currently serves on the Ways & Means Committee, he chairs the General Revenue sub-committee and is the second ranking member on the Health sub-committee. He also serves on the Speaker’s Policy Committee, an appointed position by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, so is part of the leadership team in the House. He has initiated or co-sponsored many bills to address the needs of his district and of the country. He views that as his role and his passion as our Congressman.
There are too many questions and answers to include in this write up. You might not agree with every issue or response given at an event like this, but if you take nothing else away from my report, I hope that it is perhaps you should plan to attend the next coffee event and experience it for yourself. To find the date and location of the next Coffee with Congressman Thompson, you can contact the Santa Rosa Office at (707) 542-7182 or visit his website at: https://mikethompson.house.gov/contact/offices/santa-rosa-district-office. Office hours at 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.