A clever, curious ad appeared on page 12A of Sunday's News & Observer.
Paid for by Evalyn Johnson of Cary, an eighteen-year-old biology major at N.C. State who raised more than $2,000 on GoFundMe toward the quarter-page effort, the ad carried U.S. Senator Richard Burr's now-familiar pic—that oddly thin, almost forced smile, those sharp blue eyes—above the text: "LOST—United States Senator. He may respond to the title 'Senator Richard Burr,' though his constituents have been unable to verify whether this is still the case, as they have been unable to contact him in recent weeks."
It goes on to say that since his recent re-election, Burr's "concerned constituents" have been "unable to reach the Senator and have received no response to their communications. If found, please return Senator Burr to his constituents by way of a Town Hall meeting or other suitable gathering in which the Senator demonstrates his accountability to his constituents by listening to and honestly addressing their concerns."
The context is that Burr—the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is now leading the investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged connections to Russian operatives—and fellow senator Thom Tillis, as well as many U.S. representatives from North Carolina, are taking a pass on town halls during the current ten-day congressional recess, which ends February 27. In fact, all over the country, these town halls are in short supply, as members of Congress are dodging angry constituents concerned about health care reform, immigration, and the president's attacks on the press and judiciary, as well as a left reinvigorated by the nascent administration's chaos and scandal.
So why single out Burr? Johnson, a junior who graduated from Enloe High School at the age of fifteen, says she's seen several examples of constituents trying to reach Burr's office who haven't gotten any response. One acquaintance posted on Facebook, recounting her efforts to get Burr to do a town hall; in the comment thread, someone suggested an ad. Johnson liked the idea, so she got to work.
"Burr specifically has dismissed the protesters and callers as paid agitators," Johnson says, "and, as far as I can tell, that's not true. They're concerned about their children's education and their health care and to have them dismissed is kind of insulting."
And this underscores the need for face-to-face interaction, rather than relying on comments posted on the senator's website. "It's really easy to dismiss someone's concerns when all you're seeing is typed letters on a screen," she says. "But when you talk to people in person, it's a lot easier to understand that they're worried or scared and that your actions affect your constituents."
In short, Johnson says, Burr needs to hear from those he represents. Instead, he'll be out of state on official business. (Fittingly, perhaps, his office did not respond to the INDY's requests for comment.)
This article appeared in print with the headline "Disappearing Act"