Here's where members of Congress tend to get a bad rap: When congressional recesses are described as vacations, weeks when the officials can head off to the Caribbean and laze around. At times like the current congressional recess, which this year like most includes the month of August.
A few of them do treat it as time off, but most – while maybe taking a break here or there – use much of the time to do work, sometimes in Washington but often spending time back in the home state or district.
What exactly they do varies according to the person, and their priorities.
Last week Senator Mike Crapo released his recess schedule, and it shows that from August 11 to 28, which takes in most of the recess period, he will be visiting places and groups all over Idaho. On August 11 he will appear at two awards ceremonies and speak at the Financial Industry Authority Investor Forum. At McCall two days later he “discusses issues with Valley County Commissioners, Payette National Forest Supervisor’s Office” and in the afternoon “Tours Schweitzer Engineering Laboratory’s recent facility expansion” at Lewiston. The next day he goes to Orofino to speak with the county commissioners and the chamber of commerce; the day after, he's back in Lewiston for a groundbreaking on a water project.
And so on. On the 27th he has two events in Twin Falls, both meeting with veterans groups, and on the 28th two in Pocatello, presenting an award to a veteran and addressing an economic symposium.
That's a lot better than just vacationing during a recess, certainly, and not too different from what Idaho's congressional delegation often does. But it is a little limiting. If you're a economic developer or an executive of a prosperous business, or a veteran, or a local government official, your chances of getting face time with the senator aren't bad. It's not a bad thing that they get the opportunity. The point is, not many other Idahoans do.
Let me digress, for a moment, over to Oregon's 4th congressional district (the southwest part of the state), where veteran Representative Peter DeFazio is preparing for his recess. And he really needs some preparation.
Like other members of Congress, he'll be meeting with bunches of people and groups back home during the recess. But the core of his time will be spent at town halls, open meetings where people in the community are invited to ask questions of the representative, or give him a piece of their mind. (As they sometimes do; political opponents periodically show up and get involved.) Usually these run around an hour and a half each.
He will hold town hall meetings in Reedsport, Bandon, Gold Beach, Brookings, and Port Orford.
And then in Coos Bay, North Bend (this one mainly on veterans), Springfield, Cottage Grove, and Grants Pass.
And after that in Myrtle Creek, Roseburg, Lebanon, and Albany (the latter mainly on veterans).
And, in his last few days before the recess ends, in Corvallis, Florence, Veneta and two in Eugene.
DeFazio isn't the only member of Congress to run this kind of regime on their time away from D.C. But he certainly does get exposure to a wide range of his constituents.
The practice could use some expansion in places such as Idaho.