Politics & Government

Where’s Steven Palazzo? Congressman elusive for some Coast constituents

Congressman Steven Palazzo visits with constituents before the 2011 grand opening ceremony of his new district office in downtown Gulfport. Some Coast constituents say connecting with the congressman is nearly impossible.
Congressman Steven Palazzo visits with constituents before the 2011 grand opening ceremony of his new district office in downtown Gulfport. Some Coast constituents say connecting with the congressman is nearly impossible. amccoy@sunherald.com File

Some South Mississippi women aren’t having much luck tracking down their congressman, Rep. Steven Palazzo, even though he is supposed to be back this week for a district work week.

The enterprising women are trying to smoke the 4th District Republican congressman out by putting his face on posters of the sort normally emblazoned with a photo of a missing cat or dog and stapled to a utility pole. One advises that, if found, Palazzo should be returned to the constituents of the district. You won’t see these posters on poles, though; they’re plastered on social media.

Ashley Kittrell, who will graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi in May with a degree in accounting, has been trying for more than a week to find out what the fourth-term congressman would be doing during his district work week. That’s the time congress members spend at home when Congress is in recess. She’s emailed. She’s called. And Palazzo’s local office was unable to give her a schedule as of Friday.

The Sun Herald had a little better luck getting in touch with Palazzo spokeswoman Jill Duckworth.

“(This) week Congressman Palazzo is hosting Congressman Rob Wittman, chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, who will be visiting South Mississippi and touring Ingalls,” she wrote in an email. “He will also be attending and is the keynote speaker at the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers & Ranchers Leadership Conference. Those are the two major events on our calendar for next week outside of constituent meetings. He will also be fulfilling his drill requirements for the National Guard at Camp Shelby for two days next week.”

For the record, Palazzo is a member of the Army National Guard but Duckworth didn’t provide any further details about the speech, his one quasi-public appearance, which is in Natchez.

Kittrell and attorney Kiara Taite at first just wanted to chat about his congressional agenda. But after not getting answers, they became more concerned about the lack of accessibility.

Palazzo doesn’t do town halls in person, preferring what he calls telephone town halls conducted over the phone.

“He should just do his job,” Kittrell said. “They put aside this whole week for him to come home and meet with the people of the district and he’s not doing it once. Because he’s scared.”

Town halls in other states in the last couple of weeks haven’t gone as planned. Raucous protesters shouted down House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz in Utah, and Rep. Mike Coffman fled out the back door of a library in a suburb of Denver while the crowd, which had been held in a waiting area, sang “This Land Is Your Land.” It was the day after he had voted in favor of a resolution to pave the way for the repeal of Obamacare.

Obamacare the issue

Like the crowd in Aurora, Colorado, Kittrell would ask the South Mississippi congressman about Obamacare if she were able.

“I’d ask him not to repeal Obamacare until he has a replacement to protect people with pre-existing conditions,” she said. Palazzo has rarely passed up an opportunity to rail against the former president’s signature health-care plan.

Palazzo waylaid former U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor in the 2010 election riding a wave of Tea Party opposition to President Barack Obama’s agenda that had begun in 2009 at Democratic town halls. Democrats paid little heed to the growing opposition, and they suffered for it.

“The alternative is to look the other way, avoid town halls, and hope that after the repeal passes everything calms down,” Editor Rich Lowry wrote last week in the National Review. “This was essentially the Democratic tack in 2008, and how did that work out?”

Taite started trying to contact Palazzo after she learned he was a co-sponsor of a bill that would abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I’m sure California could protect their environment if the EPA went away,” she said. “But in Mississippi, we can’t even pay to fully fund education so I don’t know how we’d fully fund a department to handle our environmental issues, especially living here on the Coast when we’re just recovering from the BP oil spill.”

Not much notice

Palazzo sent out a newsletter announcing his Feb. 6 telephone town hall the day before it happened. He posted a notice of the town hall on his official Facebook page a few hours before it started.

Comments on the announcement were overwhelmingly against abolishing the EPA. One commenter listened in and chastised him for insulting Democrats.

“He should have a public meeting, you know you are going to have some people who are angry with you, but it is not fair to the public to tell them you can’t come ask your question face to face,” Taite said. “We are thinking of having our own town hall. If the congressman doesn’t show up, we’ll just talk about the issues.”

Sen. Thad Cochran

“Senators Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., vice chairman and chairman, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations Committee, will lead a five-member congressional delegation to Cuba and Colombia, Feb. 19-24,” Cochran’s office said in joint statement from the senators.

“In part, the purpose of the working trip to Cuba is to discuss progress in, and future opportunities for, U.S.-Cuban cooperation on a wide range of topics, including foreign trade, migration, human rights, and property claims. In Colombia, the delegation expects to gain information on the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and its significance for U.S.-Colombian relations.”

Sen. Roger Wicker

Wicker’s office didn’t respond to requests about his schedule. There are not work-week activities listed on his web page or his Facebook page.