By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
U.S. Rep.-elect Markwayne Mullin struck a chord Friday with constituents of all stripes during the Westville Republican’s final stop of a weeklong, 26-county tour.
The trip was billed as a listening tour designed to get input from voters before Mullin takes office in January. The 2nd Congressional District’s next representative, however, did most of the talking as he described his first two weeks in Washington.
The experience, as he tells it, exposed Mullin as somewhat of a maverick and a person who appears willing to work with his colleagues, regardless of party. His recount of the orientation process for new congressional members even seemed to win over most of the dozen or so Democrats at the event.
“I came here to remind you that you represent all of us,” the Rev. Rodger Cutler of St. Mark Baptist Church said, acknowledging that he thought he would be the only Democrat in the packed room of more than 50 people. “What you have said has made me feel a lot better.”
Mullin, who insisted that he intends to remain “approachable” throughout his tenure, said his first trip to Washington as the representative-elect was an eye-opener. Using cattle ranching as a metaphor, he said the treatment of members of Congress was designed to cull out and separate them by party.
“They run ’em into a big pen ... then into a smaller pen, and then they separate you — that’s what they did to us,” Mullin said about his arrival at the nation’s Capitol. “How are you going to work with each other if you don’t even know each other?”
Mullin said that when members were climbing onto buses after one meeting, he took a step into a bus designated for his Republican colleagues, hesitated, then stepped back down and climbed aboard the bus full of Democrats.
“They looked at me like I had walked into the women’s restroom,” he said, following up with a story about how the move facilitated an open dialog he plans to continue. “I’m going to get to know everybody — we can’t judge people based upon a label.”
Mullin acknowledged that he will make decisions with which some people will disagree, but he encouraged feedback and promised to respond.
Although Mullin did most of the talking, the session had time for comments and questions. Mark Hughes expressed dissatisfaction with the congressional leadership and asked Mullin whether he would vote to oust House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Mullin said that decision was made in November, and that in choosing between Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., he went with the speaker. However, he acknowledged his disappointment with leadership on both sides of the aisle and the finger-pointing that goes on.
When one constituent brought up President Barack Obama and his legitimacy as the nation’s chief executive, Mullin cut the conversation short. He said putting “differences aside” and getting “to work” were more important.
Others brought up concerns about education — funding for school lunches, impact aid and federal laws that require standardized testing. Mullin’s response revealed some disdain for the U.S. Department of Education and recognition of the need for impact aid funding.
Mullin said he was being “very cautious” about whom he hires for his congressional staff and that he intends to surround himself “with good people.” Mullin plans to keep his main field office in Muskogee.
Mullin will be sworn in and take office Jan. 3.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.