Oklahoma’s 5th District representative to Congress has the largest city in the state in his district.
And he has chosen not to hear from any of its residents in a town hall setting during this two-week break Congress is taking.
Most of the 600,000+ citizens of Oklahoma City are represented in the U.S. Congress by Steve Russell.
He also represents all of Edmond’s 87,000 citizens, and no town hall has been planned for that city, either.
Shawnee, Tecumseh, Seminole, Wewoka and a host of smaller towns east of the metro are in Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, too. A town hall was held in Shawnee March 3, but has been the only one this year.
(Check the interactive map at the bottom to see the specific boundary of the district.)
And Anna Facci, a constituent and activist in Oklahoma City has a message for him.
“Meet with us. We just want to have a meeting.”
“Just have a conversation with your constituents,” she said. “We’re not scary.”
Chamber of Commerce
Facci and a group of about five others met to hold signs and peacefully protest in front of the Edmond Chamber of Commerce this week where Russell was meeting with a group of Chamber members and business leaders.
The group represented a collaboration between Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR-Oklahoma, Planned Parenthood of Great Plains, and the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU of Oklahoma.
Facci is on the staff for CAIR-Oklahoma.
“We are very concerned that he didn’t have any town halls scheduled, so we took that message to him,” Facci told Free Press. “If he wouldn’t take the time to meet us in public, we wanted him to know that we would like to hear from him.”
Free Press attempted to contact Russell for comment throughout the day Thursday. But, by the end of the day his staff said his schedule would not permit even a phone interview.
One of the two U.S. Senators from Oklahoma, James Lankford, is working a heavy town hall schedule of what he calls “Community Conversations” across the state.
In the rural areas Lankford is meeting whole groups in restaurants and churches.
However, in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the state’s two largest cities, he has organized tightly structured settings to reduce the chance of his having to face large, loud crowds.
As reported in a Free Press story from Tuesday, some constituents are angry with President Trump and with Lankford for seemingly going along with him and the Republican majority in Congress who have tried to find a way to end or seriously reduce many social support programs that help the vulnerable and poor.
But as it turns out, Lankford has heard from far more Oklahoma City residents than the city’s U.S. representative.
The other U.S. Senator, Jim Imhofe, is not having any town halls of any type.
Typically, members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate use breaks to connect with constituents in their districts. In the past, that generally meant holding town halls.
But things have changed drastically for Republican members of Congress since the election of Donald Trump and the Republican Party wining complete control of Congress.
Democrats, independents, and even moderate Republicans have gained a new sense of militancy.
Viral videos have spread across social media of Republican lawmakers now being the ones struggling with loud, oppositional town halls.
The new town hall environment has spooked some Republican members of Congress.
Citing “security concerns” they are choosing not have town halls at all.
Social media pushback
There has been some spontaneous pushback against Russell’s avoidance in social media lately.
— A. Gimondo (@knittingtrex) April 12, 2017
— Babe Lincoln ðŸ’š (@annafacci) April 12, 2017
And when we asked Twitter what anyone thought about the matter, we got these responses:
@BrettDOkc As one of his constituents, I don’t take his cowardice lightly.
— Clayton Flesher (@claytonflesher) April 13, 2017
He’s just being bashful. Or fearful. https://t.co/F5viq6uoCb
— Judy Burns (@JudyBurns) April 14, 2017
Russell, a Republican, is entering his second term representing Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District.
He is currently assigned to the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Russell won the seat twice in decisive races against Democrat Al McAffrey a former representative and then senator in the Oklahoma Legislature.
In 2014 he gained 60 percent of the vote against McAffrey’s 36 percent with three other independents winning small percentages.
Then, in 2016 he won 57 percent against McAffrey’s 37 percent with a Libertarian candidate receiving the small balance.
His home is in Choctaw, a suburb on Oklahoma City’s southeast side. His local office is nearby at 4600 SE 29th St., Suite 400 in Del City.
Before election to the Congress, Russell was nationally recognized for commanding the unit that captured former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein who was later tried and executed by the Iraqi government.
He later wrote a book about the series of events that led to Hussein’s capture entitled “We Got Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein.”
Among military weapons enthusiasts, he is widely known for the manufacturing company he founded, Two Rivers Arms. The company imports, sells and customizes military-style rifles.
In 1985 he graduated from Ouachita Baptist University with a degree in public speaking.
From 1985 to 2006 he served as an officer in the United States Army retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Russell gained experience in politics from 2008 to 2012 in the Oklahoma State Senate.
Update, 7:51 p.m., 4-15-2017: The original version of this story did not mention the one town hall that Russell has had this year. The story has been changed to reflect that he held a town hall in Shawnee on March 3.