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Davis, Roe tout constituent service as utmost priority

Hank Hayes • Jul 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Fifth in a series

In a key area of constituent service, U.S. Rep. David Davis did something during his first term that hadn’t been done in more than four decades.

He moved the congressional field office from downtown Kingsport to the campus of Northeast State Technical Community College next to Tri-Cities Regional Airport.

Davis hailed the move as a step to foster regionalism, but his Republican primary challenger, Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe, recently indicated he might put the office back in Kingsport if elected.

Roe is now backing away from that position.

“I’ve got to get elected to office first,” Roe explained.

During the tenures of the late U.S. Rep. James H. “Jimmy” Quillen of Kingsport and his successor, U.S. Rep. William L. “Bill” Jenkins of Rogersville, the district office was located in a U.S. Postal Service building on Center Street.

Davis claimed the Kingsport office’s condition was deteriorating.

That office also had no on-site security detail.

Davis’ main field office is now in spanking new facilities and has on-campus security at Northeast State.

“I wanted to make it more user-friendly and accessible, and find better parking. It’s more regionally located,” Davis, who also opened a satellite office in Morristown, said of the Northeast State office.

While the district office traditionally has been the location for face-to-face contact with the congressman, technology is taking over. Davis said his congressional Web site, www.daviddavis.house.gov., gets more than one million hits a year. He does a “Davis Capitol Update” radio program and e-mails more than 20 newsletters to constituents a year.

Davis also said he has done more than a dozen “tele town hall” phone conferences with constituents — Republicans and Democrats — who voted in the 2006 primaries.

“We’ve given over 600,000 people the opportunity to join in on those,” he said of the phone conferences.

Davis also conducted a number of constituent meetings around the district on issues ranging from federal funding to growing tourism dollars.

Roe, who has been critical of Davis sending campaign-style direct mail pieces to constituents at taxpayer expense, said he would bring a physician’s perspective to constituent service.

“I’ve done constituent service all my life,” said Roe, a retired gynecologist/obstetrician. “Patients come in. I listen to their problem one on one, and put the assets together to take care of their problem. You make yourself available, number one. Availability is the most important issue from the congressman’s standpoint. You need an open door policy. They may not see you every time, but you should try to answer every letter within a week. You should try to answer phone calls promptly.”

Davis said of the more than 55,000 letters coming to his office, about 6,700 were case work related — inquiries about things like veterans’ issues, passports and Social Security. The rest, he said, concerned legislation over matters like high gas prices, health care and illegal immigration.

Roe said the district office needs a professional “very well versed” in small business.

“With the exception of our large employers like Eastman, Wellmont, MSHA (Mountain States Health Alliance) ... most of the jobs we have are small business jobs,” he said.

Roe also said he would carefully gauge public opinion before casting a vote.

“In my job on the City Commission, I try to listen,” Roe said. “I would go into every debate with an open mind. I never walk into a commission meeting, in the 1,000 votes I’ve made, with a decision already made. You never know when more information is going to come along to change your mind. I would study the issue and make an informed position.

“We have been spoiled with great constituent service over the last 40 plus years. That’s what people want and that’s want they should have. ... I’ve always understood who I was employed by and that’s why I think I will make a good congressman.”

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