U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins has hit the ground for home state town halls. Last week he appeared in Fort Scott, and this week he was in Topeka, listening and responding to constituent questions. This makes sense —he’s a member of the people’s house, the body that’s closest to those it represents. He should be understanding how people on the ground feel.
But he’s also been ignoring the elephant in the room.
Something is going on with Watkins, as can be surmised from a bevy of whispers around the statehouse and the call from former Gov. Jeff Colyer for State Treasurer Jake LaTurner to challenge him in next year’s primary. When reporters tried to press Watkins in Fort Scott, however, the representative ran.
“Watkins was talking to a constituent when he placed his cellphone to his ear and abruptly left the Boiler Room Brewhaus through a side door,” wrote The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Sherman Smith. The congressman then hopped into a car and drove away, while Smith snapped a photo.
Most of Watkins’ constituents aren’t able to make it to town halls. They either don’t live in the communities he visited, don’t know about the meetings or are unable to attend. That’s why reporters show up at such meetings — to let a larger swath of those represented know what Watkins thinks and how he responds under pressure. That’s public service journalism.
That’s journalism, period. Watkins should respect that and interact with reporters, even if it might be temporarily uncomfortable.
He certainly wasn’t let off the hook by constituents at his Topeka gathering, where he was grilled on gun control. Watkins bobbed and weaved, but that information was important in and of itself. If voters were looking for bold new restrictions on firearms, those limits likely won’t come from the representative.
So why not engage with reporters in Fort Scott? The rumors and mutters around Watkins are a story, and Colyer’s action ensures they will remain so. Clearly some Republicans in the state want to see the congressman gone — and given news reports that emerged during his candidacy, one can imagine why.
The questions are going to continue. And as long as Watkins ducks a thorough accounting of them, the story will continue. Tweets and other carefully controlled statements aren’t enough. Reporters are paid — and duty bound — to get the story. They will continue to push, continue to ask questions and continue to pursue the congressman until they get some answers.