Kevin C. Reigrut is the kind of guy who wears ties his daughter bought him to work and eats breakfast bars in the car on his commute. Thursday, he was caught off guard.
He might not admit it, but when a group of D.C. voting rights advocates showed up at the door of Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, the congressman who moved successfully last month to attach a provision to the District budget that would block the city’s new marijuana decriminalization law, Reigrut, his chief of staff, wasn’t especially ready for the deluge. But Reigut ended up doing all the talking.
As D.C. residents and others filed in to air their complaints about the lawmaker, a move designed to highlight how much the Congressman is infringing on their lives, his staffers awkwardly hung around, doing their best to enforce the “no recording, no pictures” policy for all who entered. Per many situations that play out in that building, it was a pretty farcical scene.
At Harris’ constituent service day at 1553 in the Longworth House Office Building, an annoyed staff of a dozen milled around, opening and closing doors and running interference.
“We expected some people, but not really this. We’ve been hearing this stuff for weeks,” one aide said. “It’s a little played out at this point.”
That was this young man’s attitude about the District’s desire to control itself, completely. His mind was on other things.
The advocates, from DC Vote were having a Summer Equality Happy Hour later that night. “Are you gonna go?” the aide asked the young lady working at the front desk.
“Is it free?” she replied.
The rest of the morning consisted of people handing in letters and asking semi-intense questions about the definition of Home Rule among other things. It was far more civil than the poop bags and prop rats suggestions that had been floating around the internet the day before.
At first, I thought this media stunt was going to be a colossally goofball effort that had little to no effect on Harris or his views. And we still don’t know if it will. But on this day, his employees were clearly rattled. So: mission accomplished.
Moreover, Harris, who also said that to D.C. residents, “Congress is their local legislature”, missed a huge opportunity to come across as something beyond another guy stuffed in a suit overreaching his boundaries. By leaving the completely manageable demonstration to his marginally prepared aides, his stance on what the city’s drug policies should be came across as even more aloof and nonsensical than ever.
It would have been genuinely likeable if the Congresman had rolled out the Eastern Shore red carpet, offering up goodies from his district and generally being hospitable rather than standoffish. Instead, he further gave D.C. no reason to like him at all. Just getting a cup of coffee turned out to be an extended exercise in diplomatic affairs.
Instead, he left his crew hanging.
“I’m not necessarily sure that I want to get into an intellectual debate about why he’s doing this,” the chief of staff said at one point, regarding one person’s assertion that falling back on the Constitution is a flawed argument considering it also once allowed slavery and also denied women the right to vote.
Of course, he didn’t want to get into an intellectual debate. Because there is none. His boss is exercising an absurd privilege to punish people who don’t even elect him.
Outside of the office, even one of the guards tapped hastily to keep the small crowd under control agreed with the decriminalization effort. He didn’t want to say so on record for fear of getting fired.
Harris’ office is furnished with all sorts of stuff from his jurisdiction. A guitar built on Kent Island, trinkets from the Eastern Shore and a lab coat with his name on it, as soon as you walk in.
And while Reigrut tapped danced for Harris, doing his best to fend off the orderly group and lingering media, the look in his eye longed for lunch.
Reigrut, who graduated from high school in 1988, says he’s never smoked weed because it’s not his thing. Before the last “constituent” filed out, Kevin did his best to point out that this wasn’t a fight he chose.
Next to his busy tie, which featured a bald eagle, an American flag, the Statue of Liberty and a group of apparently huddled masses, he wore a pin. It was of racing Teddy, that he got the day he won his first race.
“I was trying to show my solidarity with my Washington friends,” Reigrut explained.
If only his boss did the same.