Whether you agree with Blunt, it’s great to have a senator who is willing to talk to media outlets all over the state. I certainly hope whoever replaces Blunt in the Senate after 2022 keeps that in mind, since we haven’t had the same luck with all our federal or even state representatives.
The first time I interviewed Blunt, shortly after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, we heard from a reader suggesting the interview wasn’t real. Among his reasons was that a senator wouldn’t have time to talk to a “small” newspaper.
First of all, The Missourian works hard to put out a product that doesn’t take a back seat to anyone. Even though we’re twice weekly, we put out more local stories a week than some of the daily papers I’ve worked at.
And it’s personally insulting to me to suggest that I’d fake an interview with a senator. Getting to talk to the people who make the laws for this country is one of the coolest parts of this job, and I’m proud to have done it in several states.
I first talked to senators in Odessa, in West Texas. Sen. John Cornyn would have “roundtable” discussions with local business people or elected officials about certain topics facing Congress. Of course, everyone involved with the discussion agreed with Cornyn, but at least the discussion gave me something to write about.
He would take a few questions from the local media afterward. I remember asking Cornyn about President Barack Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court a day or two after it happened, which was a big deal since Cornyn was on the Judiciary Committee.
Cornyn even did one news conference at a local gas station, which I assume was because of rising gas prices. If you’re a politician, that might not be a bad idea now.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison also did news conferences at local businesses. But one event was interesting in 2010, when she was running, unsuccessfully, against Gov. Rick Perry. She held a campaign event that was free and open to the public but felt the need to put the press in a “pen” in the back of the room. I’d understand this if it were a packed rally, but based on the attendance at the event, she should have been happy anyone was covering it and let us stand where we wanted.
Hutchison initially said she would resign after the gubernatorial primary, win or lose, which created a chain reaction of politicians saying they were running for her Senate seat, and others saying they were running for the other seats being vacated (which is something I expect to see in Missouri soon).
Hutchison eventually changed her mind and stayed in office until the end of her term, but I did get to ask a question of her eventual replacement, Ted Cruz, who was running for the attorney general seat that wouldn’t end up being vacated. Had I known how big a deal Cruz would become, I might have come up with a better question than I did, which was something about the attorney general’s office appointing prosecutors for local officials who recuse themselves for conflicts of interest (which happened a lot in West Texas).
I even got to briefly talk to New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici at a groundbreaking just across the state line for a factory where they were to make uranium fuel rods for nuclear power plants. He used the word “guff” in talking about pushback to the plant, a word I’ve since tried to work into my vocabulary.
I think I’ve only dealt with the senators once when I worked in Marietta, Georgia. Sen. Johnny Isakson lived nearby and was a friend of the paper, so he was pretty easy to get ahold of.
I spoke to Sen. Saxby Chambliss at a local Republican breakfast at a time when there were lots of questions about whether he would seek another term. He eventually decided against it, but I’d again moved before the election happened. In a weird twist, I’ve only lived in one state with a Senate election once since 2008, and that was Oregon in 2016, which wasn’t particularly memorable.
I then moved on to Washington state, where they had something new for senators — Democrats. As far as dealing with the media, Sen. Patty Murray was a lot like the Republicans I’ve been around. She took a few questions after events. She liked to go around the state and speak at ribbon cuttings or groundbreakings for projects she helped get funding for, which is smart when seeking votes.
I only spoke to Sen. Maria Cantwell once, but she was one of the more engaging senators. She actually asked me questions and seemed interested in what I do.
Oregon’s Democratic senators came to Redmond, the town I covered, several times for town halls, where community members could come in and ask questions. Town halls were a great thing that politicians of both parties did a lot of in Oregon (and have continued doing virtually during the pandemic), and I hope whoever the new Missouri senator is will consider doing them.
I remember Sen. Ron Wyden winning Redmond in 2016, even though Donald Trump won the city by a comfortable margin, which Wyden attributed to “just showing up” there. I got to ask Wyden a couple questions after his town halls, though I was usually disappointed because his press guy made it sound like I’d be able to do full interviews.
Jeff Merkley, Oregon’s other senator, did give me a full interview before one of his town halls. The 20-minute discussion was the most time I’ve gotten with anyone of that stature. I was the only full-time employee at my paper at the time, so it was nice that they offered the interview to me (of course, I used the interview in the clips I sent when I applied at The Missourian a few weeks later).
I haven’t lived in a state with an open Senate race since 2002, shortly before I started working in newspapers. So I am looking forward to seeing what 2022 brings.