“please forgive me, mark maynard…” -a letter from john dingell

A month or so ago, I sent a letter to Michigan Congressman John Dingell, the Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, asking his opinion on instituting a gas tax that would drive conservation, spur innovation and fund research into alternative sources of energy. His office responded with a form letter on an almost completely unrelated topic. I mentioned it here. I wasn’t pissed — I knew the Democrats had their hands full at the time, getting their criminal investigations off the ground and such – but it did kind of rub me the wrong way. As a constituent, I expected better, and that’s pretty much what I said here.

Then, a week or so later, I received an email from someone on Dingell’s staff, saying that they’d seen my post, and wanted to assure me that my concerns were being heard and that my ideas were appreciated. (Specifically, I’d been trying to pitch a scenario where funds captured at the pump, via this proposed tax, would be turned over to that state’s institutions of higher education to fund research, scholarships, technology commercialization initiatives, etc.) And, I was told that I’d be receiving a letter from Dingell explaining his views on taxing gasoline… Well, today I got the letter. A scan of it is attached, but here’s how it begins:

I want to offer my sincere apologies for the incorrect response that was sent to you on January 17, 2007. Our office receives thousands of letters and emails a week and in the particular week that you wrote to me regarding the gas tax, I had received hundreds of correspondences regarding the proposed troop surge in Iraq. Your letter was mistakenly batched with the hundreds of letters on Iraq and the incorrect response letter was sent to you. I sincerely apologize for this error. I hope that you continue to write me on matters of importance to you and I pledge to continue to do my best to respond in a timely and accurate manner.

On the issue that you wrote me, I agree with you that we need to reduce our gasoline consumption and encourage funding for alternative energy. I also share your belief that our tax code should be structured to encourage behavior that is beneficial to society, whether it be saving for college tuition, home-ownership, savings or investment. We must continue to increase our energy independence and efficiency and as the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over these issues, you can rest assured that I intend to look into investing in clean and renewable energy, as well as the subject of climate change…

Maybe I’m easily impressed, but getting a signed letter from my Congressman means something to me. Yes, I realize that it was most likely written by a junior staffer, and that it doesn’t really answer my question as to how we get a gas tax on the legislative agenda, but it gives me at least a faint glimmer of hope that my voice, and those of you who post your comments here, are being heard. And, that’s encouraging.

As for Dingell, I’m not sure what to think. Given his ties to the Big 3, I don’t see him pushing the auto industry aggressively toward more stringent fuel efficiency and pollution standards, or calling for a gas tax that could hurt auto sales (at least in the sort term), but I suppose that it could happen. It probably doesn’t hurt that Pelosi is making moves to legislate around him. That might get him motivated to pursue ambitious legislation. He’s got a reputation for being slow, methodical and thorough, and that’s great, but I don’t think we have the luxury of time in this case…. Anyway, I appreciate his office for following through, and, for what it’s worth, I also very much appreciate his service to our country. From what I can tell, he’s a decent man and an effective leader… Now it’s time for me to start working on my follow-up letter…. I’ll keep you posted.

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  1. murph
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Grrr…his ghostwriting buys into one of my political pet peeves – the idea of governing for “the American consumer”. Why can’t they see us as “citizens”?

    Meanwhile, while I’m not hugely impressed with Dingell’s kowtowing to the Big 3 on energy issues in the past (and his letter does read largely as though the problem is the *cost* of energy use, rather than the *price* (social cost)), he is well-respected and fairly powerful in the Congress. I think Pelosi is right to go around him – forcing him to counter with something more “moderate”. (Of course, in my fantasy land, the compromise would be, “well, fine, we can pass stringest fuel efficiency standards – but we’re going to have provide a national health care system to help out the auto industry.”)

  2. oliva
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I’m a pushover myself many times, but I’m also impressed that you got this response from Congressman Dingell. My respect for him continues to grow actually. He’s got a really good staff–and he’s ever present at community events where his presence makes a difference. On Ypsi Pride Day his aide, then his wife, showed up with cookies made in the shape of a Y, for Ypsilanti. (Thoughtful gesture, kind of charming, very sweet!) At an event to save affirmative action at the Corner Brewery, Debby Dingell spoke with such clarity and energy on behalf of herself and her husband. Before the Iraq War, when constituents were asking to be heard by senators and representatives, Congressman Dingell invited people to come talk about the issue a number of times, and he held townhall meetings a few times too. After nearly fifty years serving in the House, his district was redrawn, and suddenly he was representing not just the auto region but also Washtenaw County–many more students and other kinds of people than were in his district up till then. He responded with resilience and gusto, which means a lot from an older gentleman. Still sharp, still a responsive and hardworking representative of the people. I know he’s angered people for helping the auto industry remain stuck in bad practices, but it seems from here that he sees the light and is willing to adjust, even if belatedly.

    Ursula LeGuin once said something like, “Minds that won’t change are like clams that don’t open.” I’m impressed with John Dingell for a number of reasons, including the nice Christmas card he and his wife send every year to constituents–it’s always got a personal touch and his home address on the envelope (talk about open, refreshing). He strikes me as a really worthwhile clam that opens! And I’m grateful for him.

  3. oliva
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Oh my, my pushover-ness really showed in that post–cookies and a Christmas card, and he’s got me! That’s just sleepiness–I ordered my remarks clumsily. If not for his sense of involvement with local communities, wanting to set his feet down in locales within his redistricted district and hear from actual people living there, and his stance on the war and other really important issues, the cookies and card would be nothing. But on top of these other things–they are swell. And we just have to keep urging him to think big and long re. the auto industry.

  4. schutzman
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    I’ve found that it’s always easier to ask Mark Maynard for forgiveness, than to ask for his permission.

  5. Kate
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    My take on John Dingell is that he really wants what is good for his constituency. That used to be pushing for the Big 3. It’s not any more, and I think he sees that. His problem seems to be figuring out what’s next — and he’s not the only one in that boat.

  6. UBU
    Posted February 23, 2007 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Wow, you really are a Dingell-berry now!

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