Steve Pearce, Congressional representative for District 2, was on my mind last week. I read reports of his sneaking out the back door of his Las Cruces office to avoid loud but non-violent protestors at his front door. I commented tartly about a man who touts his combat record without the courage to confront his constituents and asked how he can represent them without knowing in some depth what their views are.
A few days later, I visited his office to get more detail on two issues—healthcare and immigration—than his website provides. I received a warm welcome from Joe Martinez, who tells me that he is a Democrat serving in Pearce’s office to help veterans as Veterans Service Director. He invited me to discuss my issues with him, and we had an extended discussion on those issues and two others. Joe is an excellent listener and, I believe, gave honest responses, especially when I surprised him on one big issue new to him.
I made one common argument for healthcare reform—do not replace what is not really broken; repair what needs tweaking—and immigration. I noted that until about 35 years ago, illegal immigration from Mexico was regarded as a misdemeanor, like a parking ticket. I added that it made no sense to severely punish people for what had been a minor infraction of the law until politicized, especially since most were contributing members of society and have a lower crime rate than the rest of the population.
I then went on to mention the need for veterans to have an ID card identifying them as such. I cannot get one from the Veterans Administration because it issues cards only to those who qualify for VA (health) benefits. Like millions of others, I am lucky enough not to qualify, and I am glad that any distribution which might otherwise to me (as an entitlement?) goes to those who need it. But it is awkward to carry a folded copy of my discharge paper (DD 214), unknown or unfamiliar to most people. Joe told me that both houses of Congress have approved such an ID but that a lack of several million dollars to implement the law holds it up. I suggested that Congressman Pearce push to earmark a few million dollars from Trump’s proposed $55 billion increase in defense spending for that purpose.
Finally, since Joe was such a receptive listener, I added a forth issue, one part of which I knew was near and dear to Congressman Pearce’s heart, religious freedom, and one part of which I knew was important to him but not, in his mind, connected to the other part, abortion. I asked Joe if he had read Justice Blackmun’s majority opinion in the Roe v. Wade case; he said that he had not (despite all the fuss and bother about it, most people have not). I told him that the Justice surveyed the positions of different philosophies and religions before dismissing them as offering answers to a question about when life begins, which he did not feel the Court had to answer. My comment was that the moment Blackmun placed abortion in this context of a multiplicity of different religious answers to that question, he should have realized that any stipulation of law curtailed someone’s freedom of religion and constituted an establishment of religion—both prohibited by the First Amendment. He should have put on the judicial brakes and declared that no abortion law can avoid such violations of the Constitution.
I supplied some relevant background information on abortion. I noted not only religious differences about the beginning of life, but also shifting views even within a religion. For example, the Catholic Church used to accept the view of Saint Thomas Aquinas that life begins at quickening, or ensoulment; then changed its position in the nineteenth century; but only became politically active in opposing abortion around and after mid twentieth century. The reason: advances in medical science which increasingly made the unborn prematurely birthed or delivered viable. Science cannot and should not decide religious questions; indeed, many Christian fundamentalists who appeal to science in the case of abortion reject science when it comes to evolution or cosmology.
I give Joe a lot credit; he recognized the conflict between a belief in religious freedom and opposition to abortion. I said that Pearce, if he addressed the issue honestly, had to decide whether he was an elected representative sworn to uphold the Constitution or a religious partisan seeking legislation giving federal and state governments the authority to impose his religious beliefs and practices on all others—many Christians, most Muslims, all Jews—, to violate their consciences, and to deny them rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Whether Pearce can or will address, much less answer, this question honestly, is doubtful. An elected representative who flees his constituents is not someone who holds himself accountable—that is, reports, and takes responsibility for, his views—, who has and can articulate defensible positions, or who has the courage of his convictions. As a member of the GOP’s Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, Pearce is likely a rabid ideologue on this issue (as on so many others). So I expect little, cannot be greatly disappointed, but could be greatly surprised.