Different Meeting Styles Provide Similar Results
Three other states — Tennessee, Montana and Wyoming — hold their Senate constituent coffees jointly, but these pairings are far more likely to agree with each other.
For Tennessee, Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker hold “Tennessee Tuesdays.”
Visitors get to see the two Senators and members of their staffs, who attend every Senate coffee to answer topic-specific questions from the constituents.
“I couldn’t begin to do it by myself,” Alexander said, noting that his and Corker’s staffs bring “issue-based expertise” to the weekly coffees and calling them “interchangeable.”
“We want to make sure they see our staffs,” he said.
Corker agreed. “We love starting the day with Lamar and his staff, welcoming Tennesseans to Washington … [and] making sure they connect with folks on our staff if they have a particular issue they want to discuss,” he said in an email.
Alexander also said the men use the time to express their gratitude to the visiting constituents.
“We’re really fortunate to be here,” he said. “It gives us a chance to say thank you.”
Unlike other joint constituent coffees, the Montana delegation’s weekly coffee is completely unstructured. Visitors fill out a name tag, grab a cup of coffee and a doughnut, and walk around a room full of Montanans who all seem to know each other.
The only thing that distinguishes Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and their staffs are the blue name-tag pins they wear.
Baucus said this is indicative of the nature of Montana in general, calling the state “one big, small town.”
“We’re one big family,” he said. “You know somebody, or you know somebody’s aunt and uncle.”
He explained that the atmosphere remains unpolitical, even when talking business. “There’s never a hint of partisanship,” he said, adding that a lot can get accomplished at the coffees.
“You pick up a lot here, talking to people,” he said. He and his staff will often discuss any issues brought to their attention by their visitors, he said.
Tester, who referred to the coffees as “one of the highlights of my week,” agreed.
“Sometimes it’s business, sometimes it’s pleasure,” he said. “Sometimes it’s more fruitful than having a formal meeting.”
Tester said he thinks the constituents benefit from seeing both Senators at once.
“We’re both Montanans,” he said.