An Open Letter To Representative Kavanagh


Posted by Bob Lord

Dear Representative Kavanagh,

It's not often that elected representatives comment on blog posts, so I was surprised to see comments purporting to be from you to AzBlueMeanie's recent post, Arizona GOP Doubles Down on NRA's Idiotic Proposal. If those were not your comments but those of one impersonating you, go ahead and disregard the remainder of this letter. If they were your comments, I must tell you that I'm utterly perplexed that you would ask a blogger "what is your proposal," when the blogger never purported to have a proposal, then react to those replying to your comments with this: 

I sense a lot of hostility
here in response to my simple question meant to understand the left's position,
especially regarding serious mental illness and gun violence. Forget I ever
asked and reached out for dialogue. Thank God you people don't like guns.

statement, coming from an elected official, is stunning on several levels.

First, if you're going to "reach out" and ask questions to understand
"the left's" position, the comment section of a local blog is not the
place to go. Although we've reported on this issue over the past few weeks,
none of us ever have purported to be experts on gun policy. There are
experts, both local and national, to whom your question, if truly asked for the
purpose of "understanding," would have been better directed. There
also are elected officials, mostly Democrats but some Republicans, to whom you
could have directed your question. 

your job as a representative is not to represent the gun industry or "the
right," but to represent your constituents, including those on "the left." Your statement suggests strongly you don't fully grasp that concept. 

the phrasing of your initial question, if truly intended to "reach out for
dialogue," was inept coming from an elected official. Your role here would
be to encourage people to speak to you, not to challenge them. So if you really
sought "understanding," it would have been more appropriate to ask something like "I understand you're not happy with Mr. Horne’s proposal, but which
proposals do you consider most promising? As your representative, I’m of course
exploring all possible solutions.” 

to say “forget I ever asked and reached out for dialogue” is a statement that
an elected representative never should make. It suggests that you consider
yourself to have been doing something extraordinary reaching out to your
constituents. No, that’s your job! By saying “forget I ever asked and reached
out for dialogue” you are saying “I don’t like this job anymore, so I’m going to stop performing it.” 

if you had read the replies to your comment without letting your ego distract you, you would have
seen that there were references to proposals. For example, Bess referred you to
Australia as an example of effective gun policy, and Serious Shade referred to
other posts containing constructive proposals. So, if you truly were interested
in “understanding” you could have disregarded the comments you considered
hostile and focused instead on the information you purport to have been
seeking. Instead, you did the opposite. 

Sixth, there have been precious few times I've seen politicians openly and intentionally insult their constituents, as you did in your closing sentence.

Seventh, although the replies to your question showed some hostility, your over-reaction was incredibly thin-skinned. I've been in the public light before as a candidate. There were blog sites dedicated entirely to maligning me and, at times, my family. It never would have dawned on me to react to hostile statements in the manner you did. And, unlike me, you've been doing this for years now. It's unbelievable that you would have so little self control that you would put a statement like that in writing and not even think before hitting the send button. What would happen if you were truly under pressure with no opportunity to self-edit? 

I'll close by telling you this: I thought your second comment was intellectually dishonest, as I really can't believe your first comment truly was intended to "reach out." If, however, I'm incorrect and you truly did intend to reach out, your comments exhibited blithering incompetence as a politician. I understand how your approach may get those who see the world the same way you do to support you, but wouldn't it be more rewarding as an elected official to work with those who don't and find common ground?

UPDATE — Ironically, Representative Kavanagh posted a third comment while I was writing this post. Although I do not agree entirely with that comment, it was a decent attempt to reach out, and stands in sharp contrast to his earlier comments, to which this letter was addressed.


  1. Thanks to all for taking the time to have this discussion.

    I agree that mental illness needs to be addressed in relation to gun accessibility. Bear in mind that seriously mentally ill people are no more prone to gun violence than are other segments of the population. How we currently care for our mentally ill family members and neighbors is another story.

    I think that gun violence, crime, poverty, mental illness, and addiction are often by-products of inequality. (Bob-your big picture thinking is always appreciated). Let’s hope that President Obama and our leaders in Congress will make this connection.

    All that being said, our primary focus should be gun availability. Any elected official whose solution does not begin with guns should not be taken seriously.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Actually, it’s a two-fer and getting a response from me is not all that difficult.


    I am willing to increase spending, although funds are limited. I would put most of any current increases to mental health spending into the seriously mentally ill part of the budget, especially hotlines and response teams. However, I would like some clarification on your (Bob’s but others are welcome too) position on mental health and the shootings. I am not surprised that you want more funding. Most do and the left was especially critical of past budget cuts in all areas, including mental health. But where do you stand on the other mental health issues I raised? Those are the tough ones.

    Those issues, which I raised in my initial post, are copied below:

    “That means we insist that all states properly report mental patients not allowed to posses weapons to the national database. Many states do not do so properly. We needed to develop sophisticated applications so it is easy to run the gun checks on buyers at gun shows so all buyers are checked. We need to evaluate laws allowing for detention for evaluation and commitment of the dangerously mentally ill to make sure we can intervene legally and medically before it is too late.”

    All raise significant civil liberties issues and false positive issues, where we taks a seriously mentally ill person in for evaluation and he or she is not really dangerous. While Arizona’s commitment laws are ok (I am told), in states such as Connecticut it is very hard to pick up even dangerously ill persons. The data base for gun checks also raises privacy issues that the left (and often right) are sensitive to. Are you willing to go down the reform road regarding mental illness that I proposed?

  3. I’ll respond to your comment paragraph by paragraph, in the order in which they appear.

    Yes, in a literal sense, all you did was ask the blogger what he/she would propose. But consider the context. This issue has had wall-to-wall coverage for weeks now. You’ve openly acknowledged that you read three newspapers daily, so what “understanding” did you really think you were going to achieve that you didn’t already have? Thus, your question was interpreted more as a challenge than as an inquiry.

    If you read three newspapers a day, use your comments on blogs to educate others as to your views. If you really have a question for the blogger, ask for a private audience by email. Given your position, you’re likely to get a favorable response. If your intention is to direct your question to the readers, make that clear. Your second comment suggested that your question was directed to readers as well as the blogger, but the initial question utterly failed to make that clear.

    Regarding your third paragraph, just apologize. The sentence that preceded the one you now claim was tongue in cheek was “Forget I asked and reached out for dialogue.” If you intend a statement to be tongue in cheek, never ever precede it with one that is snotty and defensive. When you do, the readers will never get the tongue in cheek aspect of it. So, don’t condition your apology on folks not feigning their offense at your statement. Just apologize.

    Lastly, never use the phrase “you people.” People interpret that as you talking down to them, which is something you presumably want to avoid. I can’t speak for the readers of this blog, as many disagree with my views, but here are my own thoughts. I agree that we need to focus on mental health. But doing that will require public funding, lots of it. Are you willing to increase taxes to raise the needed revenue? And where have you been while mental health care in Arizona has been gutted over the past few years? I also don’t believe a focus on mental health, by itself, will be sufficient. Mental health is not static. People cross the line between sane and insane daily. If you want to reach out for understanding here, speak to some criminal defense attorneys ask them how feasible it would be to pre-empt shootings by identifying the insane prior to incident. Beyond mental health, I think this issue is symptomatic of a larger problem: American arrogance. Because we see ourselves with such certainty as the “greatest country in the world” and spout incessantly about “American exceptionalism,” we fail to take the obvious first step here of looking at other countries to see how the problem is being addressed effectively. The same is true of health care. And if we didn’t see the Dutch as socialists inferior to us, we might have improved our protection against storm surges prior to Katrina and Sandy. So, my approach would be to identify those systems around the world that are working most effectively, and modify them consistent with societal differences. And, by the way, there’s a connection between gun violence and inequality, so we need to include addressing inequality in the mix.

  4. My initial question was in response to criticism of Horne’s proposal and I simply asked what the writer would propose. There is nothing insulting or surreptitious about that unless you are a real cynic and ascribe the worst motives to those who disagree with you.

    I reach out for information to many sources, right, left and center, that is how you get to sound policy. I also listen to the people you referenced, plus I read the Wall Street Journal, N.Y. Times and Arizona Republic everyday. While I am active in ALEC, I am also active in NCSL.

    Regarding my offending people, let me make two comments. First, I asked a simple question and was met with a lot of negative criticism, sans the referral to the video. It was not insulting to point that out and the gun reference was tongue in cheek and I think you know that. Also, people who read and post on these blogs are not political novices and can handle debate and I suspect any offense is feigned. If not, I offer my apology.

    Now that I showed my hand with the post you referenced I made as you were writing yours, let me see your hands. What do you people think will work? I am especially interested in your take on the mental illness issue.