Let's feel terrible for U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant. The congressman is scared of his own constituents.
His district office in Irving is locked tight. The sign on the door was stolen, and he hasn't replaced it — not even with a temporary paper sign. The Valley Ranch office building doesn't list him on the outdoor sign, either. Only clue that his office is here: a lobby directory lists him.
When my partner Marina Trahan Martinez and I visit, the office looks dark. We wave at the security camera overhead, ring the doorbell, then pound on the door. Nothing.
On a second visit, a district worker ("outreach coordinator") opens the door and invites Marina in. He's not allowed to talk on the record.
The congressman's spokesman, Rob Damschen, said, via email from his Washington, D.C., office: "As a government office we take the necessary precautions for the safety of our constituents and staff."
In an emailed response to our questions, the congressman wrote that security is a concern. His district office isn't protected like the U.S. Capitol.
"I will not risk public safety to entertain individuals that have no desire to respectfully discuss important issues," Marchant writes.
"The only complaints received are from members of the obstructionist group — Indivisible. The same people that contacted you met with members of my staff on multiple occasions.
"These groups," Marchant continued, "prioritize public disturbance over constructive dialogue to further their cause."
The two sides are now engaged in a game of sorts. Indivisible members want to find Marchant. Marchant doesn't want to find them.
So who are these obstructionists?
They call themselves "Indivisible-Texas 24" — for Marchant's 24th District. They are a group of about 900 sympathizers sharing a closed Facebook group. They're not Trump fans. Their main priority seems to be to save Obamacare.
When Marchant voted yes on the House bill Thursday to repeal Obamacare, they lit up Marchant's Facebook page with a big bowl of nasty.
Weeks ago, a few of Marchant's constituents started posting pictures on social media in front of his office door. They knock. When there's no answer, they drop off little gifts or tape notes to the door.
I asked Marchant for an interview about this. If he said yes, I would have lost my story. How can you be lost in space if you're giving a true interview to an inquiring watchdog? But he declined.
Where, oh where, is Kenny?
"Out of pocket," his press aide says.
That's when I decided the nickname given to him by one of his detractors fits so well.
Marchant, 66, truly is the Incognito Congressman.
Burgess does it right
In contrast, U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point, the congressman one district over, should be the one running with his back to the wind. He's considered a prime author of the repeal-and-replace bill. Burgess stood behind the president at the White House celebration.
Burgess isn't avoiding his constituents. Burgess holds town halls, which Marchant won't do. (Marchant prefers something called a "telephonic town hall.")
Burgess' Lake Dallas district office is marked with a highway sign. Marchant's is not.
Burgess' door displays the congressional seal, along with a clear display of his staff's office hours.
When I visited Burgess' office, a staffer told me that a member of his staff meets with members of the Indivisible group on Mondays.
Burgess handles it the opposite of Marchant in almost every way.
The Incognito Congressman ignored me before. Maybe he doesn't like confrontation. Maybe he needs a little of what ailed the Cowardly Lion.
Maybe since his district is so gerrymandered with favored Republican lines, he's not worried. (The seven-termer got 56 percent of the vote last time.)
Back in 2012, I revealed how Marchant abused his congressional mailing privileges. Once he learned he had a primary opponent, he mailed out cheesy "official business" newsletters that actually were taxpayer-paid campaign promotions. His $122,000 mailing bill to taxpayers was many times higher than other area members of Congress.
At the time, Marchant, his press aide and his political consultant all ignored me. He was incognito before he earned the name.
Although Marchant, in his email, stated that his Irving office is open weekdays with four staff members, constituents dispute that. But Marchant's note explains, "When locked, during normal business hours, my staff may be attending" to constituent services.
The Dallas Morning News received several letters of complaint about Marchant's low-key approach to his district. Two were printed as letters to the editor.
"It's been so frustrating" trying to talk to Marchant, says Marsha Fishman, one of Indivisible's informal leaders. "We just had to have some fun with it."
They make posters.
They made a fake virtual billboard.
They made a lost-and-found note for the congressman.
They dropped off an Easter egg basket.
They also left cupcakes.
They taunt with tweets and Facebook postings ("The guy is a ghost.")
Once before, I covered someone I labeled the "Invisible Congressman." U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, saw cities in Northeast Tarrant County added to his vast district. He rarely made the trip to see his people.
Back in 2001, I reported how the mayors of four cities asked to be rid of him.
It worked. During the next redistricting, their towns were given over to hometown congresswoman Kay Granger.
Sometimes invisible or incognito members of Congress do get the boot.
But that's as rare as a Kenny Marchant sighting.
Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.
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