After 19 people — including a Congresswoman — were shot and six were killed in Arizona on Saturday at a constituent meet-and-greet, local Rep. Tim Bishop, D-Southampton, said he will continue to perform business as usual on the home front.
Despite any perceived threats Saturday's shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, D-Tucson, may have placed in the heads of any public official following the shooting, Bishop is saying he won't let the violent acts stop him from doing his job.
"I'm not contemplating any big changes in how I conduct myself," Bishop said on Monday. Indeed, Bishop is still scheduled to meet in Patchogue this weekend for community office hours, an opportunity for constituents to meet with him for 10-15 minute intervals to express their concerns to him face-to-face or, pending an excess number of visitors, a representative of his.
"I think that it's very important that elected officials be able to continue to conduct themselves and keep close to their constituents," he continued. "At the same time, we have been advised by Capitol Police and the House Sergeant at Arms to take all prudent precautions and immediately report suspicious behavior."
On Saturday, following the shooting, the Capitol Police issued a press release warning members of the Congress to, "take reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal safety and security."
Bishop, who has been in office since 2003, recalled how the state of political discourse has changed since he arrived in office.
"It's sad that we have come to this point," he said. "An elected official cannot meet with the people he's elected to represent without having to be mindful of their level of safety. I used to call up Patchogue-Medford High School, or wherever, and ask if I could use the auditorium. It isn't that easy any more."
However recent history will show that Bishop is no stranger to answering to an incensed public. Over the summer of 2009, Bishop faced sharp criticism at a series of Town Hall Meetings to discuss the proposed health care bill. At one in East Setauket, someone called the Suffolk County Police to escort Bishop from the hall to his car. While Bishop said he did not fear for his personal safety, "If the (five) police officers weren't there, I certainly would have feared for my safety."
One attendee from that meeting, Bob Meyer of the Suffolk County 9-12 Project — a local Tea Party organization — said the group was simply voicing their displeasure with Bishop's policies.
"A lot of people were upset with what him and Nancy Pelosi were pushing on the American people," Meyer said. When asked, then, why Bishop was re-elected, Meyer said Republican candidate Randy Altschuler was not a good enough fit.
"We do not condone violence," Meyer continued. "We always make known, we're a non-violent group. We believe in changing the discourse of the nation through the political process, not through violent means. I think what happened in Arizona is a horrible tragedy. And it's shameless that some Democrats are blaming the Tea Party and Sarah Palin."
Palin, as many have pointed out, placed 20 crosshairs denoting Congressional seats which she targeted as ripe for unseating in the 2010 election. The map remains on her Facebook page.
Saturday's shooting has brought to grim reality the often divisive political discourse that has run through the political landscape, the media, and all the way down to the water cooler. However, Bishop said despite the charged environment he faced personally in of the summer of 2009, he would no longer call his district any more volatile than any other district in the country.
"If you had asked me in June through, say December of 2009, I would have told you this is a highly volatile district," Bishop said. "But Randy and I went at each other as hard as we could, and we did so in a way that was civil.
"But any elected official who doesn't have in the back of their head what happened to Gabby (Giffords) — tragically — should realize that it could happen to anyone," Bishop said. "We are all human. We are all thinking that; we are all being advised to think that."
Bishop's personal relationship with Giffords stems back to a piece of legislation they worked on together about four years ago, Bishop said. They both represent districts with Air National Guard bases, and they teamed up to lobby funds for their respective bases.
Bishop and members of the Southampton Town Board are expected to take part in a "Peace in Politics" press conference at Southampton Town Hall. It was scheduled for Tuesday at noon, but the event has been .