Want to know what Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, did last year? Get some reading glasses.
The Congressman's staff published last week a 194-page summary of votes, floor statements and constituent work during 2011 for the more than 650,000 people in his 31 county district to review. The entire document is available on the Congressman's website.
Whether by coincidence or design, the document comes at about the same time he was facing accusations of neglecting the residents of his district by political critics.
"In the Northern Lower Peninsula -- the best advice I would give (Congressman Benishek) ... would be he really needs to enhance his constituent outreach," said Grand Traverse County board chairman Larry Inman, who was considering challenging Benishek for the Republican nomination in 2012. Inman told the Traverse City Record-Eagle he would not seek election Wednesday, after previously considering a bid because of a number of calls from fellow Republicans.
"Here's what I think is happening," Inman told the News-Review. "Under the 1st Congressional District, you had Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) and Stupak (an 18-year incumbent) had a very strong constituent outreach program. He was everywhere. If he wasn't flying to Washington, D.C., he was in his car driving, county to county, to townhall meetings, meeting with community leaders, presidents of universities and people that ran large businesses and hospitals -- those kind of things."
Inman, an admitted personal friend of Stupak, said he has heard from Republican leaders Benishek has been doing a good job of visiting constituents in the Upper Peninsula, but hasn't had the same presence in the southern end of the district.
Traverse City will become the largest city in 1st Congressional District, when Grand Traverse, Lelanau, Benzie and a portion of Mason counties are added in 2012 under redistricting.
Benishek strongly disputed the accusations of neglecting constituents during a sit-down interview -- ironically during a tour through Northern Michigan this week.
"I don't represent Traverse City," Benishek said. "It is difficult to even go there. If I go there it is a campaign trip. We can't use federal money to go to Traverse City.
"I think we've been doing a great job with constituent services," he said. "We set our offices up really quickly. We've had 1,800 cases of intervention for constituents on their behalf for federal programs. We've had over 68,000 (letters, emails and phone calls) from constituents."
The "2011 Annual Report (for) Michigan's 1st Congressional District" Benishek released this week illustrates what a geographical and logistical behemoth the district that includes the Upper Peninsula and the Northern Lower Peninsula is.
Benishek logged 24,262 road miles traveling through his district last year, piled up 32 flights back from Washington, D.C., held 59 public events, took 36 company tours and visited a dozen classrooms in 2011.
"I think we are doing pretty good, and we laid it all out," Benishek said. "I'm just saying, no one else in Congress has an annual report like this."
In addition to traditional voter interaction, the ever-evolving social media landscape is also adding to the demands on the freshman lawmaker.
Tea Party conservatives in Northern Michigan called on the Congressman to be more like fellow freshman Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, who uses Facebook to explain each of his votes.
"I met with the Congressman the other night before the Republican meet-and-greet in Traverse City ... we had a very straight forward heart-to-heart -- a real conversation -- and he heard us. He made a pledge to be in the district more and be communicating a lot more to the entire 1st District on a regular basis," said Randy Bishop, Northern Michigan Tea Party leader.
Among the pledge, Bishop said, was a promise to have a staffer take over Benishek's Facebook page for better communication.
"I told him to give that person Red Bull (an energy drink) and steroids," Bishop said. "He just doesn't post enough information about what bill he is working on or what they are doing in Congress. He just does not communicate enough."
But, his track record will be likely be further scrutinized leading up to next November.
Former state Rep. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, has had a similar campaign theme to Inman's message since joining the 2012 race in September, which he reiterated last week in a statement.
"No one in Washington is looking out for Northern Michigan and the U.P. and Rep. Dan Benishek is part of the problem," said McDowell, who lost to Benishek in 2010. "It's no wonder that many in his own party are disappointed with his first year in Congress and have had enough -- just like regular Michigan families and taxpayers."
Democratic challengers Derek Bailey, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians chairman, and recent entry Bob Carr of Mackinac Island, who ran for state senate in 2010, are also getting ready to make a run for the Congressman's chair in the House of Representatives.
No doubt Benishek isn't the only lawmaker feeling criticism at home. A New York Times/CBS News poll at the end of 2011 puts the approval rating for Congress at an all-time low 9 percent.
The challenges, though, have not deterred the first-time politician from planning to serve three terms in office -- something he campaigned on in 2010.
"I'm not sure what is going to happen. I'm going to work hard for three terms and whatever happens, happens," Benishek said. "The (Democrats) want the seat back. They had it for 18 years, so I'm sure it's going to be a highly contested seat, and I'm working hard to stay here against them."
Read the full 2011 Annual Report for Congressman Dan Benishek and the 1st Congressional District at: http://benishek.house.gov/2011annualreport