Brownwood and Brown County should stand out in U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway’s memories of the 2007 summer break. That’s because citizens here turned out and made last week’s town hall meeting one of the largest in his district. That came on the heels of last year’s meeting when no more than 12 people attended a similar event.

During the meeting, and a visit with the Bulletin’s editorial board, the majority of the congressman’s comments regarded the ongoing war in Iraq. Conaway said in both meetings that many of his constituents still believe strongly in our nation’s military and support the men and women in the armed services. What’s changed during his time in office is that he is being asked more questions about the logic behind the war and how success will ultimately be defined. Conaway faced some difficult questions during the public meeting, and probably had his earlier opinion reinforced.

Most politicians play their cards close to the vest when it comes to challenging party loyalties by voting with the opposition or when endorsing candidates from their own party, particularly when the field of presidential hopefuls is as large as it currently is. Conaway said last week that he supports, and has even campaigned for, former Massachuetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The decision came after an intimate meeting in Austin last fall and was reinforced during the recent Iowa Republican Straw Poll. “We just talked about what it was to being a human being. After our meeting I saw him meet with a larger group, and he was the same with them as he was with us. It was the strength of that, that night,” Conaway said.

But he also allowed that the campaign season is too long and that no one except retailers in a few states actually looks forward to an almost constant campaign. The answer is hard to pin down, he said, because it is difficult in a democracy to prevent a candidate from announcing the intention to run for office and then to actively seek it.

The parties appear to be trying to gain some control of the system, with the Democratic Party recently threatening to block Florida’s delegates from the national convention next year if it goes ahead with plans for an early primary election.

One of the real pitfalls from perpetual campaigning is that it often gets in the way of the actual process of governing our nation. The constant back and forth battles based solely on partisan differences are designed primarily to gain seats in the House or Senate, giving one party or the other a majority. “It’s all consuming to get the majority back rather than tend to the people’s business,” Conaway said of his own party. “Partisanship unnecessarily taints the process.” That’s pretty obvious to those of us who live outside the Beltway — hopefully Conaway is sincere when he talks about his being frustrated by the partisanship.

For many of us, it seems difficult to believe that the next national elections are more than 14 months away. That’s a long time for situations to change in our nation’s Capitol, along with the positions our politicians take. In just the last 24 hours, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tendered his resignation and Senator Larry Craig is answering questions about a his guilty plea to lewd conduct in an airport men’s room. How will those incidents affect the Republican Party’s position, if they do at all? What would our own congressman say about those issues and his party’s message in response?

Unfortunately, as citizens, our opportunities to ask those questions in person are too rare. That’s why last week’s turnout for Conaway’s meeting was so important — and hopefully something he won’t soon forget.

Bill Crist is associate publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at bill.crist@brownwoodbulletin.com.