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Rep. Perry's town hall unfortunate look at politics’ decisiveness: Editorial

Posted 8/7/19

Central Pennsylvanians received an unfortunate look at where our fragile democracy stands July 30 in Hummelstown.

The simple part of the story is that U.S. Rep. Scott Perry held a town hall event …

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Rep. Perry's town hall unfortunate look at politics’ decisiveness: Editorial

Posted

Central Pennsylvanians received an unfortunate look at where our fragile democracy stands July 30 in Hummelstown.

The simple part of the story is that U.S. Rep. Scott Perry held a town hall event at the borough’s fire department.

The complicated details involve the topics that are shaping our society today: President Donald Trump. Immigration. The Second Amendment. Abortion. So-called “fake news.”

We applaud Perry for holding a town hall event. He is not well-known to many constituents in the new 10th Congressional District, which encompasses all of Dauphin County as well as parts of Cumberland County and York County. His previous district did not include any of Dauphin County.

We don’t even have a problem with Perry’s office requiring attendees to prove they live in his district to attend, or to sign up in advance. Such events shouldn’t be overrun by partisans with no local ties. His office also has every right to restrict the number of people who attend an event, for logistical and safety reasons.

“I’ve been the member of the Pennsylvania delegation that has done the most town halls. But they became dangerous, I’m going to tell you that, and they became uncivil,” Perry said at the event.

Protesters have a right to gather peacefully to speak out against the York County Republican, for his policies in general or for how the logistics of the event were handled.

But we expect civility, and when it comes to politics in today’s atmosphere, that seems too much to ask.

Almost as soon as Perry announced the event, and that tickets were required, it was “sold out,” according to multiple reports.

His political opponents cried foul, called for a larger venue for the event and were rebuffed by his staff.

You can imagine our surprise that, when the event started, the venue was only about half full. That is a fact that Perry is denying, and that is unfortunate. He called it the magic words — “fake news” — in a Facebook post Thursday.

“With regard to the number of empty seats at Tuesday night’s town hall, the photo circulated in the media was taken at the beginning of the event, and doesn’t give an accurate representation of the attendance — more fake news,” Perry wrote.

Here are the facts.

The event was only half full when it started. It was never at capacity, even after more people waiting outside were let in.

Those facts were not only observed by our Press & Journal reporter but by others. It’s not up for debate.

Perry said on Facebook there is a reason why it happened — he is claiming an “empty seat strategy” in which those who oppose him signed up for the event and then failed to show up to make the representative look bad.

And, as things go nowadays, the four groups — Capital Region Indivisible, Cumberland Valley Rising, Hershey Indivisible Team, and Indivisible YORK — that called for a venue change and were involved in the protests outside the event are calling for him to apologize.

They say “Perry resorted to conspiracy theories to explain the half-empty town hall meeting.” Perry “is evidently trying to cover up what was obviously a deliberate, successful attempt to limit attendance at the town hall by hurling false accusations at our all-volunteer civic-engagement organizations. He can offer no proof for his accusations, since there is none. Therefore we demand a public apology.”

The vicious circle spins and spins, both sides firing shots back and forth in an effort to make the other look bad.

Here is one thing for those four groups to consider — the town hall event wasn’t full of Perry sycophants. There were plenty of people with opposing viewpoints in there, and they voiced them.

Tough issues were raised, including Trump, immigration, gun control and abortion. While there was some talking over each other toward the end, it was for the most part civil.

One statement Perry made we wholeheartedly agree with: “We’re not going to agree on everything. That’s OK.”

It is most certainly OK. In fact, it’s a cornerstone of our democracy.

It comes down to how those disagreements are resolved.

Are they handled civilly? Are they handled with reaching an agreement or solving the problem in mind? Do both sides hear each other out and try to learn in the process? Are we moving forward toward greater understanding?

Too often, the answer is no.

Until we as a society figure out a way to make that happen, we are going to continue to have these types of standoffs, and we fear that our elected officials will never have these types of town hall meetings, which we believe still have great value.

What if Perry chose to meet with the leaders of these four groups in a show of good faith? He would not have to apologize. What might happen? We would love to see it.

Small actions of civility might start a turnaround in how we are dealing with the divisiveness of politics today.

Remember that politics should be the small picture of what elected officials are about. Politics is about winning elections and feeding your base of supporters. The big picture includes leadership and governance that benefits everyone.

Too often, we are far from the big picture.