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Protesters question access to town hall; Rep. Perry criticizes ‘fake news’ over attendance

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 8/7/19

HUMMELSTOWN — Inside the Hummelstown Fire Department on July 30, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry faced questions from constituents on a range of issues — abortion, his legislation on female genital …

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Protesters question access to town hall; Rep. Perry criticizes ‘fake news’ over attendance

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HUMMELSTOWN — Inside the Hummelstown Fire Department on July 30, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry faced questions from constituents on a range of issues — abortion, his legislation on female genital mutilation, climate change, Medicare for All, gun control, immigration and the line that President Donald Trump would have to cross before Perry condemned his statements.

Outside the fire department, about 50 people lined up on either side of Main Street in Hummelstown, criticizing his policies and that it had been more than two years since Perry’s last town hall.

The protests were organized by the 10th Congressional District Indivisibles — consisting of the Hershey Indivisible Team, Capital Region Indivisible, Indivisible YORK, and Cumberland Valley Rising.

Perry is a Republican from Carroll Township, York County. The 10th District encompasses all of Dauphin County as well as parts of Cumberland County and York County.

When Perry’s town hall was announced, some questioned how the logistics were handled. Those who wanted to attend needed to have a ticket, and they had to prove they lived in the district. Many called for the forum to be moved to a larger location.

“When Perry sent out the email, and all of us tried to get tickets, and within eight minutes it was closed and we were all put on the waitlist. The people out here are people who wanted to go in and couldn’t because it filled up so fast,” said Susan Roller, of Capital Region Indivisible. “The only thing we can think of is probably he sent it out to Republicans first or something and then we got the tail end.”

Perry spokeswoman Brandy Brown told PennLive that their priority was the safety and security of attendees and the event was “created with that in mind in concert with advice from U.S. Capitol Police and the House sergeant at arms.”

“We hope this environment may also facilitate a more constructive dialogue with our constituents, as, sadly, many groups around our nation have looked at these forums as an opportunity to conduct political theater and shut down discourse. This is not the first, nor the last town hall, as the congressman will continue to meet and interact with thousands of his constituents through a wide variety of forums,” Brown told PennLive.

One of the people protesting was Middletown resident Don Hossler, carrying a red and blue sign calling for prioritizing infrastructure, strengthening Medicare, protecting Medicaid, and maintaining Obamacare. 

He said he’s written Perry four letters in the past six months, and his staff have called him three times.

“I thought for sure that if he’s going to have a public meeting, perhaps the people that actually reach out with thoughts and ideas and questions that we’d perhaps get a personal email saying, ‘Hey, I’m having a public meeting,’” Hossler said.

By the time he went to register, Hossler was put on the wait list.

There were 118 chairs set up inside the Hummelstown Fire Department, and when the event started, about half of them were filled.

Over the course of the hour-and-a-half town hall, more people were allowed to come into the event, including Marta Peck, of York; Nikki Byer, of Etters; and Cole Goodman, of Susquehanna Township.

With people being put on a waitlist, Peck was expecting 200 to 300 people jammed into the room until her friend who was inside texted her a picture of the empty seats. Byer said Perry’s staff members were telling them that they couldn’t come in because they weren’t on the waitlist.

Ten minutes later, staff came back outside and said they could go in.

Byer wasn’t on the waitlist. When she tried to register for the event, she was told that there were no openings and didn’t get the option of going on the waitlist.

Peck was, though, and they had come together and Byer was able to provide identification showing that she did live in Perry’s district.

“I consider the whole thing of you have to get on the waitlist and then you have to show ID and all of that to be ridiculous,” Peck said.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, Peck said, didn’t require preregistration for his town hall.

“My experience has always been that he’s afraid of hearing opposing points of view,” Peck said of Perry.

As more people were let in, about 90 seats were filled.

A statement provided to the Press & Journal by Brown and posted on Perry’s Facebook argued that the photo of empty seats circulated by the media was taken at the start of the town hall and “doesn’t give an accurate representation of the attendance — more fake news.”

In the statement, it was called the “empty seat strategy.”

“We’ve been directly advised that certain individuals/groups are told to flood an elected officials town hall/public event RSVP process, and then not show up in an effort to embarrass the elected official,” Perry’s statement said.

Staff set up an Eventbrite invitation on a first-come, first-serve basis, which staff said was regardless of party affiliation, and wait lists were set up to accommodate or invite people first to the next event. The number of people and venue were managed for safety and security. Identifications were checked to make sure attendees live in the district.

“The shame here is that we know of many citizens — on both sides of the aisle — who really just want to be heard, be informed, and be part of their legislative/political process,” the statement said.

The waitlist was opened when staff received cancellations before the town hall, according to the statement.

“Too many of these groups clearly have no interest in participating or finding solutions to our nation’s problems,” Perry’s statement said, adding that the purpose according to the groups’ websites, mission statements and battle plans was to “disrupt, malign, distract and hijack events for political gain.”

People demanding town halls never attended them before 2017, the statement argued.

“So what is it? Do you want to be part of our nation’s legislative process, or do you want to keep hijacking events because you didn’t get your way? It’s shameful, it’s old, and it’s tired — and people on both sides of the aisle know it,” according to Perry’s statement. “I’ve always encouraged debate — that’s how growth occurs. But I will not support the hijacking of public events for political gamesmanship and making a mockery of this nation’s legislative process day by day.”