Independent Journal Review

After Organizer Bails on Special Meeting, NJ Congressman Shows That Angry Town Halls Need Publicity

Independent Journal Review — March 1, 2017

By Jenni Fink

Across the nation, local chapters of the political resistance organization Indivisible, have been following a "how-to" guide to disrupting town halls and showing their disdain for the current administration.

When a Republican lawmaker won't host a town hall, groups have taken to bringing the town hall to them. Which is exactly what happened to Congressman Tom MacArthur (R-NJ).

In an open letter to the Courier Post, organizer Eileen Hill publicly announced her Indivisible chapter would be hosting its own town hall on February 22.

The letter is dated February 14, and according to Congressman MacArthur's office, Hill didn't reach out to the congressman with an invite until February 16.

A statement from his office claims that that is exactly what the Indivisible guide tells citizens to do:

Make clear to everyone that the MoC is invited. Publicize widely that your MoCs are keynote speakers who have been invited. If they don't show--that's makes them look bad, not you.

MacArthur was also invited to the event by "liberal activist group," New Jersey Citizen Action.

According to a statement, paid staffers Maura Collingsru and Jerome Montes had been organizing constituent protests outside both of his New Jersey offices.

Neither Collingsru nor Montes live within the Third Congressional District that MacArthur represents.

Due to a packed schedule that dates back as far as October, the New Jersey congressman wouldn't be able to attend the event for which he was given six days notice.

So, his office tried to offer the next best thing.

His staff reached out to Eileen Hill and invited her to attend a staff meeting at the office. For security reasons they did not specify if the congressman would be there, although he did attend the February 21 meeting.

Independent Journal Review spoke to Frank Luna, Cong. MacArthur's district chief of staff, who described her initial reaction to the meeting:

"She was beyond receptive, and the time and date 100% worked with her."

In Hill's open letter she said, "constituents want to respectfully ask him questions in person. It's HIS JOB to do this."

So, her excitement over an intimate meeting with the staff of the congressman is understandable, since it seems an opportunity to ask questions in person is what she wanted to achieve with her "guerrilla" town hall.

However, this all changed the day of the meeting, when Hill decided to cancel. Luna told IJR:

"She called me that morning and said something along the lines of 'she wanted the meeting to be with her group, and the meeting was with another group of protesters.' So, there was a divide."

While Hill didn't seem to want to talk to the congressman if it wasn't going to be put on a public stage, some South Jersey Democrats were willing to take him up on his offer.

In a post on his Facebook, MacArthur described an "impromptu" meeting he had with some of his constituents from the other side of the aisle:

On February 21, the day of his canceled meeting with Hill, MacArthur noticed the Evesham Democrats were meeting downstairs. So, coming off the heels of a "productive meeting" with a group that had been protesting at his office, he decided to drop by.

He described a stark contrast between the behavior he experienced at their meeting and the behavior he's seen at town halls:

"So, I walked in. Yes, a Republican congressman dropping in to a meeting of local Democrats to talk with them about some very serious concerns they had. We didn't yell or point fingers. We talked honestly and respectfully. We certainly disagreed in some areas, but we did it respectfully."

MacArthur claimed he "cherishes moments like these," and believes that the key to success is working together.

He also wrote that neither Democrats nor Republicans "have a lock on good ideas," and thinks everyone should "have their imprint" on the future of our nation.

Hill claimed in her letter that the congressman "refuses" to meet with his constituents, a claim Luna completely dismissed.

Luna admitted that MacArthur's office is planning public events for the future, and claimed this year is no different than any other year. He told IJR:

"People think you just show up home and you host five town hall meetings during a recess. We've never done that, ever. This year isn't different at all. Our internal practice is exactly the same as it was last year."

According to Luna, if the congressman could tell ALL of his constituents one thing, it would be to "listen." He has repeatedly said that there are well-meaning people on both sides of an argument, so it's crucial that we all "listen to each other."

Which, the congressman demonstrated when he met with a group of protesters, and both sides respectfully asked questions and listened to the answers.

On his Facebook page, MacArthur claimed it made him feel like he was having "dinner at home," as he grew up with a progressive Democrat mom and a conservative Republican dad.

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