Burlington County Times

MacArthur To Hold In-Person Town Hall In Ocean County

Burlington County Times — March 5, 2017

By David Levinsky, staff writer

WARETOWN — U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur is quickly making good on his promise to hold public events again.

The 3rd District congressman has scheduled a public town hall meeting for Monday evening at a Waretown firehouse.

He announced the 6:30 p.m. event on Friday via an email to constituents. An invitation also was posted on several social media sites. The invitation asks those interested in attending to RSVP so appropriate seating can be arranged but says the event is open to "anyone who may be interested in attending."

The Ocean County event comes amid pressure from constituents and progressive groups for Republican members of Congress to hold in-person town hall meetings. Up until now, MacArthur has resisted those calls, citing disruptions at other town halls held by Republicans across the country.

He has said he believes many of those events have been "hijacked" by protesters organized by liberal groups seeking to embarrass Republicans rather than engage in constructive dialogue.

"I'm always wanting to hear from my constituents — whether they agree with me or disagree with me — I want to hear all views. It's how I try to find the intersection of what I believe, and what I believe the people I represent want from me," MacArthur said during a Feb. 13 telephone town hall. "But I don't want to be baited into having an event that some outside group can just make a spectacle out of. And that's been the issue of what I've seen."

In addition to the tele-town hall, MacArthur invited thousands of constituents to participate in a second telephone meeting on Feb. 22, and he also fielded phone calls during an hour-long appearance on the radio show "Ask the Congressman" on 92.7 WOBM.

Following the radio show, the congressman spoke to a few dozen protesters who had gathered outside the Toms River radio station. He also met privately with the leaders of a Burlington County protest group on Feb. 21, as well as a group of Evesham Democrats who were meeting in a community building where his Burlington County constituent services office is located.

MacArthur walked in on the meeting after seeing a sign advertising it.

His Feb. 22 telephone town hall meeting coincided with a so-called "Citizens Town Hall" meeting in Evesham organized by New Jersey Citizens Action, a liberal advocacy group, and a local grassroots "Indivisible" chapter that has been pressing MacArthur to hold an in-person town hall.

MacArthur was invited to attend but declined. During the radio show, he called the event a "progressive values rally" and said it was the wrong venue for him to hear from concerned constituents.

"I recognize that in the middle of all that noise are well-intentioned constituents of mine that want to be heard. And I and my team are looking for every way for me to hear from my constituents without getting caught up with these outside activist groups that I think are causing a good deal of trouble to advance their own means," he said.

The congressman's invitation specifies that seating will be provided on a "first come, first serve basis" and that an RSVP does not guarantee seating or entrance into the firehouse.

MacArthur would be the second Republican member of New Jersey's congressional delegation to hold a public town hall meeting since President Donald Trump's inauguration.

Congressman Leonard Lance, R-7th of Clifton, held two hall meetings last month. Both events drew hundreds of people, including large groups of protesters, and featured some tough questions about Trump, immigration, national security and health care.

Gov. Chris Christie, who has held over 160 town hall meetings during his tenure as governor, said last week that Republican members of Congress should stop avoiding public town hall meetings.

"I understand why members of Congress don't like it, but you know what?" Christie said during an interview on CNN's "State of the Union." "You asked for the job. Go do it."

Holly Kline, an organizer with the grassroots group Action Together Burlington County, said the open town hall was a good first step for the congressman and that she and other members of her group planned to attend.

"It's a 250-person venue, which is a little small, but I'm looking forward to being there," Kline said Friday after the announcement. "We'd love for him to have one in Burlington County too, but I'm definitely willing to drive an hour to Waretown."

Kline and other members of Action Together met privately with MacArthur on Feb. 21 and had urged him to hold a public event where concerned constituents could address him face-to-face. She said she believes the public response prompted him to schedule Monday's event.

"There's no question in my mind. Two weeks ago, none were scheduled and he wasn't planning any," Kline said. "But I think it's a very good sign that Rep. MacArthur is willing to step forward and listen. I'm really glad he's doing it."

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