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Despite 'security concerns,' constituents ask for future town hall meetings

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

In a conference call with reporters Friday morning, Rep. Scott Perry explained his decision to postpone a town hall event this weekend, saying he spoke with law enforcement officials and a number of constituents who were concerned for their safety if the event went ahead as planned.

On Thursday evening, June 15,  Perry postponed his town hall meeting with constituents scheduled for Saturday morning, June 17, at the Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg due to security concerns following the shooting of a Republican congressman at an Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field Wednesday morning.

Gail Bumsted, of Mechanicsburg, shares her thoughts with U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, after his town hall meeting Saturday, March 18, 2017, at Red Lion Area Junior High School. Amanda J. Cain photo

Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and four others, including two U.S. Capitol Police officers, were injured after being shot at by a 56-year-old Illinois man as they warmed up for the annual congressional baseball game that was played Thursday night. 

More:Rifle-wielding attacker wounds GOP leader, killed by police

A spokesman for Perry said Saturday’s event in Mechanicsburg would have been Perry’s 20th in-person town hall meeting since taking office in 2013.

“I have always held town hall meetings, and I desire to continue to do so,” Perry said, adding that he will still seek out constituents’ opinions through personal meetings, phone calls, emails and letters.

But after speaking with police and other agencies, Perry said, he felt it would be difficult to ensure the safety of everyone involved with the town hall, including his staff and constituents who had pre-registered to attend the event.

More:Perry postpones town hall after shooting

A security detail for the event was in place, but after the shooting Wednesday, Perry indicated that there wasn’t enough time to change or bolster security measures before Saturday morning.

“Things have changed enough that we just weren’t comfortable with the situation,” Perry said.

‘Obligation to constituents’: Marta Peck, an Indivisible York activist from York City, said that she understands “the general sentiments” behind the postponement, but she is still disappointed by Perry’s decision. 

Peck noted that those who wanted to attend the town hall had to pre-register with Perry’s staff and show ID to get inside the meeting. At Perry’s last town hall in Red Lion, several uniformed police officers patrolled the perimeter to ensure the congressman’s and the crowd’s security at the event. 

More:Perry faces constituents at Red Lion town hall

Indivisible York will continue to demand Perry hold town hall and other public meetings with his constituents, Peck said.

“He’s our elected representative. We pay his salary,” Peck said. “Therefore, we feel he has an obligation to be accountable to us.”

Peck said Perry should hold regular town hall meetings, as it is nearly impossible for large groups of constituents to travel to Washington, D.C., to speak with their congressman.

“Any opportunities that are available are really important for citizens to let him know how they think and feel and to get his direct response (to their concerns),” Peck said.

Peck said she is hopeful Perry will reschedule the postponed town hall, but she’s not certain he will do so.

More:Local group wants another Congressman Perry town hall

Randy Covington, president of York 912 Patriots, the local Tea Party organization, is no stranger to squaring off with a congressman, as the 912 Patriots led the push to replace former Rep. Todd Platts with a more conservative Republican candidate in 2012. 

In the wake of the shooting in Alexandria and “the elevated temperature in divisiveness” surrounding leaders in Washington, D.C., Covington said, he believes it is “time to take a break” in order for people to calm down before Perry’s next public meeting.

“There needs to be a cooling-off period,” Covington said. “Given the circumstances of this week, Congressman Perry was prudent and wise” to listen to law enforcement officials and call off the town hall meeting.

More:Shooting leads to calls to close political divide

Still, Covington said supporters and opponents should be given opportunities to meet face-to-face with Perry.

“It’s a valuable thing for a representative to be able to look his constituents in the eyes and get a real sense of their feeling about an issue that they can’t possibly get through an email or telephone” call, Covington said.

Hyper-partisan: After fielding several questions Friday about the postponement, Perry spoke about the nature of political discourse in the nation’s capital.

“One of the hallmarks, I think, of our country is civil discourse, even when we disagree,” Perry said. “Unfortunately, when you have violence connected to political rhetoric or political positions, I think that’s a very dangerous circumstance.”

More:EDITORIAL: Political divide turns deadly

Looking to find a silver lining from Wednesday’s shooting, Perry said he hopes people of all political parties “will take stock of the blessings that we have in this country” and return “to the standards of decorum and personal behavior and personal responsibility that have served us so well for so many years.”

Perry said he believes that there is a greater rush for media outlets to break news and more pressure to report the sensational aspects of stories, which has led people to become “desensitized” to politically motivated violence.

Butch Ward, a senior faculty member and former managing director at the Poynter Institute, said Perry’s comments about the media’s role in the “deterioration in the discourse of this country” is a fair criticism. 

As can be seen on TV and heard on the radio every day, there are news organizations and outlets that feature people screaming at each other to defend their points of view, even though many of those screaming do not have a wealth of knowledge and have not done any reporting on the issues, Ward said.

“It’s pretty easy to see that that same manner of discourse is prevalent throughout the country,” Ward said. “Instead of deep and meaningful discussion of issues, we tend to scream at each other.”

Along with some media outlets, there are plenty of other groups that have contributed to the less-than-tolerant political atmosphere, including Republican lawmakers, Ward said.

Ward said “toxic” political atmospheres have existed since the founding of America, but unlike in the 18th century, “our lawmakers do not seem to feel a responsibility to govern.”

“(Lawmakers today) seem to feel a responsibility to stand for a point of view, no matter what,” Ward said.