Absent GOP lawmakers mocked
Supporters of national protest pack church, address portraits
Several hundred Arkansans aligned with a national protest movement packed a Little Rock church on Sunday to address portraits of their congressmen who did not attend the grassroots town hall-style meeting.
Members of Indivisible Central Arkansas pasted photos of U.S. Rep. French Hill, U.S. Sen. John Boozman and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton to music stands at the front of the sanctuary at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in west Little Rock. Organizer Terrie Root asked the photos of each Republican congressman questions about democracy before playing the sound effect of crickets on her phone.
Root said afterward that she sent letters and email messages to each lawmaker before calling their offices to invite them to Sunday’s meeting, but none showed up.
“It points out that they’re not here, and they should be,” Root said of the portraits. “That’s their job.”
Caroline Rabbitt, Cotton’s spokeswoman, said the Dardanelle Republican didn’t receive an invitation to Sunday’s event.
Boozman’s spokesman, Sara Lasure, said the Rogers Republican received an invitation, but that it was on short notice. Lasure added that Boozman sent his regrets for being unable to attend.
Hill was invited, but he had a scheduling conflict, an aide said.
Sunday’s “missing persons” town hall, as organizers dubbed it on Facebook, is one of many being held by Indivisible chapters around the country during Congress’ recess.
The face-to-face meetings between lawmakers and their constituents have spawned videos of passionate — and at times angry — interactions between the two. Some congressional members have shirked the events altogether.
Cotton participated in a town hall on Tuesday in Springdale attended by more than 2,000 people. Ozark Indivisible helped organize the event, which grabbed national headlines after several contentious moments.
Rabbitt said that Cotton plans to host another public forum, adding that he hopes to announce a date and location soon.
Boozman has a telephone town hall scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today. Those wishing to participate in the phone conversation can sign up on Boozman’s website.
Hill held a telephone town hall on Feb. 15, and he participated in an event that was open to the public last week at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Some conservatives have criticized the meetings. Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told The Hill that the protests are attempts to cause chaos at Republican events.
“After failures at the ballot box in consecutive election cycles, Democrats will try anything to distract from an agenda that’s out of touch with Middle America,” Hunt told The Hill.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, speaking at Politico’s annual State Solutions Conference in Washington, D.C., last week, encouraged his fellow GOP members to pay attention to the meetings.
“Because that portends what could happen down the road with increased intensity if we don’t handle health care right, if we don’t handle all of the promises that we’ve indicated we want to work on right,” the governor said, noting that intensity can make a difference in politics.
At Sunday’s Little Rock meeting, less of the conversation focused on President Donald Trump and the Republican-majority Congress’ stated intentions to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Most speakers focused on Trump’s departure from presidential norms that opponents see as affronts to democracy.
John Brummett, who writes a column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, spoke about the importance of a free press.
Glen Hooks, director of the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club, said during his speech that the Trump administration and Arkansas’ congressional delegation were harming Arkansas’ environment through their actions in Washington.
Attendees also heard from members of the Arkansas Coalition for Reproductive Justice and several other progressive activists.
The meeting ended with organizers handing out the phone numbers of each lawmaker. Most in attendance pulled out their phone and began calling.
“This is how you make a difference,” Rachael Pinkston said just before dialing her representative.