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Gohmert refuses calls for town hall meetings

By Roy Maynard, Tyler Morning Telegraph
Feb. 21, 2017 at 6:28 p.m.
Updated Feb. 22, 2017 at 11:39 a.m.

Jaime Serrano, Roy Garza and Norma Krueger hold up a sign outside asking U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert to meet with them outside of Jack Ryan's in Tyler, Texas, on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. About 60 Indivisible of Smith County protestors protested outside of Jack Ryan's while Gohmert was speaking in the restaurant during the Tyler Young Professionals Network Luncheon, and nearly half a dozen were inside protesting during his talk. (Chelsea Purgahn/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

TYLER — U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert on Tuesday resisted calls for a town hall meeting but said he would continue to communicate with constituents at other events and in other ways, including "telephone town halls."

Gohmert, a Tyler Republican, was met outside an event Tuesday by the group Indivisible of Smith County, which was formed for "resisting the Trump agenda," according to its website. It's part of a larger, national Indivisible movement.

Tuesday’s protest was the first local sighting of Indivisible.

About 60 demonstrators appeared at the T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza and around the People's Petroleum Building, holding signs and occasionally chanting, according to the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

Several were from Longview and nearby counties including Rusk and Camp, a protester from Longview said. Their message was simple — hold a town hall.

Gohmert's response through a spokesman was clear, too.

"There was a representative that came over and spoke to the group that was across the street," said Democratic Women of East Texas communications officer Rachel Corbitt. "And he told them that we need 130,000 people (to hold a town hall). ... But until then (Gohmert) is not going to hold any public town halls. He is going to do telephone town halls."

Gohmert isn't the only member of Congress who is foregoing town hall meetings during the break. Utah's state Republican Party chairman has told members in that state to not hold town hall meetings, following confrontations and one arrest at a meeting held recently by Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

Gohmert issued a statement earlier Tuesday outlining his reluctance to hold open town halls.

"Unfortunately, at this time there are groups from the more violent strains of the leftist ideology, some even being paid, who are preying on public town halls to wreak havoc and threaten public safety," Gohmert said in a statement.

Inside Jack Ryan's Steak and Chophouse, Gohmert spoke to the Tyler Young Professionals Network and addressed the demonstrations.

"I understand there are people who are upset," Gohmert said. "But I've made no bones about it — I'm going to do what I can to eliminate Obamacare."

He reiterated the statement his office put out earlier Tuesday, saying that across the nation, town hall meetings are being disrupted by violent protesters.

"I'll keep meeting with people in East Texas — I've put 80,000 miles on my car in two years," he said. "But I'm not going to put East Texans at risk. I don't want to get anybody hurt."

He also said at least some demonstrators were paid to protest.

Corbitt, whose Democratic group has aligned itself with Indivisible, said jokingly that she forgot to pick up her protest check.

"We all spent our own money and took time off from work," she said.

Corbitt also scoffed at Gohmert's concerns about violence.

"That's completely unfounded," said Corbitt, who participated with about 40 local women in the Jan. 21 Women's March on Austin. "And if the Women's March was any indication of how our groups act, then he has nothing to worry about. There were no arrests, there was no violence."

Lee Hancock, an organizer with Indivisible of Smith County, said she's disappointed that Gohmert won't hold any town hall meetings while Congress is on break.

"It's disappointing because I thought our congressman would be more respectful of his constituents," she said. "It's disappointing that he's trying to say we're outside agitators and violent and divisive. We believe the entire community needs to be heard. We have every manner of people here, Republicans and Democrats and Libertarians, from all over his district. We deserve more than the response we're getting."

Corbitt said the congressman doesn't let fear of violence deter him from other types of constituent meetings.

"He doesn't have a problem campaigning," she said. "He doesn't have a problem meeting with his supporters. He doesn't have a problem going on Fox News. He just doesn't want to meet with his constituents."

In a nearly hour-long talk Tuesday, Gohmert made clear his opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

"I had a health care bill in 2009," he said. "Some of the provisions I had in that are part of what will be rolled out in the next two weeks by Republican members of Congress. And President Trump will have his own bill."

He said he supports eliminating anti-trust protections for insurance companies that discourage competition and making prices more transparent.

"You don't know what things cost," Gohmert said. "That's something I hope we put into the bill. You've got to know what things cost. The insurance companies and the government are happy for you to be ignorant."

And he advocated health savings accounts, which would be dedicated to health care spending.

A number of people aligned with Indivisible Smith County attended the luncheon and questioned Gohmert at the close of his speech.

Asked about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, "I know Jeff, I've worked with him for a number of years (in Congress). I really believe the only reason people are scared of Jeff Sessions as attorney general is because of the baloney that's been put out about him. You're not getting an accurate picture."

Gohmert also was asked about immigration. He cited an incident Friday in Tyler in which a driver who entered the country illegally drove into a power pole. An Oncor contractor later died by electrocution while attempting to repair downed power lines.

"Someone was dead Friday night that would not be dead if we had enforced the law," he said. "It's not about being unfair; it's about following the law."

The Indivisible organization, formed in recent months by former congressional staffers, states on its website that it wants to "demystify the heck out of Congress and build a vibrant community of angelic troublemakers."

The group has put out a "Missing Member Action Plan" to help local groups encourage members of Congress to hold town hall meetings.

The group says members of Congress "are gambling that out of sight means out of mind. It will take some work, but their constituents have power to win at this game. It means getting active, standing together indivisible, and getting local press attention on your (member's) cowardly behavior."

On Tuesday, Gohmert said he would continue to meet with constituents, but not in town hall settings.

"In the same amount of time it takes to have a town hall meeting, which usually has between 30 and 100 attendees in East Texas, I can communicate with thousands of my constituent bosses through a telephone town hall meeting," he said in a statement. "This technology allows the inclusion of our disabled and more elderly seniors who have opinions but who could not otherwise come to an actual town hall meeting and ask questions."

When asked whether telephone town halls allow for him to screen the questions, Gohmert responded, "I don't have a screener. I take questions whether I like them or not."

— News-Journal staff writer Glenn Evans contributed to this report.

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