Tennessee's Republican U.S. lawmakers skipping town halls, again

U.S. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann speaks during a meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board and reporters in the newspaper's office Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
photo U.S. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann speaks during a meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board and reporters in the newspaper's office Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

If you go

› Chattanooga town hall: 6 p.m. Monday, 4th floor of the Public Library. Information on Facebook at Indivisible of Greater Chattanooga› Marion County Democrats town hall: 6:30 p.m. CDT Thursday, South Pittsburg Senior Citizens Center. RSVP to mariontndem@gmail.com

Tennessee's Republican U.S. lawmakers again are skipping town halls organized by liberal groups after elected officials didn't set up their own meetings with voters.

Elected Republicans locally and nationwide generally avoided the voters during the February break as Congress debated repealing the Affordable Care Act, which it failed to do.

Congress is on spring break now, and there's no single bill engaging the voters' attention like the battle over Obamacare. But that's not to say people don't want to hear from their lawmakers as President Donald Trump's administration completes its first 100 days.

Democratic and liberal groups across the nation are responding by holding their own town halls and highlighting their lawmakers' absence.

Chattanooga's Indivisible group said it invited U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann to a town hall meeting Monday at the Public Library downtown.

Organizer Cherie Martinez said the group will be talking about health care, immigration, tax reform and other topics.

Three chairs will be set up for the representatives and a moderator will read "relevant public statements" from the three, "assuming such can be found," according to the group's news release.

Martinez said everyone is invited to talk about the issues.

"What we're hoping is to get the more central people," she said. "We have enough from the far left and the far right. We want to see if we can't appeal to some of the more moderate people to get engaged."

She said only Corker's office responded to the invitation, saying he wouldn't be attending.

Alexander's office told the Times Free Press on Friday he won't be there, either.

Fleischmann's office did not respond to a request for comment. He recently held a tele-town hall meeting, but his office did not respond to questions about how many people participated or what topics were discussed.

In North Georgia, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves held a tele-town hall last month that drew about 8,000 participants, his spokesman, Garrett Hawkins, told The New York Times last week.

Elsewhere in Tennessee, polite invitations to politicians to meet with their voters have given over to pure mockery.

Democrats in Marion County put a "Missing" poster on their news release announcing a Tuesday town hall in South Pittsburg, Tenn.

The poster bears a head-and-shoulders silhouette of a man, placed like a mugshot, and the headline is, "Have you seen my rep?"

The description says: "Lost since January 21, 2017. Answers to 'PAC money' and dog-whistle politics. Approach carefully. Easily startled by difficult questions."

The release said Corker, Alexander and Rep. Scott DesJarlais have been invited to attend but "their offices have been unable to confirm their participation."

The Knoxville Indivisible group is circulating a "Missing" poster of U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan that dings him for not holding town halls and asks constituents to "report public sightings of the congressman" to the group.

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, told USA Today last week that a strategy of avoiding appearing on the defensive in front of voters could hurt in the long run.

"If there's anything worse than being on the wrong side of a political issue it's appearing cowardly and not facing your constituents," Baker told the newspaper. "Politics is all about accountability."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.