Sohn: Our lawmakers should own up to town hall anger

People attend a People's Town Hall event Friday, Feb. 24, at the Chattanooga Public Library.

It's town hall time again for our senators and representatives.

And once again they seem to be shunning the Tennesseans who want to talk to them about issues such as health care, the Supreme Court, Trump's Russia links and his suddenly itchy war finger.

Wouldn't you like to know from Sen. Bob Corker and Sen. Lamar Alexander what was so different about Judge Neal Gorsuch that they were willing to first break 230 years of precedent to deny Judge Merrick Garland a hearing and then support an unprecedented Senate rule change to confirm Gorsuch?

Wouldn't you like to hear - face to face - from Rep. Chuck Fleischmann why he and Reps. Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, John Duncan and Phil Roe all signed a letter to President Obama urging him to go to Congress for authorization to use force in Syria yet now they apparently think that shouldn't apply to President Trump?

Wouldn't you like to ask Fleischmann, Corker and Alexander why we don't deserve an independent investigation of Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election?

And, oh yeah, since Obamacare has not been repealed, why should Tennessee continue to lose $2.5 million per day in revenues and leave 280,000 people uninsured by not expanding Medicaid? What's the GOP plan to cover the more than 280,000 uninsured people in Tennessee?

But no. No, our congressional leaders are not answering requests to attend town hall meetings.

Only Fleischmann seems willing to acknowledge this up front. His spokeswoman, Maria Dill Benson, wrote in an email: "The Congressman's office receives hundreds of meeting requests from constituents on a daily basis, and we prioritize on a first come, first served basis. On April 3, 2017, the Congressman held a telephone town hall that reached all 11 counties in his District and thousands of constituents at once. This is an effective way for him to hear from as many people as possible. He looks forward to holding another telephone town hall in the near future. Also when he is in the District, he has a vigorous schedule of local events and one-on-one meetings with constituents."

At least our lawmakers are not missing-in-action during this April recess of Congress quite as much as they were in February. This time, they are working to make their news releases read as though they are working hard to get out in front of us. Sort of.

Take for example this header on an Alexander missive sent to news organizations on Tuesday: "Alexander tells Elizabethton: I'm working to help 1,700 in Carter County trapped in collapsing individual insurance market."

Was it a town hall? Not exactly. It was an Elizabethton Kiwanis Club meeting. And, according to the news release, Alexander was talking about the legislation he introduced in late March with Corker to allow Americans who receive Affordable Care Act subsidies but have no plans available in their state to buy any state-approved insurance outside of the Affordable Care Act exchanges. It would be a short-term fix.

For his part, Corker was plying the state, too - at selected venues with specific audiences like the Arlington, Tenn., Chamber of Commerce, the Brentwood and Crossville Rotary clubs and the East Tennessee Economic Council in Oak Ridge.

Corker's press secretary, asked if he planned any town hall meetings this week, emailed a Memphis Daily News online story that says Corker "heard from Republicans and Democrats - supporters and critics of President Donald Trump - during a Tuesday, April 18, town hall in Arlington."

But the reporter told this Times Free Press editor that the meeting wasn't planned as a town hall. It began as an Arlington Chamber of Commerce Coffee meeting that "some Democrats were allowed into" and there were questions and answers at the end.

After that meeting and in a later interview, Corker told reporters there that the different opinions at the Arlington gathering showed the country is still divided by the 2016 presidential election.

You think?

Times Free Press reporter Steve Johnson reported Tuesday that about 35 members of the Hamilton County Indivisibles rallied in Miller Park shortly before noon after presenting position papers outlining the policies they support to representatives of Fleischmann and Alexander. They visited the office of Corker on Monday. None of the senators were in their offices at the time.

Of course they weren't. They were in front of the friendly conservative faces in Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and various chambers of commerce where, for the most part, the questions were soft ball. It's a sleight of hand, and voters recognize it for the sham it is.

At the rally, recently elected Hamilton County Democratic Party head Khristy Wilkinson criticized the GOP lawmakers for avoiding their constituents: "[Monday] night, over 100 people were at our town hall meeting at the public library," she said. "Not a single elected official was present. Not a single one."

Our elected officials are telling us we don't matter, they don't care and they don't have time for Joe and Jane Public.

And all the while they put out spin missives that claim a speaking engagement is "working" for us.

In reality, it's their own kind of 'fake news.'