Georgia Representatives Under Fire for Refusal to Hold Public Meetings

Georgia senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga, and David Perdue, R-Ga, as well as Georgia’s 10th District Representative Jody Hice are under fire from many constituents from their refusal to hold public, in person town hall meetings with their voters.

Congressman Hice hasn’t hosted a town hall in Athens since his election in 2014. Senator Perdue said he prefers small meetings and telephone town halls, while Senator Isakson, just recently held a tele-town hall Yet, none of these are putting Athens residents’ concerns at rest.

Leandra Nessel, a member of Athens’ chapter of Together We Will, an intersectional feminist organization, says she’s found contacting them through the phone has been both ineffective and contradictory.

“They have been so unresponsive and every time I call, most of the time I get his voicemail that says, ‘I represent all Georgians, I want to hear from you.’ But, you can never get a real person most of the time,” Nessel says. “I have no faith that message is going to be listened to or accounted.”

Nessel says she knows some of the people who were selected to be a part of the tele-town hall with Representative Hice and the attendees were still disappointed and dissatisfied with their communication with him.

“The people who got invited were more frustrated and really didn’t feel like their questions were answered,” Nessel says. “I think a couple of them didn’t even really get around to being able to ask their question even though they got invited to listen in.”

According to an email sent by Hice’s intern, Hice is hesitant to host an in-person town hall meeting because it can become a threat to his security.

National media has shown constituents coming in large numbers, loudly expressing their feeling of discontent with their representatives. And while the representatives have yet to host a face-to-face town hall meeting in Athens, this hasn’t stopped some constituents from coming together to voice their concerns during the legislators’ staffers’ open office hours.

Last month, an estimated 500 Georgians gathered at an open house led by Senator Isakson, Senator Perdue, and Representative Hice’s staffers. Many of the attendees were members of Georgia’s tenth district, particularly Athens-Clarke County, as activism groups Athens For Everyone, Together We Will and Indivisible Georgia District 10 publicized the meeting on their social media weeks in advance.

University of Georgia instructor, Virginia Phares, says she’s taken notice of how grassroots organizations are taking advantage of social media as she consistently sees posts about their newest event or mission on their page.

“Social media has provided a way for them to get together and advise each other on how to protest,” she says.

But as all but one staff member exited the Greensboro meeting, Adam Lassila, board member of Athens For Everyone, says he knew this meeting would be as ineffective as leaving voicemails to the congressmen.

“The staffers are kind of there just to say that they were there,” says Lassila.

Carina McGee, a founding member and co-organizer of Together We Will, says she realizes how unnerving it can be for a representative to walk into a tense situation, but a chaotic environment is not the image Athens’ organizations are promoting.

“I can certainly understand why representatives may be reluctant to go into that situation,” she says.”(But) the only negative reaction I have seen is at Greenboro when they walked out and there were boos and shaming, which, I mean, that’s what happens when you have 300 people that you’re functionally refusing to talk to.”

Nessel says she too can understand the hesitance from the representatives to have an in-person town hall considering what they may encounter, but says that’s what comes with the job title.

“It’s just fear because they know they’re going to get yelled at. I wouldn’t want to do it either, but that’s why I’m not in office,” Nessel says.

Lassila says the current political climate, along with social media, is bringing out those who are typically less politically active to fight for what they expect from their congressmen.

“There are so many people who, before they just voted every two or four years, are now really activated. Thinking, okay, we actually have to get out and do something politically besides just voting occasionally,” Lassila says. “There’s people ready to jump at every opportunity to get active, confront the legislators.”

And that is just what they did.

Robin Whetstone, member of Indivisibile Georgia District 10 and Together We Will, says she was able to confront Representative Hice face to face with the help of four people she met through the organizations’ social media and later received a call from Hice saying he would speak at her church.

“I think it was a very good example of grassroots locals organizing,” says Whestone.

Oconee Street United Methodist Church is not the only group anticipating a visit from district 10’s representative, Athens For Everyone has scheduled a town hall with Hice in April.

“If he schedules another town hall, it doesn’t have to be with Athens For Everyone, with a couple weeks of that on either side in Athens, we’ll cancel ours,” Lassila says. “He doesn’t have to come talk to us, but he does have to come talk to Athenians.”

Representative Hice has neither accepted nor denied the invitation.

Other constituents say they simply want an open, in-person, and public forum to speak with their legislators, regardless of the foundation they base it on.

“It’s their job to represent everybody,” Nessel says. “They should at least listen to what we have to say and give us a chance to express our thoughts and what we want as citizens of the state of Georgia.”

By: Chi Warui

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