HUMMELSTOWN, Pa — In his first in-person town hall in two years, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, answered constituents’ questions on policy and politics for nearly an hour-and-a-half Tuesday night.
The conservative congressman, facing voters from a new district redrawn in 2018 to include Dauphin, Cumberland, and York counties, faced a few pointed questions and stern rebukes from around one third of the crowd, balanced by a warm reception from the rest.
Before it was even held, the town hall had attracted anger from in-district Indivisible groups, which focus on grassroots liberal activism. After the event “sold out” within a few hours, members had called for a new venue to hold a bigger crowd. A Perry spokesperson said 100 seats were set up, which is as many tickets were offered.
About 60 were filled when the event kicked off at 6 p.m. A few more people filtered in throughout the night.
Another 35 people were outside, picketing the town hall. They held signs criticizing Perry’s positions on everything from the minimum wage to the treatment of migrants — a reminder of the district’s newly competitive nature.
“It’s not like I’m a rare bird. Almost half the people voted Democratic [last year],” said Juliet Waldron, a 74-year-old Hershey resident who held a sign that featured Perry’s head on a Rambo-like figure.
Since taking office in 2013, Perry faced his closest race in 2018 against Democrat George Scott. Perry won 51.3 percent of the vote to Scott’s 48.7 in a district redrawn by the state Supreme Court, transforming it from a blood-red seat based in Adams and York counties to a district centered in Harrisburg and its suburbs.
Another of the assembled protesters was Deana Weaver, who held a sign questioning Perry’s role in the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus.
The 59-year-old Dillsburg resident and Army veteran said she liked her current congressman when he was just her state representative.
But Weaver echoed other protesters when she said Perry has ignored his constituents as a congressperson.
She called some of his votes “anti-human” — like against protections for people with preexisting medical conditions when purchasing health insurance — and speculated that Perry is on track to retire come 2020.
“I’m going to be the pimple on his ass until we vote him out of office,” Weaver said.
Later in the town hall, Perry said at least one of his no’s was because he thought the GOP’s large. convoluted replacement for the Affordable Care Act was not a good plan that didn’t do enough to protect preexisting conditions.
She attended Perry’s last in-person town hall, held in Red Lion in winter 2017, which she remembered as an adversarial affair. This town hall, Perry’s first in his new, judicially designed district, went on without her.
Perry opened the event with a brief rundown of some legislative accomplishments, including a measure condemning female genital mutilation and a study of hydroelectric power that both passed the House this year.
He then took questions from the crowd, submitted on paper cards, on topics including climate change, Trump’s tweets, the deficit, and gun control.
The crowd included some vocal critics, who pushed back on his answers.
On climate change, Perry said everyone acknowledges that climate change is happening, but added that he’s frustrated by “the policies that we enact that seem to favor the elites and the well connected in Washington, D.C.”
As the Carlisle Sentinel reported in February, Perry “posted a cryptic message on Twitter … that appears to attempt to discredit a congressional hearing on global warming by pointing out that it snows in parts of the United States.”
Perry said Tuesday he thinks America should be using more natural gas, which releases less carbon than coal, but still can leak methane. He also wants to and expand hydroelectric power.
On Trump’s racist tweets that targeted four Democratic congresswomen of color earlier this month, and other assorted outrages, Perry said he sees things he doesn’t like from both Democrats and Republicans but tries to stay focused on policy.
Asked if there was any line Trump could cross he would criticize, Perry said, “I’m not condemning anyone.”
On yearly deficits and the national debt, Perry said he voted against this year’s budget because, “when they offer me a bill that’s going to do nothing but increase spending, and increase debt, I’m voting no.” The answer drew applause.
As for tackling gun control in light of another mass shooting, this one at a California festival, Perry said he would not back any additional gun laws. There is a “balancing act of the rights that we have versus a safe society,” he said.
Perry offered few specifics, which drew the ire of some attendees who wanted, for example, an assault weapons ban. A mention of focusing on mental health even drew Perry’s qualification because “there are a lot of people with mental health issues that are not a danger to anyone.”
The latter answer drew praise from Chris Delvecchio, a 52-year-old Dillsburg resident. He described himself as pro-gun and anti-abortion, and likes Perry’s stances on those issues.
“I think he killed it,” Delvecchio said.
The only answer from Perry that Delvecchio didn’t like was one on foreign policy. In his only answer that obliquely critiqued Trump, Perry said that it “unnerved him” to see any president meeting with foreign dictators.
“I don’t like when presidents shake the hands of dictators, whether they are in Cuba or North Korea,” Perry said, referencing both former President Barack Obama and Trump.
But he added that distasteful meetings are preferable to sending troops overseas.
Delvecchio said he couldn’t blame Trump for trying and that in diplomacy, “you have to play the game a little bit.”
Not everyone walked away pleased, however. Susan Edris, a 73-year-old recent retiree and registered Republican, said she showed up to get her first view of Perry. A Hershey resident, she was previously represented by moderate Republican Rep. Charlie Dent.
While she thought Dent had his issues, “at least he would see us,” Edris said.
As for Perry, “I’m not happy when he backs up Trump the way he does,” she added.
She compared the treatment of migrants at the border to U.S. internment camps for the Japanese and concentration camps in Germany.
Perry addressed immigration about halfway through the meeting, saying that America has a responsibility to be humane to migrants. But in the current situation, “they are being cared for as best we can under the circumstances.”
Border internment camps are squalid and crowded, drawing condemnation from many Democrats. Political fights have erupted in Congress over how funding for the situation should be spent, and what conditions should be attached.
According to the Associated Press, border apprehensions have been up throughout 2019, driven by asylum seekers from Central American countries gripped by poverty and violence.
In the parking lot after the meeting, Edris talked voter ID laws with another attendee — Edris opposes them as a poll worker, while the other person backs them.
Asked about the immigration answers Perry provided that night, Edris said she would wait for a more detailed response from his office.
“We’ll see what I get back in my letter,” Edris said.