Perry, local activists wage war of words over empty town hall seats

Congressman Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, answers a question at a Hummelstown public meeting with constituents on July 30th, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, has fired back at liberal activist groups in his district, accusing them of conspiring to make him look bad by booking seats they never intended to use at his Hummelstown town hall earlier this week — a charge local activists called “spinning a false conspiracy theory.”

In a Thursday Facebook post, Perry cited leaked documents and phone calls from members or former members of local activist groups — whom he did not name — who “also believe that lines are being crossed.”

“Too many of these groups clearly have no interest in participating or finding solutions to our Nation’s problems,” Perry wrote. “Their sole purpose is to disrupt, malign, distract and hijack events for political gain.”

The town hall, Perry’s first in his new judicially-drawn district centered on Harrisburg, was protested by about 35 local members of Indivisible chapters, a grassroots progressive organizing group. The meeting was also Perry’s first in-person town hall since 2017.

Perry called it the “empty street strategy.” When the town hall was announced, Perry required attendees to register in advance for free tickets and also provide an address. Additional ID would be required at the door.

Indivisible groups had, before the town hall, complained about the need to register, and called for the town hall to be held in a bigger venue. The event was scheduled and held at the Hummelstown fire department building, where 100 chairs were set up.

Extra space and chairs were available. At the start of the event, about 50 people were in the room. Over the course of the event, another dozen or so entered, leaving a third of seats unfilled.

In the post, Perry claimed that activists registered for tickets in advance, but instead protested the event outside. Inside, the media and others could see empty seats, and if protesters tried to come in to claim the empty seats, they’d be refused. This would make Perry look like he was denying constituents a chance to talk.

“I’ve always encouraged debate – that’s how growth occurs. But I will not support the hijacking of public events for political gamesmanship and making a mockery of this Nation’s legislative process day by day,” Perry added.

In a response letter from four local Indivisible chapters, activists denied the conspiracy charge. While they said they had members on the waitlist, and some were admitted to the town hall, there was no organized attempt to create empty seats.

“Congressman Perry is evidently trying to cover up what was obviously a deliberate,successful attempt to limit attendance at the town hall by hurling false accusations at our all-volunteer civic-engagement organizations,” the letter reads. “He can offer no proof for his accusations, since there is none. Therefore we demand a public apology.”

Perry, a member of the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus in Congress, is a top target for the 2020 cycle as congressional Democrats try to pad their majority.

Before 2018, Perry’s district was based in red Adams and York counties. After the state Supreme Court found the old map an unconstitutional gerrymander, his district was redrawn to include all of Harrisburg and its increasingly purple suburbs.

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