Is it possible to have a town hall without a congressman?
That’s the question that Athens for Everyone, a local progressive activist group, will answer at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Athens-Clarke County Library, 2025 Baxter St., where they have reserved space for an event that is virtually assured not to include U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe.
Hice represents Georgia’s 10th Congressional District, which includes the part of Athens-Clarke County roughly south and west of U.S. Highway 129 and the Athens Perimeter. The 10th District extends from Winder northward to near Dublin, and runs west to east from the metropolitan Atlanta suburbs to the outskirts of Augusta.
Athens for Everyone, along with another progressive activist group, Indivisible Georgia District 10, part of a national network of “Indivisible” organizations, has been pressing Hice to schedule an in-person town hall in the district, and more particularly in Athens or other similarly liberal-leaning communities in his district.
Hice has recently attended private events in Athens, including a March speech to the Classic City Rotary Club at the Holiday Inn in downtown Athens where protesters stood outside with signs wondering about their “missing” congressman. Earlier this week, Hice was on hand at Accurus Aerospace, an Athens manufacturer that makes parts for the F-35 fighter plane, as primary contractor Lockheed Martin brought in an F-35 flight simulator.
Hice also held a telephone town hall, where constituents could call in to have questions answered, earlier this month.
In February, Hice staff members were on hand for a constituent service day in Greensboro that attracted hundreds of people. Routinely, those events are designed for constituents to meet one-on-one with a staff member to discuss a specific problem, such as a delayed benefit check or how pending legislation will affect their business or personal situations.
The Greensboro event, however, was targeted by Athens for Everyone and Indivisible Georgia 10th District as a means of pressing for an in-person town hall with Hice. At one point, the crowd erupted into chants of “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!,” and one man shouted, “We pay you, you are going to do what we ask you to do!”
Members of Congress, particularly Republicans like Hice, who have attended town halls in person during recent work periods in their home districts have faced strident crowds with questions about health care, Planned Parenthood and President Donald Trump’s continuing refusal to release his federal tax returns.
In a news release announcing their apparently Hice-less town hall on Saturday, Athens for Everyone charges that the congressman “has made it thoroughly clear that he is not interested in faithfully representing the citizens of his district. … If Jody Hice is only willing to show up to events where he can control the narrative and guarantee soft questions, he either doesn’t care about the needs of his district, or he’s afraid to meet with his constituents.”
Hice faced no opposition in 2016 balloting for the 10th District seat, and in the 2014 general election, he easily outdistanced his Democratic opponent, Athens attorney Ken Dious, earning more than 130,000 of the nearly 200,000 votes cast in the race. Dious carried only five counties in the sprawling district in 2014 — Athens-Clarke, Taliaferro, Hancock, Warren and Jefferson counties.
As Hice has faced criticism in some quarters for not hosting an in-person town hall, his office has consistently maintained that he has been willing to meet with constituents, and has pointed to his telephone town halls, as well as his small-group “Coffee With Your Congressman” events as evidence of that willingness to address constituent concerns.
In a letter to Athens for Everyone respondign to the group’s request for a local in-person town hall, Hice’s office contends that those two types of events “have proven to be the most effective way for the Congressman to engage with his constituents, and he will continue to be available and accessible to all of his constituents — regardless of political affiliation — through these mediums moving forward.”
On Thursday, a Hice spokeswoman said the congressman’s office has offered to meet with a small group of Athens for Everyone representatives, but has not yet heard any response to that offer.
In the absence of Hice, the Saturday event at the Athens-Clarke County Library will, according to the Athens for Everyone news release, be a “rally for justice and fairness in our community.”