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Rutherford town hall turns Trump protest in his absence

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Despite echoing chants asking where he is, Florida Congressman John Rutherford did not make an appearance today at the prearranged town hall held on his behalf.

It was announced prior to Monday’s event that Rutherford would not be holding a town hall during this week’s congressional recess because he has a previous engagement. This is the first recess scheduled for the 115th Congress, and it is typically a time when members of the House of Representatives and the Senate return home to their elected districts and speak with constituents.

“I put this together, because I feel like we really do need to be heard,” Camille Tinnin said. “I was calling Congressman Rutherford’s office, both his district office and his D.C. office, for weeks asking when he was going to have a town hall.”

Tinnin, who recently moved back to Jacksonville from Seattle, Wash., says Rutherford’s office finally responded to her last week and said there was no plan for him to hold a town hall during the break.

In light of Rutherford’s absence, the grounds outside his Jacksonville headquarters, turned into a pulpit for 4th Congressional District constituents to voice their displeasure with President Donald Trump. What was featured as a town hall quickly turned into protest against Trump and his agenda.

The dissenting opinions of the President were fueled by the handful of Trump supporters who came to the town hall with large banners and billboards and recordings of babies crying, which were played over a portable loudspeaker.

One by one, those who showed up to speak with Rutherford took hold of a bullhorn that was passed around and voiced a question that fell on an excitable crowd and an empty Coleman camping chair that read, “Reserved for Congressman John Rutherford.”

Even with the ongoing chants of “Where is John?” that would start up after someone would finish speaking, Tinnin insisted that this was not all in spite of Rutherford. People were there “to know what he stands for,” said Tinnin, who admittedly did not vote for Rutherford in the general election.

“We are here because it’s our duty as citizens to engage with our elected official and it’s the job of our elected official to engage with us,” Tinnin said. “We are not just anti-Rutherford, we want to know what your policy stances are because we have policy stances.”

Rutherford’s team said in a statement: “Listening to the citizens of Florida’s 4th District is the most important part of Congressman Rutherford’s job and he takes it very seriously, he cannot represent their views in Congress without doing so. We look for every way to engage with constituents – by phone, email, our website, social media, and of course in person meetings. He meets with dozens of constituents each week in Washington, D.C. and in Northeast Florida, and will continue to do so.”

“Our district office and staff have an open door policy and are always on hand to help with any constituent needs.” – Taryn Fenske, Communications Director

Political zeal filled the grassy area just beyond the parking lot, as cellphones recorded the heated back-and-forth between those who came to talk with Rutherford and the Trump supporters in the crowd.

“I’m out here supporting our congressman,” Gary Snow said. “He’s our elected official. I’m out here supporting him. I’m out here supporting Donald Trump against a movement that has been choreographed to organize people to directly attack Trump’s agenda.”

Snow, whose antics earned him some very unreceptive comments from the crowd, was continually referred to as a paid protestor during the event. Snow denied the accusations and despite just “recently moving from Chicago,” said he is a constituent of Rutherford’s district and in fact voted for him in the election.

“This is what they are supposed to do,” Snow said, speaking in reference to a publication known as the indivisible guide. “And since Rutherford did not give them a town hall, they are creating a town hall.”

The very one-sided “town hall” continued, as emotions ran higher. The issues voiced ranged from the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to the release of Trump’s tax returns separated only by outbursts of “not my president” coming from the crowd. A circle of people eventually formed around a picnic table that was being used as a podium for whoever was speaking.

“People are still trying to make this about an election that took place back in November and it really is over,” Linell Phillmon said. “We have to move forward and this is my access to finding out how we are moving forward on those bills that are going to affect the State of Florida and specifically Duval County, which I am a resident of.”

Phillmon, a native Floridian and Navy veteran, said after 27 years of active duty she chose to live in Jacksonville. She says she has a lot of “faith and confidence” in the city she calls home, but also concern for how an ailing Rutherford is approaching his constituents here in Northeast Florida.

“A lot of times you call the offices and you get the voice mails and every now and then you will get an intern, but this is not how we should have to communicate with our elected officials,” Phillmon said. “We really are concerned citizens and we are paying our taxes and we’d like to know what the taxpayers are getting in Washington D.C.”

After all was said and done, those in attendance penned personal messages to Rutherford, asking him to listen to their concerns and respond to their questions. 

The town hall spun protest that was held today in Jacksonville is just one of many that are scheduled to take place in Florida during this congressional recess. The events are a part of a nationwide movement being referred to as Resistance Recess.

(© 2017 WTLV)

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