Social media-fueled East Tennessee organizers are using U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr.’s words against him.
The congressman declined hundreds of requests to hold a town hall meeting in his district via a mass e-mailing that said such an event might open him up to complaints from “extremists, kooks and radicals.” He also said some of those opposed to the agenda of President Donald Trump are “sore losers.”
Thousands of people, from infants to the elderly, representing different causes have rallied and marched in Knoxville and other parts of the 2nd Congressional District since Trump’s inauguration.
Hundreds of his constituents were urged to write and call Duncan by groups including Indivisible East Tennessee and Love Trumps Hate Knoxville. A change.org petition requesting district meetings garnered nearly 1,000 names. His response to the request for the town meeting prompted Indivisible East Tennessee to promptly announce on Facebook the “Kookfest Call to Action” for a protest this Friday at Duncan’s office in downtown Knoxville.
Sarah Herron, a local organizer of Indivisible East Tennessee, provided a copy of the message, and Duncan spokesman Don Walker confirmed it is the congressman’s opinion, adding that: “He is in East Tennessee almost every day he is not scheduled to be in Washington with floor votes. In Tennessee he visits with constituents in his office and in the community at schools, churches, ballgames, drug stores etc.”
Walker says Duncan’s office has not recorded an increase in constituent contact, but “he takes every constituent’s opinion very seriously.”
Duncan, a Knoxville Republican, has held the congressional seat since 1988.
Duncan’s response reads, in part:
“Unfortunately, there is more anger in politics today than ever before. And we are receiving many very hateful, very angry e-mails and phone calls from some on the liberal-left side of the political spectrum.
“I am not going to hold town hall meetings in this atmosphere, because they would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals.
“Also, I do not intend to give more publicity to those on the far left who have so much hatred, anger and frustration in them.
“I have never seen so many more sore losers as there are today. I opposed most of President Obama’s major initiatives, but I never ever said anything mean or hateful about him. I attended both of his inaugurations and even had a very friendly flight on Air Force One with him.”
Look for a story on the past two weeks of citizen action and activism in next week’s print edition of The Knoxville Mercury.
Here is the full text of the letter from Duncan to those requesting he hold a town hall meeting:
February 1, 2017
Thank you for contacting me about town hall meetings. I always appreciate hearing from those whom I represent in Congress.
I have often been described as one of the most accessible members of Congress in this Country.
I try never to miss a vote, but I have always tried to catch the first plane out each week, and I spend and have spent more time in my District than in Washington.
I have given several thousand speeches in my District and around the Nation, and the great majority have been followed with question-answer sessions.
I have sent out millions of newsletters and I and my staff have responded, usually in detail, to many thousands of letters, e-mails, and phone calls.
In addition, every place I go—even at church, ballgames, drug stores, etc.—people come up to me to express opinions, ask for help, or both.
I also listen to local talk shows and read letters to the editor. Both my family and staff tell me what people are saying to them.
I have held hundreds of constituent days over the years during which I meet with people one, two, or three at a time.
I prefer one-on-one constituent meetings because people often ask for help for themselves or family members about matters they would not want to talk about in front of a big group. Also, people are almost always more polite and civil in person-to-person meetings.
In addition to all this, I have had thousands of office appointments both in Washington and in the District.
I have always said that any of my constituents can come meet with me face-to-face if they need to. However, I always have a backlog, so usually an appointment has to be scheduled a few weeks in advance.
I certainly do not need town halls to tell me how my constituents are feeling on the important issues of the day.
And, from all the things mentioned above, they know where I stand on the issues or can easily find out by going to my website.
Unfortunately, there is more anger in politics today than ever before. And we are receiving many very hateful, very angry e-mails and phone calls from some on the liberal-left side of the political spectrum.
I am not going to hold town hall meetings in this atmosphere, because they would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals.
Also, I do not intend to give more publicity to those on the far left who have so much hatred, anger and frustration in them.
I have never seen so many more sore losers as there are today. I opposed most of President Obama’s major initiatives, but I never ever said anything mean or hateful about him. I attended both of his inaugurations and even had a very friendly flight on Air Force One with him.
If I can ever be of service to you or your family in any way, please do not hesitate to let me know.
With kindest regard, I am
-John J. Duncan Jr.
Member of Congress
Knox County-based journalist Thomas Fraser is a native of Charleston, S.C. who grew up in Oak Ridge and Knoxville. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and has worked as an editor and reporter for daily newspapers and websites in Tennessee, North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia.
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