During a recent town hall meeting in Bethel Park to discuss possible changes to the country’s health-care laws, a large milk carton could be seen in the room with U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy’s photo prominently featured on its side.
The symbolism is that the Republican congressman from Upper St. Clair is missing. “Have you seen me?” the milk box read.
While Murphy isn’t actually missing – he’s been seen making his way around the district to various events the past few months – it is true that he has not made himself available to town hall meetings or question-and-answer sessions with his constituents.
Murphy claimed he was never invited to a Feb. 21 discussion dubbed “Our Townhall With or Without Tim Murphy” at Washington County’s Courthouse Square office building.
But the same can’t be said about the April 19 town hall in Bethel Park that attracted more than 200 people. Murphy’s press secretary, Carly Atchison, said before the event that the congressman was aware of the town hall but “unlikely” to attend. Photos posted on his Facebook page that day showed he was, indeed, in the district and could have joined the discussion, if he had been so inclined.
It’s obvious why elected officials in our deeply divided country are hesitant to face their critics.
Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur of New Jersey was pummeled with questions and accusations from his constituents during a town hall meeting last Wednesday. But at least he offered them an opportunity to speak and ask him questions about the American Health Care Act he helped to pass through the House earlier this month.
Murphy is giving no such courtesy to the constituents in his district, which includes most of the South Hills of Pittsburgh and parts of Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
That is especially troubling considering Murphy’s vote in favor of the Republican-crafted health-care plan that would effectively replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Whether or not you agree with the new proposal – which still has a long way to go in order to pass through the Senate – Murphy has an obligation to meet with his constituents to not just explain his vote, but explain what changes are included in the bill.
The 412 Resistance group that organized the town hall and Mondays with Murphy, another group that draws weekly crowds to Murphy’s district office in Mt. Lebanon, are pushing hard for the congressman to answer their questions. But they’re not getting much of a response, if any.
The argument against Murphy participating in any of these events is that they’re not organized by him or his office. That’s too bad. Democracy and free speech aren’t just for times when it’s convenient for our elected leaders.
With so much riding on his health-care vote and so many lingering unanswered questions about what the bill will do or how much it will cost, Murphy at some point must address those concerns in a public meeting with the people he represents, whether they support him or not.
He represents all of us, so it’s time for Murphy to explain his health-care vote and move on. Then the voters can decide his fate in next year’s election, which most likely will be more difficult than recent years in which he had no primary or general election opponents.
That might be a scarier prospect for the eight-term incumbent than just a few town hall meetings with some riled-up protesters.