Group expresses discontent with Congressman Murphy at South Hills town hall
A crowd of about 200 people shouted in unison asking where U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy was during an April 19 town hall meeting in Bethel Park to discuss the eight-term Republican congressman.
“We are here,” the crowd chanted. “Where is Tim Murphy?”
Several left-leaning activist groups organized the meeting at the Bethel Park Community Center. Since Murphy did not attend, an organizer called his Washington, D.C. office and the crowd shouted that question into his voicemail.
Valerie Fleisher of 412 Resistance said the event was held during Congressional spring recess so Murphy would have an opportunity to attend. She said Murphy was formally invited at the end of March.
“I think what we saw tonight was over 200 constituents having a spirited dialogue, but at all times we were respectful,” she said. “Congressman Murphy does not need to be afraid of us.”
Murphy’s press secretary, Carly Atchison, said two days before the town hall that his office was aware of the meeting but it was “unlikely” he would attend. She said he has been in contact through phone calls and letters with protesters who have gathered each Monday outside his district office in Mt. Lebanon.
“These meetings and phone calls, characterized by civil discourse, have led to productive exchanges of ideas and Congressman Murphy has every intention of, and looks forward to, keeping the dialogue going,” she said.
In lieu of the congressman from Upper St. Clair, one woman dressed in a suit and a floppy wig, describing herself as “Tim Murphy in drag.” Several constituents addressed pointed questions at her and she responded at times using Murphy’s own words.
Several people ridiculed Murphy for his support for the failed American Health Care Act, a Republican bill designed to replace the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. The bill was withdrawn last month before a vote when it failed to garner enough support from House Republicans.
A panel of health advocates acknowledged problems with the ACA, but said the Republican replacement would have left more people sicker and uninsured. The ACA’s expansion of Medicaid was a lifeline to people with disabilities, said Cori Frazer of Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy. The Republican alternative would have cut Medicaid.
“For the disabled community, the ACA has not only been life-saving, but life-enabling,” Frazer said.
Discussion of health care reform dominated the two-hour-long town hall meeting, with many advocates stressing the need to preserve Medicaid for lower income people. Murphy’s support for repealing the ACA and cutting Medicare runs counter to his stated mission to improve mental health treatment in the country, said the Rev. Sally Jo Snyder, a United Methodist minister and health advocate for Consumer Health Coalition in Pittsburgh.
“Congressman Murphy had an opportunity to lead,” Snyder said. “Instead he displayed both a lack of courage and a lack of conviction.”
The panel of health advocates included Louanne Bailey from Planned Parenthood, which Murphy has pledged to defund. Planned Parenthood operates three health centers in Murphy’s congressional district, where they serve nearly 3,000 women, Bailey said.
Since most of Planned Parenthood’s patients are low-income, Planned Parenthood clinics are often reimbursed through the Medicaid program. If that funding dries up, it jeopardizes many women’s access to birth control as well as basic reproductive health care, Bailey said.
However, Murphy’s opposition to Planned Parenthood is what motivated more than a dozen people to organize a counter demonstration to the town hall. The anti-abortion activists gathered outside the community center and held signs in support of Murphy.
Jeannie Fresh of Upper St. Clair said she is a pro-life Democrat and while she is no fan of President Trump, she supports Murphy because of his anti-abortion views and support of community health clinics which she says can offer preventative care to women without performing abortions. A group of people showing support for Murphy stood with signs outside the town hall.
Some speakers at the town hall meeting expressed frustration with the perceived lack of engagement from Murphy. The congressman has not held a public town hall meeting during his congressional breaks this year. Some complained about writing Murphy about an issue only to get an irrelevant form letter in response.
“He’s the invisible man to me, or more specifically, my invisible representative,” said Ed Shupe of Mt. Lebanon.
Some bemoaned the fact that Murphy has not faced a viable challenger in at least two elections. Peter Kohnke, a retired engineer from Bethel Park who is also involved in the expansion and maintenance of Montour Trail, wants to change that, announcing during the town hall his intention to run against Murphy in 2018 as a Democrat.
“I couldn’t find anyone else to run, so I figured I would do it myself,” he said.
Those who spoke at the meeting hailed from across the 18th congressional district, which includes parts of Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland and Greene counties.