Concerned constituents are raising their voices at a town hall in Tampa tonight, but Florida Sen. Marco Rubio won't be there.
The town hall, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22, at the Tampa Letter Carriers Hall, was put together by constituents unaffiliated with any group. The constituents have extended this invitation to Rubio to discuss the concerns of Tampa residents.
However, a spokesperson with Rubio's office reached out to us saying the senator isn't attending tonight's town hall because "the organizers are deceiving people by falsely advertising this event, which is not connected to us in any way."
Rubio announced on Twitter
Monday that he would be out of the country this week, attending meetings in Germany and France. But organizers for the town hall reached out to Rubio with an invitation over a week ago and didn't hear back from his office.
Matt Wolking, Rubio's press secretary, says that organizers are using an online activist manual
put together by the group Indivisible "to stage a hostile atmosphere, record themselves booing no matter what is said, and refuse to give up the microphone."
In the manual, Indivisible states that constituents should "be polite, but persistent and demand real answers." The guide advocates for constituents to call out politicians who don't give real answers, and for audience members to amplify this by either "booing the Congressman or applauding."
The guide also advocates not giving up the microphone "until you’re satisfied with the answer."
Sarah Dohl, a spokesperson for Indivisible, says "Around the country, groups of constituents, both inspired by our guide and not, are charting their own path as they try to engage with their representatives. If Senator Rubio does not wish to engage with his own constituents who are asking him to talk to them, that’s his choice and he shouldn’t hide behind a PDF on the internet."
She went on to say, "Ultimately, the point of a town hall is to have an open and honest exchange between constituents and their elected representative. It is the job of elected officials to listen to and represent their constituents, and that involves hearing criticism - in some cases, passionate criticism."
Melissa Gallagher, the organizer for the Tampa town hall
, says that Rubio's spokesman's comments could not be further from the truth. She says she is an individual acting with the help of volunteers and isn't a part of Indivisible or any other group.
"We’re engaging in a civil, non-confrontational, peaceful dialogue, as is our right to assemble and demand proper representation from our senator," she says.
Gallagher mentioned that not only has she never heard of the manual Rubio's office referenced in regard to tonight's event, but that she set up the town hall meeting with the help of a few other volunteers, unaffiliated with any formal organization.
"Tampa constituents have reached out by phone, by email, and in person to communicate and voice concerns about our political environment," she says.
"Many constituents have been barred from the office building by using security, barricades and police."
Gallagher claims that when she went to a meeting with one of Rubio's Tampa staffers, she noticed that the phones didn't ring once during her 20-minute meeting. Suspecting something was wrong, Gallagher says when she got downstairs to the lobby, she called the office herself, which went straight to a full voicemail box, even though she had just been upstairs talking to staff moments before.
It's one of the reasons she decided to plan a town hall in the first place.
"Not everyone has the ability or the luxury to meet with our representatives during office hours," she says.
We've previously reported
about protests outside of Rubio's Orlando office (which, he's almost never at), with constituents calling for him to hold a town hall on issues like repealing the Affordable Care Act, and denouncing Trump's cabinet picks.
So far, Rubio hasn't announced a single scheduled town hall meeting in Tampa, Miami or in Orlando.
Gallagher says that even though Rubio's office has denied that he will attend the town hall, her invitation still stands, even if he just wants to Skype in during the event.
"We would like for his office to recognize the demand of Tampa Bay constituents, the demand for them to hold a town hall in our city," she says.
If Rubio is avoiding town hall meetings because of groups like Indivisible, it's clear now that he is missing the real concerns of ordinary constituents who are looking for answers. It remains to be seen how this strategy will work out for him in the long run.
We've reached out to Rubio's office for further comment.
Marco Rubio's office has responded and stated, "From the beginning, our office made it clear to other members of Gallagher’s planning committee, the venue’s owners, and others who have contacted us about this event that Senator Rubio is unable to attend." The response went on to say, "We have been fully accessible and responsive to constituents, and our staff in Tampa has met with dozens of these liberal activists – including Gallagher about half a dozen times."