By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
The office of Rep. Lou Barletta was critical today about a Democratic activist who challenged the Congressman at a town hall last night in Carbon County. Barletta spokesman Shawn Kelly said Linda Christman deliberately set a raucous tone as part of a coordinated effort by Democrats to disrupt the event.
Colby Itkowitz of the Allentown Morning Call detailed the town hall drama, during which one woman, Linda Christman, charged Barletta with a vote to change the Medicare system. During the ensuing exchange, several members of the crowd began to yell and one was even escorted out by police.
“Democrats are targeting Representative Barletta during his Home to House forums, and they’re doing it in a very coordinated way. We’ve seen evidence of coordinated attacks by Democratic operatives during our forums,” said Kelly.
“The woman in question interrupted Representative Barletta during his presentation and, for a time, she would not let him respond to her accusations. Constituents repeatedly asked her to let Representative Barletta answer. The fact is that she is a Democratic operative posing as an ordinary constituent with a concern, and she was following the playbook of trying to disrupt the forum, mislead the public, and scare senior citizens.”
Christman is president of the Carbon County Democrats for Change, a progressive organization derived from supporters of Howard Dean in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.
“We are a part of the local Democratic Party and are also aligned with Organizing for America,” reads the “About Us” section of the group’s website (which was written by Christman).
Christman dismissed the suggestion that she was part of an organized effort.
“I’ve been politically active in this community for a long time and I had heard that Rep. Barletta had voted for the Ryan budget. As far as being part of a larger group, there was only one other person there that I knew.”
She said the group Moveon.org had emailed her and encouraged her to attend.
“I got an email from Moveon.org, saying they were trying to get people to go. I don’t think they were very successful. There were only one or two people there who raised objections.”
Moveon.org did send an email to local activists encouraging them to attend the town hall. However, the email contained no mention of disruption. This was the call to action:
“Late last week, Representative Lou Barletta voted in favor of gutting Medicare and Medicaid. Join us on Wednesday, April 20 to ask the congressman why he voted for a budget that that puts millions of seniors, children, and people with disabilities at risk of losing their health care, so we can give millionaires trillions in tax cuts.”
“Meet at AMVETS Post 83 15 minutes before the event so you can get seating. If you can, bring a sign asking Barletta to keep his hands off Medicare and Medicaid.”
She also disputed the suggestion that she had disrupted the event.
“I had no intention of disrupting the town hall, and I don’t think I did. I think the people that yelled at me were disruptive.”
Democrats from Washington to Harrisburg Washington dismissed the idea that the efforts were coordinated.
“Four out of five people oppose the Republican plan to end Medicare as we know it,” said PA Democratic Party spokesman Mark Nicastre. “If Lou Barletta traveled anywhere outside of his house, there’d be a pretty good chance he’d run into people who are upset with his vote.”
Other Republicans have faced unfriendly audiences in the days since the House passed its budget. GOP budget architect Paul Ryan was booed at a Wisconsin town hall. Meanwhile Time Magazine detailed the Medicare troubles of Rep. Charlie Bass, a North Carolina Republican who narrowly won a swing district last year and was confronted at a recent town hall.
The controversy surrounds the budget which passed the U.S. House last week mostly on partisan lines. Democrats have cast the measure as a vote to end Medicare, while Republicans say the program is unsustainable and must be reformed in order to survive.