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Protesters chide congressman for unavailability

ANNE REINER/Sun-Gazette A crowd of protesters stand outside the district office of U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Cogan Station, on Commerce Park Drive to ask him to hold a town hall for constituents in his district Friday evening.

Demands for a public town hall could be heard outside the district office of U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Cogan Station, Friday evening.

“Our real reason for being here is to demand a town hall,” Taylor Lightman, of Lewisburg, said. “The whole point of a representative government is that he’s our voice in government.”

Lightman, one of the organizers of the protest, said the goal for the group is to invite Marino to a town hall on March 16.

According to Lightman, he attended Marino’s last town hall on June 16, but he is disappointed that no public meetings were called for this week, when congress was in session and Marino was back in the district.

Marino spoke to a group of UPMC Susquehanna doctors at the medical center last night, and reportedly was to have a fundraiser at the Williamsport Regional Airport Friday night, but that was canceled.

The crowd of roughly 50 people chanted “we want a town hall,” Marino’s gone AWOL” and “you work for us” as they stood outside the congressman’s office. Two staffers from Marino’s office came out to speak with protesters, but said that Marino was not in the office and they could not say where he was.

While some protesters began shouting questions at the staffers, others wanted to talk quietly and eventually two, Alison Hirsch, of Williamsport and Amanda Waldman, of Montoursville, were able to go into the office.

Upon returning they said the staffers were not able to answer any of their questions, nor were they able to guarantee Marino could come to the town hall.

“There are a lot of voices here that he’s not listening to,” Waldman said. “He chose this job to represent us.”

Marino’s office said that any constituent could come to the office and share their concerns, adding that one to two people at a time also could schedule a time to meeting with Marino.

In addition to calls for a town hall many protesters shared their fears about the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Many are afraid of losing coverage or that their premiums will increase.

Marino’s office declined to give comments to members of the media about the protest. However Ryan Barton, senior director for Marino, provided the congressman’s view on the Affordable Care Act.

“Tom, and many of our constituents, believe that Obamacare has failed the American people,” Barton said.

According to Barton, 4.7 million people have lost their health care plans and $1 trillion in new taxes have been paid. Additionally, there is $53 billion in new regulations and one out of three U.S. counties have one insurer offering exchange plans, he said.

“It is important that we repeal Obamacare and replace it with a viable plan that expands access, improves quality, lowers costs, covers patients with pre-existing conditions and puts patients in charge of their care,” Barton said.

The protest was peaceful and handled well, according to Capt. Jody Miller, of the Williamsport Bureau of Police.

“We appreciate when those that would like to protest, or have a different opinion, are very professional and courteous,” Miller said. “I thought that this group was excellent.”

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