How I changed the meeting at Roe's office

Hank Hayes • Feb 9, 2017 at 5:00 PM

KINGSPORT — I’m beginning to think I was the problem last Tuesday.

People, mainly Democrats, are wondering about access to U.S. Rep. Phil Roe’s district office after district Director John Abe Teague initially declined to let a group calling itself Indivisible Tennessee into the office located inside the Kingsport Higher Education Center on that day.

The group was there to express concerns about Obamacare going away and the things happening with the administration of President Donald Trump.

You may recall that the late U.S. Rep. Jimmy Quillen, a Kingsport Republican, had a motto: “My door is always open.”

Quillen’s door and office were next to the U.S. Post Office in a federal building on Center Street. Roe’s office is in a working college campus.

Teague pointed to Northeast State Community College, the operator of the Kingsport Higher Education Center, as a reason why the Indivisible Tennessee group couldn’t come in.

I checked with Northeast State and asked about their policy. Spokesman Tom Wilson said this: “I can tell you no one from Northeast State told the people they couldn’t go into the congressman’s office.”

But times, obviously, have changed.

When I arrived at Roe’s office on Tuesday, I noticed it was locked and a doorbell had been installed. On the other end of the office was a security guard.

Fifteen minutes before the Indivisible Tennessee group was to attempt to enter Roe’s office, I rang that doorbell and asked to talk to Teague. The reason I did that was I had to know whether I could take images and video inside the office to document that interaction.

That interaction, for the most part, happened out in the parking lot as Teague came outside, approached the group and asked them to fill out paperwork listing their concerns and contact information. After it began raining, they moved inside.

“The group seemed to get visibly upset at the notion that we were not going to be allowed inside the building,” Lori Love, the event organizer and a state Democratic Party committeewoman, said in a email. “A number of folks present have a difficult time standing for long periods of time and some have a very hard time hearing with the wind blowing, especially when wearing hearing aids. After it started to rain and we were finally allowed to enter the building we found that there was plenty of room and even a few seats for those of us that could not stand for long periods of time. We also thought that the presence of the police was a bit unnecessary as we were only there to present some of our very real concerns and fears.”

They weren’t carrying signs or yelling. They appeared to only want a conversation.

But I’m thinking that Teague was thinking: I can’t allow a protest to happen inside the congressman’s office and have that be on Wednesday’s front page of the Times-News.

Teague wanted more control over the situation, and he felt like he had to stand up for his man.

Roe, a Johnson City Republican, is in a much different position today than any of his recent or not-so-recent predecessors. He’s the chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He’s in a better spot to be a major player on Capitol Hill.

As for future access to his district office, I would say this: Make an appointment. Be civil. Say your piece, and be peaceful about it.

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