‘Are you a liar?’ constituent asks U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess during testy town hall

U.S. Rep Michael Burgess holds town hall meeting

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess holds his 100th town hall meeting in Aubrey, at the Braswell High School Gym in Denton County. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)
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U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess holds his 100th town hall meeting in Aubrey, at the Braswell High School Gym in Denton County. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

Jennifer Forester went to U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess’s town hall Thursday night with no intention of asking a question.

The 35-year-old Denton woman sat in the audience holding a sign that stated “Concentration Camps Are Wrong,” occasionally yelling out comments about the crisis at the border.

“People shouldn’t be in camps like this,” she said, referring to migrants seeking asylum in Texas who are staying in shelters at the border. “Instead of asking him a question, I wanted to hold this up so he and other people who support these policies have to see it.”

The border crisis was one of several issues that came up during Burgess’s town hall Thursday night at the Heritage Church of Christ in north Fort Worth.

The gathering at times grew testy.

Burgess, R-Pilot Point, was questioned about issues ranging from the budget deficit to whether he truly represents people in his district.

At one point, a woman asked him: “With your values, are you a liar?”

“No,” Burgess responded.

Just a portion of the town hall focused on immigrant families, largely Central Americans, who are fleeing their countries and heading to the United States hoping to find asylum. A policy by President Trump’s administration has resulted in many children being separated from their families at the border.

One constituent, who noted that Burgess’ town hall meeting was held in a church, asked if stopping migrants at the border and keeping them in shelters some call inhumane, is Christ-like.

Burgess asked the constituent for a solution.

“Tell us the plan,” Burgess said “Tell us the legislation you are proposing. … We have a lot of Democrats complaining about this. I have not seen anyone forthcoming with any legislation” to make the situation better.

“Suffer the little children” Forester yelled from the back of the room.

After the town hall wrapped up, Burgess told the Star-Telegram that he has made five trips to the border this year trying to find a way to improve the crisis.

“It’s a tough problem,” he said, especially when “you have people more interested in the political problem than they are interested in the solution.”

August recess

Earlier in the day, U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, updated constituents about the border crisis as he spoke at the Alvarado Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

He said it’s not a “made-up crisis.”

“We want people to realize the (American) dream, but realize it legally,” he said. “We need to get it under control.”

Williams also talked about wanting to make Trump’s tax cuts permanent, and how Congress has until 2025 to do just that.

When Williams, whose district stretches from Tarrant County through Austin, was asked about skyrocketing property taxes and the potential of a state income tax, he noted that those are state issues.

He said state officials need to make sure property taxes don’t get out of control and that he doesn’t believe Texans will ever approve a personal income tax.

At issue for some is a proposed change to the Texas Constitution that will be on the ballot this November. Proposition 4, also known as House Joint Resolution 38, would prevent the state from imposing an individual income tax on Texans. If the proposition fails, that does not mean an income tax would be levied on Texans. It would just mean that there isn’t specific language in the Constitution preventing an income tax.

“We’re not going to have a state income tax in Texas,” Williams said Thursday, prompting applause and sighs of relief from the crowd.

Congressional outreach

Here’s a look at how some other local congressional members are reaching out to constituents.

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, will hold a town hall in Fort Worth from 6-7:30 p.m. Aug. 15 at the TCC Opportunity Center, 5901 Fitzhugh Ave., and one in Dallas from 6-7:30 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Anita Martinez Recreation Center, 3212 N. Winnetka Ave.

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, said he’s trying to plan tele-town halls and, if possible, in-person town halls as well. And staff for U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, say plans are underway for local outreach.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, hasn’t held publicly advertised town halls in years and her Washington, D.C., office did not respond to Star-Telegram requests about whether there would be any scheduled this year. She is scheduled to speak at a private Leaders in Government luncheon in Fort Worth on Aug. 21.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.