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BLOOMINGTON — In the face of protesters asking U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood for a town hall meeting in Bloomington-Normal, his office is considering it — and a group behind the protests might hold one either way.

"The congressman does not have any public town halls scheduled but will weigh options that present an opportunity and environment that would allow for constructive conversations regarding issues facing the 18th District," said JD D'Alfonso, communications director for the Dunlap Republican, on Thursday.

If LaHood doesn't schedule a meeting, local advocacy group Voices of Reason is prepared to schedule one, invite LaHood and then leave "an empty chair" on stage if he doesn't attend, said co-founder Jodie Slothower.

"People are frustrated and would like a dialogue with their congressman," she said. "We don't think that's a lot to ask."

Such a meeting is unlikely during the current congressional recess, which was for the week of Presidents Day. A two-week recess is scheduled for April.

Voices of Reason hosted two gatherings Thursday to push for town hall meetings on the Affordable Care Act: one in the morning outside Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville's office in uptown Normal and one in the afternoon outside LaHood's office in east Bloomington.

The Twin Cities are divided between the two districts.

Ashley Phelps, communications director for Davis, reiterated that he will not host a town hall meeting about the ACA but "held a tele-town hall on this very issue last week," for which his office "called 120,000 people and 7,500 were able to participate." She said she suspects many protesters participated.

"They don’t want to have productive conversations. They want to shout at rallies and be covered by the media," she said of the protesters. "Congressman Davis has a bill that would protect people with pre-existing conditions from losing their health coverage, something this group claims to care about, but the simple fact is these are campaign rallies being pushed by Democrats."

Illinois People's Action also hosted a protest last week in uptown Normal to call for a town hall meeting with Davis. 

When asked if IPA might schedule a town hall meeting locally, Executive Director Don Carlson said the group is "looking at the next recess mid-April."

"Anticipating some tangible policies on the table... it will be critical for Rep. Davis to hear from constituents to inform his position," Carlson said. "Telephone conference calls don't count."

Protesters outside LaHood's office chanted, "This is what democracy looks like" and "We cannot keep quiet."

"I couldn't come up with a better example of the breakdown of the Republican Party than going from Ray LaHood to Darin," said Zak Boerger of Normal, referring to Darin's father and predecessor in the 18th District. "Ray would meet with us. His son doesn't seem concerned."

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Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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Normal and McLean County Reporter

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