Tea partyers petition Dem lawmaker to move office to make protests easier

A Christian civil liberties organization on Thursday asked centrist Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello (D) to move his home district office to a location more favorable to protesters.

The Rutherford Institute, which was founded by conservative constitutional lawyer John W. Whitehead, penned a letter to the freshman Perriello citing the concerns of a local tea party group and the University of Virginia College Republicans that the location of his Charlottesville office interferes with their right to protest there.

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"Unfortunately, it is your choice of office location that has hindered the ability of citizens to effectively communicate concerning issues of the utmost importance to you, Congress and the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia," wrote Whitehead.

"The First Amendment clearly guarantees individuals the right to speak out publicly and address their government representatives on the important issues of the day," Whitehead added. 

Perriello has come under fire from conservatives for his vote for healthcare reform legislation in November. Protesters had lobbied his office for weeks leading up to the vote.

Whitehead's letter says that conservative protesters have been told they they would be considered trespassers if they "dare to demonstrate on political issues while in the parking lot to [Perriello's] office." There are reportedly several private businesses near Perriello's office.

Perriello spokeswoman Jessica Barba, however, said that the office has hosted tea party protesters and other concerned constituents inside the office but that other businesses need the parking space outside for their customers.

Barba added that Perriello hosted 21 town hall meetings in August and that his office has offered to post a staffer at a Charlotesville public square to hear protesters there.

"You cannot fault [Perriello] for not being accessible," she said. "The congressman has been consistently supportive of hearing those who oppose his positions."

Barba also pointed out that the congressman's lease on the office space does not expire until Jan. 2011.

Whitehead gained national recognition for taking up Paula Jones's sexual harassment suit against former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. 

Perriello unseated six-term incumbent Virgil Goode (R) in 2008 and is considered vulnerable in the 2010 midterm elections.

This post was updated at 1:09 p.m.