Beneath a faux missing persons sign Wednesday night in downtown Spokane, residents disaffected with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and the policies of President Donald Trump held court in a display becoming typical across the country.
“This is Spokane, the liberal bastion of the district,” said Cynthia Hamilton, a local organizer and Vietnam War era veteran, to the roughly 130 people who filled a meeting room at the downtown public library. “If we can’t get together here, we can’t get together anywhere.”
Attendees railed on Trump for his policies on immigration, health care, education and the rights of transgender people, most of them eschewing the town hall questioning format and speaking directly to a camera operated by event organizer Sam Smith, a second-year Gonzaga law school student, who pledged to send the video to the congresswoman’s staff. They also chided McMorris Rodgers for failing to appear.
“How much would it have hurt her to be here and listen?” Hamilton said after the event. “We’re more likely to make her a batch of cookies, and we would ask her if she was allergic to nuts.”
Many attendees said they’d use the congresswoman’s ties to Trump to defeat her at the polls in two years. City Council President Ben Stuckart, who has announced his candidacy against McMorris Rodgers for the seat, attended the event and spoke briefly to the crowd, saying he was there to listen but offered a defense of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid.
McMorris Rodgers did not attend Wednesday night’s event, after spending the day in Olympia on a planned trip to the Washington Legislature to meet with state lawmakers.
The congresswoman was one of several GOP lawmakers opting to hold a “telephone” town hall this week, answering questions screened by staff on a conference call, rather than a live event. In an interview earlier this week, McMorris Rodgers said she wanted to ensure meetings with constituents were “collaborative and constructive.”
“I’ve held town halls in the past, and I will hold town halls in the future,” the congresswoman said Monday.
Dissatisfied constituents nationwide have turned out at public events held by Republican lawmakers to combat Trump’s policies. Those representatives that have opted to hold traditional meetings have faced stiff opposition from organized political opponents that at times seem inspired by the tactics of disaffected right-leaning voters who turned out in droves after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008.
In Denver this week, the activists targeted Republican Sen. Cory Gardner – denouncing him as inaccessible and beaming a picture of him fashioned into a “Missing” poster to a wall of the Denver Art Museum while protesting Trump’s plans to boost energy production on public lands.
Gardner “is supposed to represent us, but where is he?” said Emma Spett, a 22-year-old environmental activist from Denver who says she’s “terrified” of environmental policy changes backed by Trump.
In Montana, Republican Sen. Steve Daines got waylaid with boos and jeers from hundreds of protesters just for rescheduling an appearance before state lawmakers in Helena from Tuesday to Wednesday.
“What a coward!” said Katherine Haque-Hausrath, a protest organizer who demanded he meet with constituents. “If he doesn’t listen to us now, he can listen to us in 2020 in the election.”
In Nebraska, Republican Rep. Don Bacon said in an interview that he plans no town hall meetings for now because he sees no point in them turning into forums for people who want to disrupt the events.
“What about the average person, whether or not they agree with me, that’s in the audience? They want to have a dialogue,” he said. “What I’m seeing, and I’m seeing it all over the country, is people grab the microphone, and don’t give it back.”
While there has been a feverish cry for McMorris Rodgers and other Republicans to hold town hall meetings, at least one of Washington’s Democratic senators also has declined to make such appearances during the recess.
Sen. Patty Murray said she has no town hall meetings scheduled for this week while she’s in the state during the weeklong break from congressional action in Washington, D.C. Planning one would have been difficult because the Senate wasn’t sure when it would break from work on presidential nominations and Republican efforts to repeal rules from the previous administration.
She usually comes back to the state most weekends, but that hasn’t been possible lately because of the pace of work in the Senate. When she goes back next week she’s not sure when the next break will be but “I don’t expect we’ll be out of session any time soon.”
Murray doesn’t often hold town hall meetings and doesn’t have one on the calendar. She said those are easier for House members, who have smaller districts than for senators who have the whole state, and she finds meetings with smaller groups more productive. She has those scheduled this week, along with meeting with Gov. Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and members of the Legislature.
“My best way of getting information is to go and find people who are affected (by issues or policies) and get their individual stories,” she said.
Staff writers Kip Hill and Jim Camden contributed to this report. Associated Press reporter Kristen Wyatt wrote from Denver.
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