U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers wasn’t at the town hall scheduled for her Tuesday evening, but that didn’t stop 800 people from packing into the auditorium on the main floor of the former Masonic Temple in downtown Spokane.
More than 30 people spoke on numerous topics, including the Affordable Care Act, environment and increasing signs of bigotry. The large room frequently echoed with applause and cheers as people leapt to their feet to voice their enthusiastic agreement with the speakers. Those who could not speak wrote their comments down to be conveyed to Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers.
Three of McMorris Rodgers’ staffers, including District Director Traci Couture, were there to listen and take notes. Couture said McMorris Rodgers appreciates constructive debates.
“In these times it’s important to remember what unites us and what we have in common,” Couture said.
The event was hosted by Fuse Washington, which campaigns for “progressive policies.”
Fuse Program Director Jim Dawson said he was pleased by the turnout and was grateful that McMorris Rodgers’ staffers were there.
“We really do appreciate the staff taking time out of their busy schedule to be here tonight, but we also know that’s not enough,” he said.
McMorris Rodgers is back in Washington, D.C., this week. While on break last week, she was criticized for not holding a town hall meeting in person. She did, however, answer 17 questions in a town-hall-style conference call in which constituents could participate.
Most of the evening was given over to the citizens who came to the microphone and read their written statements or spoke passionately off the cuff. Several urged McMorris Rodgers to push for the release of Trump’s tax returns and for an independent investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia.
People spoke in favor of saving the Affordable Care Act and keeping coverage for pre-existing conditions without a lifetime cap. A local high school student of Syrian descent spoke of being bullied at school because of her ethnicity. She urged the government to “stop spreading lies that we are terrorists.”
“We are in reality hardworking, loyal and taxpaying citizens,” she said.
Brian Henning, a Gonzaga University professor, spoke for the need of science-based policymaking for global warming. The month of February this year has set a record for the number of high temperature records shattered, he said.
“This is an actual fact based on actual science,” he said.
Verla Spencer, an African-American woman who has lived in Spokane for 15 years and has seven children, spoke of the increasing climate of racism and hate. She said she has spent her life teaching her children to love others and be kind but her children don’t see that reciprocated.
“I will not be silent,” she said. “I will not stand by and let my children live in fear because of the color of their skin.”
Another woman said Trump seems to encourage the growing hate. “How can we support that?” she said. “How can Cathy support that? I love Spokane. I choose Spokane. Does Cathy?”
Bill Siems, a retired Washington State University professor, spoke out against Trump’s characterization of the media as an “enemy of the people.”
“I believe in the existence of facts,” he said. “Facts are verifiable. They’re true for everyone, everywhere.”
But there are those who selectively choose which facts they use or outright invent them, he said.
“My government seems to be in the process of propagating falsehoods,” Siems said. “I call on my congresswoman to please stand up for the existence of facts. We depend on facts.”
The night ended with Charles Thomas, who identified himself as a retired medical provider and a Vietnam veteran. He said he finds a disconnect between what Republicans say they want to do and their actions.
“It doesn’t match what’s going on,” he said. “The words sound really good.”
Thomas choked up while attempting to close his comments by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The crowd stepped in, thundering “with liberty and justice for all” in unison.
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