Pressure for town halls ratchets up; Issa not biting - San Diego Union-Tribune
by Teri Figueoa
Republican Congressman Darrell Issa isn’t bowing to growing demands from some constituents that he hold an in-person town hall in his district next week while he and other representatives are home on a congressional break.
The push for a face-to-face event is being led mostly by protesters concerned about the policies of President Donald Trump, and it echoes similar requests facing Republican leaders nationwide including Rep. Duncan Hunter of Alpine.
Some GOP congressmen who’ve held recent town halls have been met with angry crowds, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who was booed by constituents at a Feb. 9 gathering, and Rep. Tom McClintock of the Northern California town of Roseville who on Feb. 4 was escorted by police officers from his standing-room-only town hall.
In San Diego County, the focus on Issa has been especially pointed — hundreds of people have protested weekly outside his office, and have organized their own town hall in Vista set for Tuesday night, raising $6,000 for a full-page newspaper ad urging Issa to be there.
Issa spokesman Calvin Moore said Wednesday the congressman is busy that night with a “long-standing obligation” to tour a local homeless shelter. He said Issa held a recent telephonic town hall that drew 6,000 participants and that he’s planning another one later this month, but no large in-person forums are planned in the 49th district in the near future.
Protesters say the phone meetings are ineffective, and that a face-to-face gathering is the best way for Issa to gauge what’s important to his constituents.
“We are not just Democrats trying to get a Republican to a town hall,” said Ellen Montanari, one of the organizers of the Vista gathering. “There are also people who ... don’t like what they are seeing with immigration and Planned Parenthood and the environment.”
Still, Issa may not be wrong to skip it, at least one expert said.
Carl Luna, a political science professor at San Diego’s Mesa College, said in-person town halls can be a “lose-lose situation” for a politician.
“If people are trying to push you in a direction you don’t want to go, you don’t show up and they attack you,” he said. “You do show up, and you get beaten up.”
Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at UC San Diego, said even politicians in safe seats may choose to avoid town halls, fearing a tense event like Chaffetz faced even in his reliably red district.
“You can imagine some Republicans saying ‘Why bother?’ Those people are not going to vote for me anyway,” he said.
But, he said, representatives brush off protesters and town hall requests “at their peril.”
“They are whistling in the dark if they think this is all ginned up by left-wing organizations,” he said, “because it does represent that real people are really worried.”
Issa may be especially vulnerable. In the Nov. 8 election, the nine-term congressman only narrowly defeated challenger Doug Applegate, winning re-election by just .6 points — roughly 1,600 votes. The National Republican Congressional Committee has already promised extra help in the 2018 campaign to help him retain his seat.
Moore said Issa very much wants to hear from his constituents, and works hard to reach out to them. In addition to the telephonic town halls, he holds live forums on Facebook and sends out email surveys to explore voter priorities, including healthcare and executive orders.
Like others in San Diego’s congressional delegation, he said, Issa routinely visits with voters and appears at scores of events throughout the year, including touring businesses and attending festivals. Just before the November election, Issa participated in two town hall meetings in San Clemente and Oceanside that were focused on sober-living homes — though the audience was free to ask off-topic questions, Moore said.
But the political climate has become considerably more heated in the past two months, and McClintock is the only GOP representative in the state to have hosted an in-person town hall since the November election, according to a report by San Francisco public TV and radio station KQED. Meanwhile, nearly half of California’s 38 congressional Democrats have held in-person forums since the election, or are planning them.
Hunter, the 50th-district congressman from Alpine, will hold a town hall “or several” later this year, his spokesman Joe Kasper said — but it won’t be next week.
“.. He’ll most certainly have a town hall, but it’ll be in accordance to a schedule that works for others, too, and not just a single group of folks,” Kasper said.
Democratic Rep. Scott Peters — who is likely to face a more welcoming crowd — is hosting a small town hall Monday at the San Diego Islamic Center, and has another one planned in his 52nd district on March 13. The Monday event is in response to requests from new groups that have formed under Indivisible, a grassroots guide to advocacy created by former Democratic congressional staffers.
“Because of the Trump election, there is a new demand for (town halls),” Peters said Wednesday. “We would (have been) doing them all the time if there was a demand for it. Now, it is clear that there is.”
He and fellow Democrat Susan Davis, D-San Diego, will also team up on an event — coordinated and financed by their election campaigns, not congressional offices — on Wednesday night in response to a flood of requests from constituents who want to fight the Trump agenda but are new to politics. Reservations are already full for that gathering at a roughly 700-seat venue at Liberty Station.
Issa’s largest town hall in recent memory was in Vista was in 2009, as the tea party movement was starting to gel. A crowd of roughly 4,700 attended that gathering, which focused on healthcare and the then-proposed Affordable Care Act. Many of the attendees vehemently opposed the act, which came to be known as Obamacare, and much of the crowd cheered the congressman when he said the proposal should be tossed.