A raucous and opinionated collection of supporters and detractors from the tri-county area grilled Republican Rep. Tom McClintock Wednesday at the Sonora High School Auditorium in Sonora, the latest in a series of town hall meetings the congressman has staged.
A packed house waited for McClintock to hit the stage, with an estimated 300 to 400 additional attendees outside, awaiting their chance to float their questions and concerns. To accommodate the overflow crowd, McClintock split the meeting into two, hour-and-a-half-long meetings.
McClintock, who has faced condemnation by some for his support of President Donald Trump’s policies, opened his fourth session since Trump took office almost a month ago, with words of unity and togetherness.
“That is the great discussion that controls the future of our nation,” said McClintock. “It always works so long that we’re talking with each other, (rather) than talking at each other, and it is in that spirit that I thank all of you for being here.”
The Sonora town hall meeting was far friendlier than McClintock’s meeting in Roseville a few weeks prior, which resulted in the representative being escorted from the event by Roseville Police Department officers as protestors outside the building proved too concerning for officials who organized the event. In an interview with reporters after the event, McClintock allegedly warned of an “anarchist element” at the event whose sole purpose was to disrupt the meeting. The departure put McClintock at odds with some at the event and those who felt offended by the comments didn’t wait long to let the congressman know.
Laura Lowell of Vallecito, was the first member of the audience in Sonora to ask a question, but before doing so, addressed McClintock’s “anarchist” comment.
“I appreciate your service and you representing us in Congress,” Lowell began. “I don’t so much appreciate being called an anarchist. I am a mom, an American and a concerned citizen.”
McClintock said that his quote about an “anarchist element” was taken out of context and misshapen by the press following the interview after the Roseville meeting.
“One of the great frustrations in public life is you don’t always get quoted completely or fairly by the press,” McClintock said. The statement was followed by a chorus of boos and scattered applause from the crowd.
McClintock said that he made it clear to reporters after the Roseville meeting that he felt the majority of the attendees were fine, law-abiding citizens who were exercising their democratic rights, but, “unfortunately … my comment was simply left out of the articles.”
Attention quickly shifted toward McClintock’s support of Trump. The congressman was pressed on a number of topics, with questions spurring the most ruckus being those centered on alleged ties between Trump and Russia, illegal immigration and the Affordable Care Act.
The Sonora meeting was better attended to a greater extent than McClintock’s town hall at the Calaveras County Water District boardroom in San Andreas in August. The Sonora session post-Election Day featured a far more divided atmosphere. People took the meeting as an opportunity to voice their displeasures or support of the Trump administration’s actions following inauguration day. The Sonora meeting had many more interruptions, more infighting and a wider range of topics than the previous town hall gathering.
“I realize that there are a lot of people concerned about the election,” said McClintock. “But just as many people that disagreed with the (Barack) Obama administration disagree with the Trump administration.”
District 4, which McClintock serves, is a majority Republication district that stretches from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park. McClintock earned re-election in November after receiving almost 63 percent of the vote. Trump won the district by a shorter margin, 54.4 percent.
“What is the specific allegation that you think he should be investigated for?” McClintock asked after being grilled by an audience member if he would support a bipartisan investigation.
“The issue is, we don’t know what we don’t know,” Rosa Calderon responded. “That begs investigation. If it turns out nothing was done that is against the rules, great, let us know that.”
McClintock took a firm stance that he would not support an investigation because he feels the allegations were not egregious enough to warrant a costly investigation authorized by Congress. He held fast that actions taken by the Trump campaign before the election were not unlike those taken by presidential candidates in the past.
“If that is the big concern, I don’t think that an investigation that would take up an awful lot of (Congress’) bandwidth is the best,” he added.
On health care, comments by McClintock alluded to a perceived “mandate” to overhaul medical care in the nation, alongside strengthening the border and stimulating job growth, but an audience member rejected the notion.
“10 million people have voted against Trump, so that doesn’t seem to me like much of a mandate,” said Beverly Hopper of Amador County.
Hopper, who held a sign with the words, “Obamacare saved my daughter’s life” for the majority of the night, said that she was concerned that a pledged repeal of the Affordable Care Act would leave people without access to health care.
“There are people speaking up at town halls across America voicing their concerns about health care,” she said.
McClintock defended a list of bullet points issued last week by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., outlining how health care could be funded in the upcoming weeks. The most notable of the changes is that people would qualify for tax credits based on age, instead of income.
“Ultimately, we are going to be judged on how we improve health care in this country,” McClintock said. “No, we don’t want to leave anyone in a lurch,”
McClintock’s comments that Planned Parenthood suggested and encouraged abortions to patients who later regretted their decisions also drew mixed reactions from the divided crowd. Some speakers took to the microphone to rebuke the congressman on his comments.
Julie Orth of Sonora, said that the reason she hasn’t needed an abortion is because she had access to Planned Parenthood.
Shirley Campbell warned the congressman that, “I, and millions of women in this country, will not be pushed back, sir.”
Frankie West worked with Planned Parenthood for three years and said that it is not the organization's goal to suggest abortions to those seeking medical care and advice.
McClintock said that he has personally heard numerous stories to the contrary.
A woman from Groveland questioned McClintock on possible ways to stop a push by Democrats to protect “sanctuary cities” in California. A bill would create a border-to-border sanctuary in California for undocumented immigrants, effectively turning California into the first “sanctuary state.”
McClintock suggested that states that defy federal law should be subject to federal defunding, and that sentiment was shared by a number his colleague in Congress.
“I think there is a strong consensus in Congress that any state that does not enforce federal laws should not receive federal funds,” he said in response.
McClintock stood firm on his longstanding belief that scientific findings on climate change were not strong enough at this point to warrant stringent climate change laws, but did not go so far as to refer to himself as a climate change denier.
McClintock voiced a need to thin-out environmental laws in an effort to promote employment opportunities through work projects that are currently wrapped up in “red tape.”
“If it’s going to say human activity is the cause, it must explain why there were periods of warming and cooling prior to the invention of the combustion engine,” McClintock said.
The congressman assured the audience that he is opposed to fracking in national parks like nearby Yosemite, but was not opposed to opening fracking operations in the Alaskan tundra. McClintock’s comments on fracking drew derision from the crowd, some of which shouted “Impeach” and “Protect the environment” at the congressman.
Unlike the meeting in Roseville on Feb. 4, the Sonora town hall was packed with those clearly in support of Trump and McClintock. While plenty of the signs in the crowd read, “Dump Tom McTrump,” “Impeach Comrade Trump” and “Hands off Medicare and Social Security,” just as many signs read words of encouragement for McClintock and President Trump and their platforms.
A small collection of people in affiliation with the State of Jefferson movement filled out the first three rows of the center aisle of the auditorium to show support for McClintock. Aaron Nasorow, a Tuolumne County resident involved in the movement – an effort to fix perceived voting imbalance issues in the state by creating a new state made up of mostly rural areas in southern Oregon and Northern California – said that he and his fellow State of Jefferson supporters were at the meeting simply to show support for McClintock.
Charlie Habekost, of Sonora, said that he wasn’t involved with politics in the past, but protests and “pushback” to Trump’s election galvanized him to the point of participating in the meeting. “Pushback on the pushback,” he said.
McClintock received numerous acknowledgments for standing in the furnace to take comments, good or bad, from the people in his district.
A San Andreas resident stood to thank McClintock for his service and to encourage the congressman to continue his work in Washington, D.C. Another resident thanked McClintock for keeping with town hall meetings while so many of his colleagues have decided to stop because of the increasing pressure from protesters. That same person offered a far more critical comment shortly after offering her praise.