Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, defended his stands on health care, immigration and other issues Monday night at a town hall meeting that often got heated.
About 1,000 supporters and detractors filled the Larsa Banquet Hall, just east of Turlock, for the long-awaited event. Critics have said Denham took too long to schedule it following the election of President Donald Trump in November.
Many speakers raised concerns over the 2 1/2 -hour meeting about Republican plans to boost defense spending while cutting environmental, arts and many other programs.
“Why not feed the hungry instead of more dollars for war?” Myrna Wachs of Turlock asked.
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The meeting was the latest in the Government Night series put on by Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa. It also featured Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth and state Assemblyman Heath Flora, R-Ripon, but they did not get nearly as many questions as Denham.
Several were about the Affordable Care Act, a signature achievement of former President Barack Obama. Denham said the likely replacement would maintain some features of Obamacare, including coverage for pre-existing conditions and the ability to stay on parents’ plans until age 26.
Denham said he continues to work on immigration reform that would provide guest workers while bringing undocumented people “out of the shadows.”
(See video of Government Night below)
Andrew Nosrati of Turlock urged renewable energy in place of fossil fuels and asked Denham whether he believed climate change is real.
“Yes, I believe in climate change,” the congressman said, but he added he favors an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy sources. He said this could include hydropower from increased water storage. He also favors thinning overly dense forests to reduce the wildfire risk, which would yield wood chips for generating electricity.
Denham noted his work toward a French Camp center for veteran health care so patients do not have to drive long distances.
“High-speed rail would fix that,” one critic yelled, aware of Denham’s opposition to this project. Later in the meeting, he said the rail concept might be good but it is way over budget and has deviated from the ballot measure approved by state voters.
Many GOP members of Congress have held lively town halls in the months since Trump was elected. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, whose huge district includes Tuolumne County, has had several.
Monday’s event featured no physical clashes as people lined up in a light rain to enter the hall. They did have to leave signs and banners outside for security reasons.
“We’re here to represent dissent against the Trump administration and his demagogic and reckless policies, and we’re also here to propose alternatives to policies,” said Naramsen Goriel, a member of Indivisible Stanislaus.
Bronson Harmon, a high school student in Modesto, had another motive. “I’m here to support Jeff Denham and the politics he puts out to the public,” he said. “... These liberals like to hate a lot, but people don’t know anything.”
Denham was interrupted often by boos and shouts from the crowd, but he finished with words of gratitude.
“I want to thank you for allowing us to have a civil discussion and giving us an opportunity to actually answer questions,” he said.
John Holland: 209-578-2385