Rep. Jeff Denham made a rare public appearance Tuesday, addressing the Latino Community Roundtable in Modesto while a sign-waving crowd of about 50 people protested outside.
Denham, a Republican first elected in 2010, is in a re-election battle with Democratic challenger Josh Harder, who was not present. Harder has accused Denham of ducking opportunities to greet constituents, and both say the other won’t agree to debate.
Denham ignored those outside while delivering a prepared presentation, mostly focused on immigration and water policy, his signature talking points. In a subsequent question-and-answer period, moderator Angelica Anguiano noted that “many feel you are not available to the community.”
“It’s a political time right now. I get it,” Denham responded. “Protests don’t help people in my district. A conversation helps people in my district.”
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He added, “When I get an invitation, I say `yes.’”
District 10 covers Stanislaus County and the southern part of San Joaquin County, and voter registration is about evenly split between both parties. Analysts have designated Denham as among the most vulnerable of House Republicans, as Democrats try to win back a majority there and in the Senate in the November midterm election.
Outside Modesto’s Red Events Center on Eighth Street, people chanted “fake farmer” and “children do not belong in cages” before Denham arrived. Signs ranged from slogans such as “it’s time to go” to equating Denham with President Donald Trump.
About a dozen groups, led by the recently formed Modesto Progressive Democratic Club, rallied protestors. Organizer Lisa Battista said she was satisfied with the turnout.
Responding to a question inside, Denham said he would not make “false promises” about legislative immigration reform. He recently led an unusual effort to force a House vote, defying GOP leadership in the process, before settling for a vote that failed on a Republican-crafted compromise bill.
“It’s going to take both parties working together,” Denham said.
He noted legislation he has authored aimed at helping immigrants who serve in the U.S. military to gain citizenship. “There is no greater act of patriotism,” he said.
More questions on immigration policy came from the audience, screened by LCR organizers and read by Anguiano, and Denham answered every one. Someone wanted to know what he thought, for example, about Trump’s threat to shut down portions of the federal government if the new budget doesn’t contain funding for a wall on the Mexican border.
“I don’t think we should ever resort to threats,” Denham said. “Holding the country hostage on funding is not the way to go.”
Another asked why, in a Modesto Bee article last week, he had praised a Pleasant Hill detention center holding girls who had been separated from their parents upon arriving in the United States without permission. Denham said he was simply responding to a reporter’s question about conditions of the facility, which he deemed good enough for his own children. Children who had braved desert heat and other deprivations now had access to taxpayer-funded clothing, schooling and foosball tables, he said.
Another asked Denham’s opinion of sanctuary cities, which have refused to make rounding up illegal immigrants easier for federal agents. Denham said such defiance sets “a bad precedent.”
Denham, who owns a small almond orchard near Turlock, also said he doesn’t support tariffs that hurt valley farmers.
Those attending Tuesday’s LCR luncheon paid $20 for the event, which included a buffet meal. A table was set up for those not eating who wanted to hear Denham’s message.
He has taken heat for not hosting an open town hall meeting in 16 months. After 48 minutes of presenting and answering questions, Denham concluded by saying, “You keep inviting me, I’ll keep coming.”
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390
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