Democrats cap­i­tal­ize on GOP no-shows

Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers join wave of ‘empty chair’ town halls in bid to re­gain House.

Los Angeles Times - - ESSENTIAL POLITICS - By Chris­tine Mai-Duc chris­tine.maiduc@la­times.com See video from the event and read more about the meet­ing in Rohrabacher’s district at la­times.com/es­sen­tialpol­i­tics. For on­go­ing cov­er­age of town halls and con­gres­sional races, sign up for our free politic

Rep. Linda Sanchez at­tended a town hall Thurs­day night, but it wasn’t on her home turf.

The Demo­crat ap­peared at a fo­rum for con­stituents of Repub­li­can Rep. Ed Royce of Fuller­ton at the in­vi­ta­tion of lib­eral groups work­ing to oust him next year.

Royce was in­vited but de­clined to at­tend the event, the lat­est in a series of “empty chair” town halls or­ga­nized by con­stituents clam­or­ing for face time with GOP mem­bers of Congress.

With most au­di­ence mem­bers in agree­ment with Sanchez’s left-lean­ing pol­icy po­si­tions, the event unfolded more like a strat­egy ses­sion for lib­eral ac­tivists look­ing to take back the House in 2018.

Field­ing ques­tions on fight­ing ef­forts to re­peal Oba­macare, stop­ping de­por­ta­tions of im­mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion, Sanchez re­peat­edly cir­cled back to the im­por­tance of the midterm elec­tions next year.

“The only way we move a pro­gres­sive agenda is if we get a ma­jor­ity back, that’s the first step,” Sanchez told a crowd of about 200 peo­ple in a Fuller­ton com­mu­nity cen­ter. “We have to be smart and think about how do we in­crease the num­ber of mem­bers of Congress that ... can get us that run to win the ball­game and that’s what we need to fo­cus on in the 2018 elec­tion cy­cle.”

Also in at­ten­dance were Assem­bly­woman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fuller­ton), who rep­re­sents part of Royce’s district, and sev­eral can­di­dates hop­ing to un­seat him, in­clud­ing Democrats Phil Janow­icz, Mai Khanh Tran, Sam Jam­mal and Gil Cis­neros and in­de­pen­dent can­di­date Julio Cas­taneda. They shook hands with at­ten­dees, and some posed ques­tions to Sanchez and Quirk-Silva.

Royce spokesman Steven Smith said the con­gress­man at­tended an­other event Thurs­day night, but Smith wouldn’t describe the na­ture of that meet­ing, cit­ing se­cu­rity rea­sons.

He said the con­gress­man would be meet­ing one-onone with lo­cal groups through­out Au­gust and that con­stituents can reach out to his of­fice via email, letters and phone calls.

Dave Gil­liard, Royce’s cam­paign con­sul­tant, said Demo­cratic mem­bers of Congress would “be bet­ter served” stay­ing in their own dis­tricts. “A mem­ber of Congress from an­other district that [vot­ers] haven’t heard of isn’t going to help mat­ters much.”

Sanchez is the lat­est Demo­crat in Congress to cross district lines and field ques­tions at a nearby col­league’s town hall. On Tues­day, Rep. Ted Lieu re­ceived a hero’s wel­come at a meet­ing or­ga­nized by lo­cal ac­tivists hop­ing to un­seat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa.

Ear­lier this year, New York Rep. Sean Pa­trick Maloney chal­lenged his Demo­cratic col­leagues to go “into ev­ery district where a Repub­li­can who sup­ported Trump­care won’t hold a town hall meet­ing and do it for them.”

Rep. Judy Chu of Mon­terey Park at­tended a sim­i­lar event in Rep. Steve Knight’s Los An­ge­les County district in June.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi has qui­etly en­cour­aged such ef­forts in pri­vate meet­ings, ac­cord­ing to a con­gres­sional aide fa­mil­iar with the meet­ings who asked not to be named be­cause the aide is not per­mit­ted to speak to re­porters. So far, Demo­cratic law­mak­ers have par­tic­i­pated in at least 13 “adopt-a-district” town hall meet­ings, ac­cord­ing to Town Hall Project, a pro­gres­sive group that tracks and pub­li­cizes town halls. There have been 96 emp­ty­chair town halls without Repub­li­cans.

In an in­ter­view be­fore Thurs­day’s fo­rum, Sanchez said she thinks more Democrats should par­tic­i­pate in town halls in neigh­bor­ing dis­tricts if they’re in­vited. “Clearly there’s a hunger for in­for­ma­tion on the part of the pub­lic about how to be en­gaged po­lit­i­cally,” said Sanchez, who rep­re­sents the 38th Con­gres­sional District, which borders Royce’s district and in­cludes Whit­tier and Lake­wood.

Royce rep­re­sents one of sev­eral Repub­li­can dis­tricts won by Hil­lary Clin­ton in last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and is one of the Democrats’ top pri­or­i­ties for the midterms. Al­though po­lit­i­cal prog­nos­ti­ca­tors gen­er­ally re­gard Royce as fairly safe, the num­ber of reg­is­tered Democrats in the Orange County district has been in­creas­ing, and Repub­li­cans’ voter regis­tra­tion edge is now less than 2%.

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

ASSEM­BLY­WOMAN Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fuller­ton), left, and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Whit­tier) ap­pear at a town hall held by lib­eral ac­tivists in the district of Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fuller­ton), who did not at­tend.

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