GOP con­gress­man gets an ear­ful

Hos­til­ity over the health­care fight marks Rep. Doug LaMalfa’s town hall in Chico.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - PHIL WILLON phil.willon@la­ Twit­ter: @philwillon

SACRAMENTO — “May you die in pain.”

That was the nas­ti­est mo­ment of Re­pub­li­can Rep. Doug LaMalfa’s early morn­ing town hall in Chico on Monday.

The wish was ut­tered by an older man who crit­i­cized LaMalfa for vot­ing for the House GOP plan to re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act. He also held a pink sign that read: “Lackey for the Rich!”

The open hos­til­ity and in­tran­si­gence in­side the Chico Elks Lodge came as the po­lit­i­cal di­vide in the coun­try has grown more in­flamed, with Pres­i­dent Trump’s elec­tion un­leash­ing a wave of both lib­eral ac­tivism and con­ser­va­tive em­pow­er­ment.

As a re­sult, Wash­ing­ton’s deeply par­ti­san fights over is­sues such as health­care, im­mi­gra­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions have fol­lowed mem­bers of Congress home, turn­ing once se­date town halls into in­y­our-face vent­ing ses­sions that in left-lean­ing Cal­i­for­nia have Re­pub­li­can House mem­bers on the de­fen­sive.

LaMalfa stood his ground on­stage as per­son af­ter per­son ripped into him for his votes and po­si­tions on health­care and cli­mate change, as well as for his unyield­ing sup­port for Trump.

A few speak­ers asked LaMalfa to re­sign, in­clud­ing one dressed as the “Wicked Witch of the West Coast.”

Most of the com­ments and ques­tions dur­ing the hour-long town hall were fairly cor­dial, al­though they were laced with plenty of boos and cat­calls.

Norma Wil­cox, a re­tired nurse who lives in Chico, also ques­tioned LaMalfa’s health­care vote. Wil­cox told LaMalfa the House plan would take away health­care for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans while pro­vid­ing tax breaks to the rich.

“I am open to new ideas,” LaMalfa told her, de­scrib­ing the House GOP bill as a place­holder that every­one ex­pected to be im­proved dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Se­nate. (The Se­nate’s health­care ef­forts now ap­pear dead.)

But the Rich­vale con­gress­man, who rep­re­sents Cal­i­for­nia’s mas­sive 1st Con­gres­sional Dis­trict in the north­east cor­ner of the state, said he will sup­port only a new health­care pro­gram that pro­vides af­ford­able cov­er­age to mid­dle­class Amer­i­cans.

LaMalfa said Oba­macare is quickly be­come un­af­ford­able and un­sus­tain­able, with pre­mium costs ris­ing and the num­ber of in­sur­ance com­pa­nies of­fer­ing cov­er­age de­clin­ing.

“Peo­ple across the board are be­ing hurt by this,” LaMalfa said.

When shouts and boos rained down on him, he chas­tised the crowd: “I have the mic, folks. Yep, boo away.”

Ann Sis­ney of Chico told LaMalfa that her son, Wil­liam, died of an opi­oid over­dose two years ago. She held up a pic­ture of the 19-year-old, asked the con­gress­man to take it, and told him more peo­ple will die if GOP lead­er­ship in Congress gets its way on health­care.

“These are life-and­death de­ci­sions that you are mak­ing,” Sis­ney told him.

LaMalfa as­sured her that Congress was work­ing to find funds to ad­dress the na­tion­wide opi­oid epi­demic.

The Re­pub­li­can con­gress­man also raised the crowd’s ire when he was asked about cli­mate change and the de­graded air qual­ity in this stretch of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

“I don’t buy the idea that man-made ac­tiv­ity is re­spon­si­ble,” LaMalfa said bluntly.

The au­di­ence of sev­eral hun­dred did in­clude some LaMalfa sup­port­ers, though most stayed si­lent.

Ron Jones, 67, of Par­adise said he’s been to a few of LaMalfa’s town halls and all have been dom­i­nated by his crit­ics.

“Most of the time peo­ple want to ... com­plain,” Jones, a self-de­scribed con­ser­va­tive, said af­ter the event ended. “The peo­ple who sup­port him are qui­etly in the back­ground.”

LaMalfa does have a lot of sup­port in the dis­trict, which over­whelm­ingly voted for Trump over Hil­lary Clin­ton in last year’s elec­tion. LaMalfa won his last elec­tion by al­most 15%, and though he has at­tracted a few Demo­cratic chal­lengers, the dis­trict is not con­sid­ered a bat­tle­ground for 2018.

Un­like many Cal­i­for­nia Re­pub­li­can mem­bers of Congress, LaMalfa hasn’t shied away from hold­ing town halls, though it’s rarely a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence for him. He held one in Ne­vada City in March and an­other in April in Oroville. No other Cal­i­for­nia Re­pub­li­cans are sched­uled to hold town halls dur­ing their Au­gust re­cess.

Near the end of Monday’s gath­er­ing, a woman crit­i­cized LaMalfa for invit­ing only Chris­tian pas­tors to pro­vide in­vo­ca­tions at his town halls and other events, and urged him to in­clude re­li­gious lead­ers of all faiths.

“If you want to have your own town hall, you can in­vite who­ever you like,” LaMalfa told her.

Phil Willon Los An­ge­les Times

AT­TEN­DEES at Rep. Doug LaMalfa’s town hall hold up “agree” signs af­ter a speaker urged him to sup­port a sin­gle-payer health­care plan.

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