Los Angeles Times

How Jan. 6 hearings are swaying voters in one district — or not

- MARK Z. BARABAK reporting from ceres, calif. Times staff writer Terry Castleman in Turlock contribute­d to this report.

Even before the House committee investigat­ing the Jan. 6 insurrecti­on called a single witness, Amador Martinez had seen enough.

“It’s on him,” he said of former President Trump, who capped his efforts to overturn the 2020 election by siccing an angry and vengeful mob on the Capitol. “One hundred and ten percent.”

Melody Douglas also made up her mind long before the first hearing was gaveled open in TV’s prime time.

“It’s a sham,” she said of the committee and its work. “It’s just an effort to make Trump look bad. Hopefully, he’s holding his head high.”

The Select Committee to Investigat­e the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, as the panel is formally known, has offered a riveting account of a powermad president and the crises his ego and insecuriti­es foisted on the country.

Its public hearings’ initial eight installmen­ts drew millions of viewers, offered a strong case for Trump’s criminal prosecutio­n and illustrate­d in lurid detail — F-bombs, thrown tableware, abuse of Secret Service agents — the pathology of the president and his hissy fits.

What the hearings have apparently failed to do, at least so far, is change a great many minds or alter the way voters seem to be approachin­g November’s midterm elections.

For Caitlyn Miller, the committee’s findings merely reinforce what she believed all along: that Trump did nothing to stop the violence and will probably get away with his sordid behavior, along with Republican­s who aided and abetted his attempt at a coup.

“It’s kind of annoying to listen and watch and read how s— everyone was,” said Miller, 30, an office worker in Modesto, “and then to think no one’s going to be held responsibl­e.”

Her focus this election is on other issues where, the Democrat believes, her vote could make a difference: climate change, abortion rights and seeing that the Supreme Court doesn’t roll back other personal freedoms, like same-sex marriage.

“I do not want to see Republican­s in control,” Miller said emphatical­ly, thrusting her arms out as though she could personally shove House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy away from the speakershi­p.

Nationwide, there are relatively few House races that are genuine toss-ups; perhaps three dozen or so.

One of them is here in the Central Valley, where Democrat Adam Gray and Republican John Duarte are vying to represent a newly created district that sprawls south from the outskirts of the Bay Area.

The 13th Congressio­nal District is mostly rural — two-lane highways, farm stands, feedlots, endless orchards — save for a slice of Modesto, its next-door neighbor Ceres, and Turlock.

With the temperatur­e topping 100 degrees this week and the sky mottled with smoke from yet another Yosemite wildfire, the doings of lawmakers in Washington seemed quite remote. In interviews across the district, voters talked about inflation, drought, homelessne­ss, water, the resurgence of COVID-19 and, especially, high gas prices.

“There are a lot of other things going on in the world,” said Sharon D., a 50-year-old Trump voter and mental health clinician in Ceres, who called the investigat­ion into the Jan. 6 violence and its roots a waste of time and money. (She asked not to use her last name, to avoid harassment.) “Nobody cares anymore.”

Unless something dramatical­ly changes after the committee resumes its hearings in September, the insurrecti­on probably won’t play much of a role in deciding who wins the district’s open congressio­nal seat.

Democrats praised Gray, a 44-year-old state assemblyma­n, for his work in Sacramento. Republican­s said Duarte, a 55-year-old farmer who also helps run a familyowne­d tree and vine nursery, is the perfect fit for this agricultur­e-dependent district.

Most people were like Douglas and Martinez, who didn’t connect Jan. 6 to the local contest and aren’t about to be swayed no matter what the committee finds.

Douglas, a 60-year-old Republican homemaker in Empire, considers Trump “the best president we’ve had in a long time” and hopes he runs again in 2024.

She firmly believes the 2020 election was stolen and the rioters who overran the Capitol were undercover leftists who set out to incriminat­e the former president. Nothing and no one — certainly not the Democrats and two Republican­s, Liz Cheney and Adam Kitzinger, on the committee — can convince her otherwise.

In fact, she hasn’t bothered to watch a minute of the hearings, she said — and why should she? In her eyes everyone in Washington is corrupt and needs to go.

“Start again with honest people,” Douglas said, “like it was back in 1776.”

Martinez, who stopped by the post office in Ceres moments after Douglas left, had a word for people like her. “I think they’ve been manipulate­d,” he said.

“I knew something was wrong when Trump said he could kill someone on Main Street and get away with it,” Martinez went on. (Actually, Trump said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City and get away with it, which he undoubtedl­y would with some of his more fanatic supporters.) “I thought, ‘Oh, my God. It’s bad.’ ”

The 55-year-old landscapin­g contractor, a Ceres Democrat, said he has closely followed the hearings and believes it was every citizen’s duty to do so.

“We need people to take responsibi­lity,” he said of the assault on the Capitol and, more, democracy itself.

In a red-versus-blue world where some refuse to acknowledg­e even basic facts, it’s hardly surprising to find partisans dug into their positions, or ignoring evidence contrary to what they choose to believe.

But engagement and persuasion are just two measures of the committee’s success, and hardly the most important.

A president flagrantly abused his power and coaxed supporters not only to invade the Capitol but to lay siege to one of the country’s most important and sacred principles, the peaceful transfer of power.

He continues to lie about it and must be held to account.

Outside the public library in Patterson, a small farm town, Gail Tallman paused to state her support for the Jan. 6 hearings.

“I’ve seen every one of them,” said the 66-year-old elementary school teacher, a Democrat and Navy veteran. “It’s actually made me angrier.”

No matter the television ratings, the number of people who come away with a different perspectiv­e, or the result of the valley’s closely fought congressio­nal race, Tallman succinctly summarized why the hearings are so vitally important.

No one, she said, is above the law.

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