Idaho groups upset that Idaho’s congressional delegation is not scheduling public sessions to meet with constituents during the current break are getting creative, including using “missing” posters with lawmakers’ faces and unflattering descriptions.
“MISSING: HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MAN? Mike Crapo, alleged U.S. Senator, Idaho,” reads a poster circulating on social media sites and Downtown Boise telephone poles.
Another missing poster pictures Sen. Jim Risch with a red elf hat and calls him an “angry gnome,” mocking his height and his wealth.
These and other less nasty posters and memes are the latest tactics by Idahoans who are part of a resistance movement that is emerging among opponents of President Donald Trump. One of the movements, called Indivisible, has about 7,000 groups registered nationwide, including more than half a dozen in Idaho. They are visiting lawmakers’ offices and asking for public events in order to express their displeasure with Trump and, especially, the senators’ votes for Trump’s Cabinet choices.
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Among Idaho’s delegation, Crapo most recently embraced town halls, holding a series of 200 that ended last year. Risch and Rep. Mike Simpson prefer “tele-town halls,” meeting via conference call with constituents. Rep. Raul Labrador will be holding town halls this year just as he has in the past, an official said.
As part of the anger with Trump policies and personnel locally, there have been rallies, student walkouts and a Jan. 21 Idaho Women’s March that brought out an estimated 5,000 people in a Boise snowstorm.
The poster strategy is being replicated across the country. For instance, in Raleigh, N.C., a group of liberal activists took out a quarter-page “lost and found” ad in The News & Observer newspaper on Sunday that read “LOST — United States Senator.”
“He may respond to the title ‘Senator Richard Burr’, though his constituents have been unable to verify whether this is still the case, as they have been unable to contact him in recent weeks. … If found. Please return Senator Burr to his constituents by way of a Town Hall meeting or other suitable gathering in which the Senator demonstrates his accountability to his constituents by listening to and honestly addressing their concerns.”
Some politicians faced rowdy crowds at public meetings around the country after the election, with people protesting Trump’s nominees or upset at the uncertain future of health care and other issues. Video of a rambunctious session with hundreds of constituents who packed a town hall meeting with Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, GOP chairman of the House oversight committee, went viral Feb. 9.
Roll Call, which covers Congress, reported that 35 Democrats were planning town hall meetings over the Presidents Day recess, which is nearly twice the average since 2009. About 32 Republican lawmakers had town halls scheduled, up from an average of 21 since 2009. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, had nine sessions set over six days.
Indivisible held its own town hall Monday at Boise State University. Crapo was invited but had a commitment in Canyon County and did not attend. Betty Richardson, a former Idaho U.S. attorney and Democratic congressional candidate, spoke at the event on the importance of a free and vital press and an independent judiciary.
“It’s going to to be hard to get either Sen. Crapo or Sen. Risch to pay attention to their many constituents who are not supportive of the Trump agenda,” Richardson said Tuesday. “But it’s still important to try.”
Crapo, she noted, was re-elected last fall, Risch in 2014. They don’t face re-election for six and four years, respectively. “Risch and Crapo seem to be running and hiding,” Richardson said.
‘WELL AWARE OF THEM’
Not so, say staffers for the four Republican members of Idaho’s congressional delegation. Town hall sessions are organized around the state weeks in advance. Crapo and Labrador hold frequent meetings, although none since the November election.
Crapo, who went on a 200-meeting tour in 2015 and 2016, is in Boise briefly during the recess to attend Lincoln Day events, including one he had Monday night in Canyon County, said spokesman Lindsay Nothern.
“We are not going to be able to do any town hall meetings this trip,” Nothern said.
“We understand how people are feeling about President Trump,” said Nothern. “People say they are not being heard, but they are being heard. I personally have met with more than 70 people. We have had a lot of people come into our office. We have written down all of their concerns. We want to reassure them that all of their viewpoints are getting recorded. The senator is well aware of them. We will get back on the town hall meeting train at some point, but it just is not happening this month.”
Labrador regularly holds town hall meetings throughout the district, usually later in the year, but had none scheduled this month, said Douglas Taylor, his deputy chief of staff. Those events are well publicized, he said, and the congressman’s schedule is put together well in advance, he said.
The congressman “is as accessible as any member of Congress,” Taylor said. “We’ll do some town halls this year and everyone will know about them.”
Labrador made an unannounced appearance in the Capitol Wednesday to address the House, where he served two terms as a representative. Asked about his town hall schedule, he said he did 20 events in August in all of the counties he represents. It was not clear, however, whether those events were related to his campaign for re-election or his congressional duties.
“I never do town halls right after an election. You wait for there to be a little more information that you can share with your constitituents,” Labradror said. “I just get to decide when I do town halls, not the media or anybody else.”
AUDIO TOWN HALL MEETINGS
Risch and Simpson do not generally hold town hall meetings. Instead, they prefer “tele-town halls,” in which a limited number of constituents can register in advance to participate in a conference call or other small-group session.
“Congressman Simpson has always done tele-town halls but not traditional town halls, and his current schedule is similar to how it has been for years. Mike has a very welcoming and an open-door policy for meetings with constituents, both one-on-one and in small groups,” said spokeswoman Nikki Wallace. “He has found that both parties benefit most from the constructive discussions that occur in these meetings.”
A group from Indivisible Idaho met with Risch staffers last week to voice concerns and make requests for a face-to-face meeting. Risch also has received requests for meetings in Blaine and Latah counties.
Risch Chief of Staff John Sandy said some large groups showing up at Risch’s offices have been disrespectful and raised security issues. Sandy said he sought security advice from U.S. Senate officials, who recommended posting door signs asking people to make appointments in advance. “The senator always wants to be accessible,” Sandy said.
When did Idaho’s lawmakers last hold town halls?
Sen. Crapo: He held 200 town hall meetings, including one in every Idaho city, from October 2014 through September 2016.
Sen. Risch: From 2009 through 2013, he held 10 tele-town hall meetings, in which people signed up in advance to participate in a conference call.
Rep. Labrador: Holds town hall meetings. He held a number of public events in 2016.
Rep. Simpson: Last held a series of town hall meetings in 2004 as he was preparing to roll out his Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness plan. He prefers tele-town halls.
Contact federal office-holders
Sen. Crapo: (208) 334-1776
Sen. Risch: (208) 342-7985
Rep. Labrador: (208) 888-3188
Rep. Simpson: (208) 334-1953