Roughly 200 people brought their concerns about health care, education and the future of America to a stage outside of Washington State University Tri-Cities’ East building Saturday afternoon.
For an hour and a half, they took turns walking in front of a camera and recording comments for U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside.
Newhouse wasn’t there. He said Friday that he plans to hold a telephone town hall next week, and pledged to schedule an in-person town hall with constituents in the near future.
Saturday’s meeting, organized by the 4th Congressional District chapter of a national group called Indivisible, was aimed at allowing people to share concerns, ask questions and otherwise speak to their congressman.
Martin McBriarty, one of the organizers, said many local residents believe Newhouse should be engaged with the community.
Newhouse, like many other Republican lawmakers, did not schedule any public town hall meetings during the congressional recess this week.
“There was a void. There was a vacuum for this kind of public engagement and somebody had to step up and do it,” McBriarty said. “We’ve done everything we could to make it a non-partisan, inclusive event.”
Many people spoke against dismantling the infrastructure created by the federal government, including the Affordable Care Act and environmental regulation.
Some shared stories about friends or family who are now able to get health care, or about personal hardships they endured because they couldn’t.
Others asked Newhouse to turn away from what the speakers see as the despotic turn in the national leadership.
Judy Clem, a Richland resident, said her relatives fought in World War II against fascism.
“Now we have the same thing happening here,” she said. “It’s got to stop. We can’t go in that direction. I didn’t lose my family and they didn’t fight for this kind of thing to go on.”
Others expressed concerns about hate targeted toward Hispanics, Muslims and the gay, lesbian and transgender community.
Amanda Cruz took to the stage with her concerns about discrimination.
“Stop being complacent about discrimination against a huge portion of your district and your country,” Cruz told Newhouse in a videotaped statement. “Stand up for this country and this district that you represent.”
Corky Roberts, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer from West Richland, was one of several speakers who raised concerns about President Trump’s attempts to discredit the news media and federal judges.
Roberts voted Republican for many years, but actions of the party to undermine the Constitutional protections afforded to the press were too much, he said.
“You’ve gone too far,” Roberts said. “This is getting out of hand. I want you to understand, as all politicians understand, you can be replaced, and if you don’t start listening to these folks out here, you are going to be replaced.”
Nancy Washton, a Richland physical chemist, said freedom of the press is one of the foundations of a democratic system.
She asked if the representative would denounce a Trump administration move to bar several news organizations from an informal press briefing.
“It’s not a policy thing for me,” Washton said. “I may not agree with a lot of policies, but that’s just politics. This is different. This is dangerous.”
Along with the video messages, written statements were collected from the crowd to be delivered to Newhouse’s office.