Last month I wrote about Congressman Darrell Issa being a no-show. Billed as an Emergency Town Hall Meeting by organizers, and with a public invitation to Congressman Darrell, his constituents convened at the Jim Porter Recreation Center in Brengle Terrace City Park. The attendees I spoke with told me they just wanted Darrell Issa to listen to their concerns. However, the Congressman was a no-show that evening.
I was glad to hear that our representative to congress wasn’t content to leave it like that. Issa announced through his Facebook site that he would hold not one, but two town hall meetings. Reservations had to be made on-line starting at 12 noon a couple of days before the event which was being held at 8:30 am and at 10:00 am on March 11. I tried to make a reservation but the site didn’t go on line until 20 minutes past the designated hour. I asked a few people about this and heard similar stories. Just before 2 pm, I finally was able to gain access to the site but could only garner a place on a waiting list.
I wasn’t the only one having trouble with the reservations. I spoke with George and Monica who recently moved into the 49th District. The 49th Congressional District includes the north coastal areas of San Diego County (Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad, Encinitas, and Camp Pendleton), as well as a small section of South Orange County (San Clemente, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, Ladera Ranch, and Mission Viejo). After trying unsuccessfully for almost two hours to register on-line, George called the Congressman’s DC office where a very helpful staffer helped George obtain his reservation for the town hall meeting. Other people told me that it took them between 15 minutes and up to two hours to register.
Not everyone had difficulty with the registration process but everyone did find the parking to be extremely difficult. Normally, the parking lots in the 300 block of S. Pacific Street will accommodate hundreds of automobiles. However, arriving an hour prior to the event, I found that over half of the parking spaces were cordoned off and there was signage proclaiming “NO PARKING” “Tow Away”. I spotted two empty spaces that appeared available in the un-posted area of the lot but as I pulled in Security Personnel with Reel Security confronted me and told me I had to move. They informed me that the majority of this lot and the entire lot in the next block had been rented for three weeks by Warner Bros. Studios for filming Wild Kingdom. I found parking several blocks away by the train station.
Hiking back to the pier area I observed about a dozen cars in the unrestricted portion of the parking lot with their trunks and hatches open. Men and women were unloading bicycles and helmets. Dressed in colorful lycra athletic suits they appeared to be getting ready for an event. Curious as to what had caused another 10% of the parking to be unavailable for the town hall meeting, I stopped and asked what the group was readying for. They told me that they were a team that was training for an up-coming FC Endurance Triathlon.
Continuing on past the energetic athletes, I negotiated the outdoor stairwells, and went past several groups of protestors offering signs. Passing a growing line of attendees, I arrived at the front entrance of the Junior Seau Beach Community Center. The center, a 17,000 sq.ft. facility is located below the Oceanside Municipal Pier. Inside the center, folding chairs occupied a grid of 36 seats wide by 14 deep or roughly a 5200 sq. ft. area. Behind the chairs the organizers had erected a small rectangular stage. Atop the stage sat TV cameras and photographers. I was told this was the press area. It was where I was supposed to be. I was told I was allowed to walk around and approach the stage but I was also warned to refrain from blocking anyone’s view of the event.
The meeting started with the moderator quieting everyone down. Congressman Darrell Issa was introduced. Finally residents of the 49th District were going to hear where their elected official stood on hot topics like health care reform, immigration reform, the investigation of administration links to Russia, and other important issues. This was the public’s opportunity to interact directly with their representative from Congress, to share input, and ask their questions. Ellen Montanari, an organizer whom I had met at the failed town hall meeting in Brengle Park was happy that ISSA had called the meeting. She said, “We’re scared (of the proposed changes)” and we’re glad to be getting some answers.
Four members of a Color Guard from Camp Pendleton’s Civil Affairs Unit presented the colors and Congressman Darrell Issa led the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. Some audience members booed and rudely called out as Issa started speaking and this continued throughout the meeting. Issa was pointedly quizzed on how he plans to challenge the proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act, where he stands on health care for the mentally ill, his position on defunding Planned Parenthood & VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), and if he agrees with President Trump’s stance on immigration.
His opening statement was strongly given. “I do not work for the Executive Branch”, he said. “I represent all of America”. He went on to give a couple of simple ground rules. “If I get drown out by your voices, I will pause”. He indicated that the pause would continue as long as it was necessary to be heard. He asked that questions be short and to the point. He also asked that when holding up a sign that you did not block another person’s view and if you had a large sign that you move to the back row. It sounded like basic courtesy but there wasn’t a courteous atmosphere circulating around the room.
Issa went into some detail to explain his positions. He favors a co-operative guest worker program to alleviate some of the immigration concerns. He promised to fight to keep mental illness covered in health plans saying, “It has to be covered just like any other catastrophic illness”. He favors buying Pharmaceuticals in bulk to drive down the cost. At one point the audience began chanting “Do Your Job”, “Do your job”. He pointed out that he was the co-author of the VAWA and promised it would continue to be funded.
The question and answer process was slow not only because of the vocal interruptions but also because of the Q and A format. Several steps had been undertaken by the organizers of Issa’s meeting and the protestors in an effort to proclaim fairness. As people signed in they were asked to write their zip code in large characters onto tags and stick the tags on their upper body clothing where it was very visible. This would let the world see that they were constituents and not paid outsiders. Signage was proliferate around the packed room and most of it referred to the subjects of concern but some were just anti-Issa.
People wanting to put their question to the Congressman were given tickets with numbers. The kind of ticket you get when you enter a raffle. You keep one half and the other went into a large glass bowl. This was just like a raffle because the moderator would pull three tickets out of a large bowl and read off the numbers. When an audience member heard their number called out they would rise and wave an arm. Roving microphones throughout the seating area would respond to whoever was closest and that person would ask their question or state an opinion. As soon as the one question had been dealt with another three numbers would be drawn and the process would start over.
No one complained about the random process until Issa stopped and asked that a protestor in the front row be allowed to ask his question even though his number had not been called. The young man, a Russian immigrant by the name of Dmitry Demidove, had worn a costume and was attracting a lot of attention. The sign he carried professed his opinion that ISSA had betrayed us because he (Issa) would not support a Special Attorney General to investigate alleged improper communications between the Trump Administration and Russa. Issa responded that the law no longer allows a Special Attorney General to be appointed. Issa said he does support a thorough investigation. Issa also said that it is the Attorney General’s responsibility (once he had recused himself) to form an independent investigation team. The Congressman indicated he was following the law when he did not vote for a Special Attorney General. This, of course, brought even more boos.
The crowd was still slightly rowdy when a couple of speakers later a very young and very impressive person waved his arm after hearing his number called out. Identifying himself as a high school student (the student’s name and the school name were covered over by someone shouting) and a member of the school’s debate team. He stood straight and said that he was “disappointed at all the noise”. The disrespectful decorum was something he did not expect when he came expecting to learn about Democracy. I along with a minority of the audience applauded him for his honest and brave assessment of the chaotic proceedings.
One woman surprised everyone when she spoke into the microphone and announced that ISSA’s staff had just violated her rights. She claimed that someone had just forcibly taken her sign away. Issa requested silence and asked if anyone had her sign. When there was no response Issa asked if anyone else had been told to surrender their sign. Again there was no response and the majority of the people in the room were still holding their small signs. When questioned about the size of her missing sign the woman insisted it was about the same size as the other signs in the room. Then she declared that because the sign had been strong-armed away from her, it was actually an assault that she had suffered. At that point Issa indicated that it would have to be up to attorneys and he asked for the next question.
One of the final speakers for the morning session was complaining about the IRS and how the IRS has too much authority. Issa explained that the IRS is an independent part of our government on purpose. This allows it to continue regardless of who is in power. He added, “Nobody likes the IRS”. He also said that our country needs a new tax code that has everyone paying their fair share.
Heath care appeared to be the predominant topic. People with pre-existing conditions and disabled family members were very passionate about their concerns. Issa told them he wasn’t in a position to tell them how he would vote on the health care reform currently being considered in Congress. He said that he was not in favor of the bill as it stands and would be working with other members of Congress to make some changes.
There were Issa fans in the crowd but many were there to express their displeasure with the Trump Administration. They were not interested to listen to the congressman as he patiently tried to explain his positions. One group, Indivisible San Diego North 49, has a web site that says they are, “Advocating for the advancement of our ideals”. The group proclaims to be a grassroots political group organized for the purpose of resisting the Trump Administration’s dismantling of our civil liberties, social protections, and democratic institutions.” I met two ladies representing that group. Lisa Margolin-Feher and Allison Stratton said they were there “Fighting the good fight.” and that Issa, “doesn’t have the same values”.
Vista resident, Marggie Castellano, was taking videos of the event. She said that there was a “Great spirit of America” in the room. It was certainly our democratic process in action. Vista City Council Member John Franklin was assisting Congressman Issa behind the scenes. Vista’s Man About Town, Chuck Rabel, was waiting for the next meeting to start. Democratic challenger Mike Levin from Orange County was also in the audience. The 39 year old appeared to be rallying a lot of supporters.
Outside the center, several hundred people were milling around on the sidewalks that border the beach parking lot. The waiting line for the 10 am meeting stretched from the front entrance of the center, under the pier bridge and past the life guard station. Protesters were still offering signs for those who didn’t bring their own. I couldn’t help but wonder where all those people had found parking.