Several dozen constituents patiently waited their turn Monday to speak one on one with congressman David Valadao, R-Hanford, who eschewed a town hall meeting during a visit home from Capitol Hill in favor of what his office called a “Hometown Huddle.”
Valadao’s office gave no reason for having the face-to-face meetings, but the folks waiting their turn to see him said images of town hall meetings getting heated and out of control probably had something to do with it.
“You get 1,000 people – it’ll be chaos,” said Richard Hill, 70, of Coalinga, a retired prison employee.
Hill, a Vietnam veteran who has two Purple Heart medals, said he wanted to tell Valadao there should be a federal requirement on states to allow those with Purple Heart license plates to park in preferred parking spots, similar to handicapped parking places.
“Right now, we get no recognition,” he said. “I see other states that recognize them.”
Tyler McCollum, 39, of Hanford but originally from Birmingham, Ala., said she would have preferred a town hall meeting.
He needs to have a meeting where all of his constituents can ask him questions and hear his responses.
Ron Bates, Hanford
“In a town hall format, we’d get to hear a range of issues,” she said. She also rejected the term “rabble-rousers” to describe those who have been vocal at town hall meetings.
“They’re not rabble-rousers; they’re just citizens,” she said. “They (the town hall meetings) are being attended by people who care.”
Her meeting with Valadao was positive, she said upon exiting the office on North Irwin Street in downtown Hanford.
“I do like that I had 10 minutes with him,” she said. “Valadao was very receptive to both me and my husband and our issues.”
The proposed border wall with Mexico “sends the wrong message” and “it’ll be torn down in the next administration,” she said.
When asked how Valadao responded, she said, “I don’t think he gave me a specific answer” but “he was polite. He is for common-sense immigration reform.”
Martin Querin, 59, of Kingsburg is an engineer who wanted to meet the congressman to suggest creative strategies for improving underground water storage.
“At a town hall meeting, there’s a tendency for emotion to disrupt and distract from the ability to speak,” he said. “Not everything needs to be said in public. I prefer this.”
Jack Willis, 70, of Hanford, a retired teacher, said he’ll take a town hall meeting, though.
“I’d rather be sitting than standing,” he said.
At a town hall meeting, there’s a tendency for emotion to disrupt and distract from the ability to speak.
Martin Querin, Kingsburg
But he said he realizes that some town hall meetings have reportedly gotten out of control.
“I know that’s a legitimate problem,” he said. “It’s a sad state of affairs.”
Aaron Prosser, 34, a priest at Christ Church Anglican Mission in Lemoore, said he was waiting to see Valadao to urge that any replacement of the Affordable Care Act be equal in coverage and breadth.
The Hometown Huddle format Valadao chose may work for the congressman, but it was uncomfortable for those who waited, especially one woman who recently had a knee replaced, he said.
“People are tired,” he said. “There’s very few chairs.”
Bob Kuckenbaker, 68, of Hanford, who owned a small dairy and said he’s a political independent, urged Valadao to support having Medicare negotiate the price of medications.
“He said that’s something they’d work on,” he said.
Valadao had little choice but to meet people individually because of “the political climate now,” he said. “All you need is a couple of rabble-rousers.”
Retired teacher Ron Bates, 70, of Hanford, a lifelong Democrat who was getting ready to tell Valadao that 13,000 Kings County residents are at risk of losing their health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, said he sincerely doubts a town hall meeting in Hanford would get out of hand.
“We’re a small town,” he said. “I don’t think that would happen here. He needs to have a meeting where all of his constituents can ask him questions and hear his responses.”
Like it or not, the town hall format is open to disruption, said Lou Martinez, 70, of Hanford, a retired weatherization inspector who stopped by to see what the mood was like, but didn’t sign up to see Valadao.
“My concern is the town hall meeting has a purpose, so the congressman can hear what the people say,” he said. “I’m worried about people disrupting and arguing; it takes away our opportunity to communicate with our congressman, and it’s counterproductive.”
The face-to-face meeting that Valadao opted for will accommodate someone with a specific message, “but it’s a long waiting process,” he said.