More than 1,700 people turned out Saturday morning at an El Dorado Hills high school to once again let Republican Rep. Tom McClintock know how they feel about GOP policies and his support of President Donald Trump.
Like three other town halls McClintock has hosted in the past month, the majority of attendees were angry and spoke vehemently about recent changes in immigration law, the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and civil rights issues.
But a growing number in the rowdy crowd – about a quarter – were there to show support for the beleaguered congressman, many sporting green T-shirts advertising their allegiance to the State of Jefferson, a conservative movement that advocates for a large stretch of rural Northern California to break from the rest of the state. Those fans said McClintock and Trump are on the right path to restoring affordable insurance, putting education decisions back in the hands of states and securing the nation’s borders.
“I want to see the Constitution continued the way the Founders intended it,” said supporter Jack Fraim, who lives in the unincorporated community of Somerset southeast of Placerville. “I’d like our borders and customs and language to be honored.”
Fraim spoke with McClintock after the event, assuring him the majority of local residents were happy with his positions. He elicited a promise from McClintock to remain “unwavering” in his views.
Still, McClintock faced far more disapproval than praise during the two-hour event, which packed the bleachers in the Oak Ridge High School auditorium. The crowd frequently broke out in chants and foot-stomping. Many said they were part of two protest groups: The El Dorado Progressives and the local chapter of Indivisible, both recent grass-roots movements that have drawn thousands of followers unhappy with Trump’s election.
Many in attendance held signs with their ZIP codes. McClintock has said previously that he believed people from outside his district, including an “anarchist element,” were showing up to cause trouble. After Saturday’s meeting, McClintock conceded the crowd seemed to be locals.
But they were not “civil,” he said. McClintock repeatedly censured crowd outbursts. Near the end of the event, when 8-year-old Jillian Mao asked a question about the proposed wall on the Mexican border, McClintock cautioned her against adopting the tactics of the people around her.
“I hope you are not going to emulate, copy the kind of behavior you have seen here today,” he said, before voicing strong support for the wall. He added that he doubted Mexico would pay for it, as Trump has said, but that the expense would be “well worth it.”
One of the more emotional moments came when El Dorado Hills resident Doris Romero asked what she should do to become an American citizen. Romero, 20, said she was brought to the United States at age 5 by her Salvadoran parents. She registered and received protected status under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers renewable two-year deferred action from deportation. That program may be ended under Trump, and she asked what McClintock would do for so-called Dreamers like her.
“I was raised with American morals, and I know to do the right thing,” she said. “I want to know what you are going to do for the Dreamers, for the people that didn’t have a choice and for the people who love this country and respect it.”
McClintock responded that Romero and other Dreamers needed to follow existing laws and later said she should return to El Salvador and begin an immigration process there.
“There is a legal path to citizenship, and it’s followed by millions of immigrants,” McClintock said. “I would urge each and every one of them ... if they truly want to become Americans, to avail themselves of the path to citizenship that is followed by countless legal immigrants who obey our laws.”
The crowd erupted with chants of “Help her,” even as Romero broke into tears.
Ryan Thoms, a 17-year-old student at Oak Ridge High, asked if McClintock would vote in favor of the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that aims to protect groups that oppose same-sex marriage. It was introduced in 2015, and a new version may be introduced in coming weeks. Thoms said that gay, lesbian and transgender people in McClintock’s district feel “disenfranchised” and afraid.
McClintock took a hard line on that issue, as well, voicing support for allowing religious organizations to decline services to same-sex couples. “I have no moral judgments at all, quite the contrary,” he said. “But there is a big difference between exercising your own rights and forcing somebody to provide a service when it’s against their own beliefs.”
El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini, who stood at the main door greeting people, said there were no disturbances requiring police intervention at the event, though somewhere “between 30 and 100” sheriff’s deputies and Highway Patrol officers were present. He declined to give an exact number.
For his part, McClintock said he appreciated the town halls as a way to hear the “minority” viewpoint during a “profound” political shift.
“I find it very exciting,” said McClintock. “Change is controversial.”