Marcos Bretón

A politician saw danger in a town-hall meeting. Police saw it differently

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, center, is escorted by Roseville police through protesters outside Tower Theatre in Rosevillle on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. He held a town-hall meeting at the theater and hundreds of anti-Trump demonstrators chanted slogans and carried signs outside.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, center, is escorted by Roseville police through protesters outside Tower Theatre in Rosevillle on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. He held a town-hall meeting at the theater and hundreds of anti-Trump demonstrators chanted slogans and carried signs outside.

Daniel Hahn, the chief of police in Roseville, wants to be clear: His department did not shut down a recent town-hall meeting staged by Republican Rep. Tom McClintock. Nor did it tell McClintock he had to leave for his own safety because of an unruly crowd.

Roseville police made no arrests related to McClintock’s Feb. 4 meeting at Tower Theatre. There were no acts of vandalism attributed to an estimated crowd of 500 people who packed the theater and the street out front.

Was the gathering loud? “Yes,” Hahn said.

Was it the biggest protest Hahn has seen in nearly six years as the Roseville chief? “Yes,” Hahn said. “But things went very well that day. They went as well as could be expected. ... The people gathered weren’t causing problems.”

According to McClintock, who lives in Elk Grove but represents a congressional district cutting across 10 counties from Alpine to Fresno, some people at the town-hall meeting most definitely were causing problems. (He referred to an “anarchist element” in a subsequent interview.)

“The vast majority of the people attempting to attend the meeting were peaceful, decent and law-abiding folks sincerely opposed to President Trump, wanting to make their views known to their elected representative,” McClintock said in a speech he made on the floor of the House of Representatives days after the Roseville gathering. “But there was also a well-organized element that came to disrupt – and disrupt they did.”

It wasn’t just that McClintock got an angry earful from people concerned their health care coverage would be eliminated by the policies of Donald Trump. In his House speech, McClintock said he saw similarities between what transpired at his town-hall meeting and one of the darkest moments in our nation’s past.

“Once in our history, we stopped talking to each other. That was the election of 1860,” McClintock said. “That election was marked not by reconciliation, but by rioting in those regions where the opposition dominated.”

As we know from our history books, the election of 1860 swept Abraham Lincoln into White House and preceded a Civil War that caused the deaths of more than 600,000 people. “Have we not started down that road again?” McClintock asked in his speech.

To illustrate his point, McClintock pointed to a recent rally in Bay Area that turned violent when Milo Yiannopoulos, a media personality associated with a brand of conservatism that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism, was prevented from speaking on the UC Berkeley campus. He mentioned a nascent proposal by some for California to secede from the United States. Then he turned his attention to Roseville, where he maintains his district office and where he fled a meeting he described as different from any other in his political career.

“I have held more than a hundred town-hall meetings in my district throughout the last eight years spanning the entire life of the tea party and Occupy Wall Street movements. Throughout all those heated debates, the police have never had to intervene.” That changed “when the Roseville Police Department determined that the size and temper of the crowd required a police escort to protect me as I left the venue,” he said.

So what really happened in Roseville? Had the discourse become so uncivil that the meeting teetered on the brink of chaos? Or was McClintock blowing things out of proportion because he was being asked challenging questions by the crowd?

It’s worth noting that I called Hahn about this, not the other way around, because there was a discrepancy between McClintock’s account and that of many Bee readers.

Here’s what Hahn said: “Obviously there is a concern any time there are that many people gathered. The primary topics (at the meeting) were health care and the ban on Muslim people, and obviously those are very emotional topics. People were loud, but that’s the extent of it.”

After the meeting, Sacramento Bee reporter Angela Hart asked McClintock why he left in such a hurry. “My chief of staff came up to me when we finished and said the situation out front is deteriorating, RPD (Roseville Police Department) wants you out, so I didn’t argue,” he said.

Hahn said the situation out front was under control. “There was never any violence or property damage,” he said.

McClintock later offered this in an email: “ ... There was a lot of confusion at the scene. The town hall meeting was scheduled to run from 10 to 11 a.m. Because of the overflow, my intention was to have a second round (of talks with attendees), but this apparently wasn’t conveyed clearly to the police. At 11, the police made the determination that an escort was needed and they did so. That was their decision – not mine – based on their assessment of the crowd.”

As a precaution, Hahn’s department shut down one block on Vernon Street in Roseville where Tower Theatre is located. That way, protesters could safely assemble without fear of being exposed to traffic.

The chief added that it was his call, in consultation with his staff, for officers to escort McClintock out of the theater and to his car. “We took some precautionary measures for the safety of everyone involved,” he said.

But here’s an important point: McClintock’s meeting was not “disrupted.”

“The plan was for the meeting to end at 11, and it did,” Hahn said. “We did not have discussions with McClintock’s staff to have a second session. It was our decision to escort him out, but it was not our decision to bring the event to a close.”

Hahn said the loudest protesters were those who couldn’t get in the building for the meeting. Some wanted McClintock to address them as well, but he left instead. That was his call to make.

It’s not easy or comfortable to face a crowd asking tough questions, as many congressional Republicans can attest from recent experiences. But as The Bee’s Hart pointed out in her coverage of the town-hall meeting, “several times McClintock thanked the audience for the discourse, even if they disagreed.”

However, since they were spoken on the House floor and recorded for posterity, McClintock’s words in his Feb. 7 speech are fair game, and they most definitely deserve to be criticized for misrepresenting what happened that day and what it means.

Here is what McClintock should have said on the House floor: Our institutions worked that day. Law enforcement kept the peace while allowing freedom of expression.

The meeting sounds like a 2009 town-hall event held in Citrus Heights by then-Rep. Dan Lungren. The crowd gathered that night also was loud. Many people couldn’t get in to hear Lungren, including me. The topic also was health care, but those gathered that night were not afraid their Affordable Care Act benefits would be stripped, as some feared in the Roseville gathering. In Citrus Heights, they were opposed to ACA and they let Lungren hear it – vociferously.

That summer, there were many heated town-hall meetings, but the congressional representatives who felt the heat then were Democrats aligned with then-President Barack Obama. Somehow, those meetings were not described by McClintock or other politicians as the beginning of a new era of disorder akin to the Civil War.

McClintock’s speech equated concerned citizens with radicals. The violent protesters in Berkeley were part of a small cell of anarchists who have caused damage in other cities, including Sacramento. They are not representative of a movement any more than the goofy California secession idea is.

What happened in Roseville was an example of why America is strong and not the other way around. If McClintock can’t handle anything beyond fawning praise, perhaps he should step aside and let someone else run for his seat.

Marcos Breton: 916-321-1096, @MarcosBreton

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