Photo by Sol Gutierrez
Participants in a town hall meeting hold up red squares of paper to indicate their dislike of current administration policies on climate change during a presentation by KC Golden.

Major issues raised at heavily attended gathering in Twisp

By Ann McCreary

Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-Sunnyside) was center-stage last Thursday night (Feb. 23) — in the form of a larger-than-life cardboard head — at a town hall meeting attended by more than 260 constituents of Newhouse’s congressional district.

Like many members of Congress, Newhouse avoided hosting any town hall-type meetings last week while he was back home in the 4th Congressional District during a congressional recess.

So, constituents in the Methow Valley held a public meeting without Newhouse in the Methow Valley Community Center in Twisp. Organizers invited speakers to discuss current issues and placed the cardboard cutout of Newhouse’s face prominently on the stage.

They also videotaped the speakers as well as personal messages from local voters to share on social media, and to send to Newhouse’s office.

Photo by Sol Gutierrez
Don McIvor, with a cardboard cutout of Rep. Dan Newhouse on stage behind him, speaks about public lands issues during a town hall meeting in the Methow Valley Community Center last week.

“Despite repeated requests from many of us made through all available channels since early January, Representative Newhouse has scheduled no town hall type events,” said Jill Sheley of Winthrop, who was moderator for the event.

“Representative Newhouse has offered to meet in late spring, after the first 100 days of the current Congress, in which profound changes to our laws are being proposed,” Sheley said.

She called on Newhouse to be accessible to constituents during the first 100 days — now about one-third over — of the Trump administration.

“Meeting with constituents after these 100 days is kind of like a waiter asking for your order after you’ve been presented seven courses and the bill,” Sheley said.

A few local residents traveled on Wednesday (Feb. 22) to Newhouse’s main district office in Yakima, where 18 constituents met with Newhouse staff members, then participated in a march with about 100 people to the office.

Newhouse was not present, and the group was not allowed to enter the building, said Betsy Weiss of Winthrop. Weiss said Newhouse staff said they would meet the group outside the building, “but did not appear.”

Worried about ACA

At a table set up in the community center gym last Wednesday, members of Indivisible — a progressive political advocacy movement — provided signup sheets for people interested in joining or leading an Indivisible group. More than 25 people signed up to join an Indivisible group. 

Guest speaker Ann Diamond of Mazama, a retired physician who conducts health care policy research, said that rural hospitals and the local economy have benefited from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its expanded insurance coverage for low-income people.

Newhouse and other Republicans in Congress have pledged to repeal the ACA, also known as Obamacare.

“Since passage of the ACA, rural hospitals that once struggled to provide emergency care to the uninsured have seen a greater than 50 percent decrease in uncompensated care,” Diamond said.

“In a small community where Mid-Valley Hospital is a major employer, this bottom line shift from red to black ripples positively through the entire surrounding community,” Diamond said.

About 22 million people throughout the country have gained insurance through the ACA, and in Washington state the number of uninsured people has dropped to a record low of only 7 percent, Diamond said.

In Okanogan County, almost half of all residents — 46 percent — obtained insurance through the state health care exchange that was created as part of the ACA, Diamond said.

Okanogan County, which is more rural and poorer than most other counties in the state, has a population that is older, with more chronic diseases and a greater proportion of people insured through the individual market, rather than through employers, Diamond said. Therefore Okanogan County would be significantly impacted if the ACA is repealed, she said.

In a comment directed to Newhouse after Diamond’s presentation, Joe Sprauer of Twisp said he had a kidney transplant 10 years ago and needs insurance to cover his medical needs.

“If you want to repeal health insurance, repeal it for you and all your fellow congressmen,” Sprauer said.

Immigration issues

Addressing the topic of immigration, Jennifer Villarroel Vargas said that immigrants are fearful as a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Vargas is an attorney with the Northwest Immigration Rights Project in Wenatchee, which provides legal services, education and outreach for immigrants.

“Since the election of Donald Trump, the peace of mind of all our clients regardless of their immigration status is under attack,” Vargas said.

She said her organization assists children and asylum seekers, victims of crime, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

“They will be afraid to come forward for help,” Vargas said. “Some victims will be too afraid to reach out to law enforcement because of fear of deportation and out of fear of separation from children and other family members.”

“Our clients are farm workers, caregivers, construction workers. Many have lived in the area for decades and become integral members of this community,” Vargas said.

While the Obama administration focused on deporting unauthorized immigrants who committed felonies or posed security threats, Trump’s sweeping directive on deportation targets people charged with even minor crimes, or people already ordered deported, even if they don’t have a criminal record.

“Intimidation tactics will become the norm,” Vargas said. “There are fears of workplace raids and checkpoints.”

Her agency is conducting “know your rights” presentations around the region, and is advising people who were brought into the country as children not to sign up for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program.

The DACA program has issued work permits and provided temporary protection from deportation to participants, also called “Dreamers.”

“750,000 Dreamers face an uncertain future,” Vargas said.

Craig Lints of Brewster said Newhouse has indicated support for the DACA program and backed legislation to extend protections for Dreamers. “He understands that our economy is dependent on unskilled labor that comes from outside our country,” Lints said.

Public  lands threatened

Don McIvor, a conservation and wildlife management researcher who lives in Winthrop, spoke on public land use issues. He said Newhouse describes himself as a “conservationist and steward of our resources,” but has supported many bills and resolutions that contradict that claim.

McIvor provided examples of Newhouse’s stand on congressional actions related to conservation and public lands issues, including Newhouse’s support for a resolution permitting hunters to shoot or trap wolves in their dens with cubs, use airplanes to hunt for grizzly bears, and trap bears with snares and lures in order to shoot them.

Newhouse has also voted to overturn stream protection rules; sponsored measures reversing rules designed to protect wildlife and endangered species from impacts of development; supported easing regulations on mining, oil and gas production in national parks; and voted to overturn rules requiring oil and gas operators to limit release of methane gas, McIvor said.

Newhouse has also expressed support for transfer of federally owned lands to states, McIvor said.

“History shows that once states gain control, many parcels are eventually converted to private control via auction or other means,” McIvor said.

“Public lands are a sustainable, long-term investment in our economic future,” McIvor said. “Efforts coming out of Congress and several western state legislatures view public lands as a one-time source of revenue, focusing only on real estate and oil and gas production.”

He said a 2010 estimate of the real estate value of all federal public lands, “including iconic sites like Yosemite and Yellowstone,” placed the value at $408 billion.

“That amount is still less than the $646 billion annual economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry. Selling public lands for a one-time amount that is less than the annual economic impact just from one type of use simply doesn’t make sense,” McIvor said.

KC Golden, a senior policy advisor for Climate Solutions in Seattle, addressed the issue of climate change, saying, “leaders of both parties have failed us.”

Golden said Newhouse “for the most part doesn’t want to talk about it [climate change] … because if you do talk about it your oil and gas contributors won’t be happy.”

Progress on addressing climate change has been achieved primarily through citizen activism, Golden said. The current administration “seems determined to take us 180 degrees in the other direction,” he said.

“We’re thinking about this wrong, even for people who accept science and accept facts, because it’s scary, it feels removed … and the government is not stepping up to the mark,” Golden said.

“We have to recognize that physics is not like politics. People … think it’s a political issue,” Golden said.

“The truth is we have a civilization-threatening emergency and there will be very little of what we care about, including coastal cities, let alone snowpack, fish and trees, within our grandchildren’s lifetime if we don’t step up and do what we know is right and necessary,” Golden said.

In closing the meeting, moderator Sheley asked the audience to raise their hands “if you would like Representative Newhouse to hold, and attend in person, a town hall meeting prior to the end of the first 100 days of this administration.” Hundreds of hands went up in response.