At a sometimes rowdy town hall meeting Thursday in Sahuarita, Republican U.S. Rep. Martha McSally faced more than 200 people who sought answers from the congresswoman on a series of divisive issues — at times imploring her to just respond “yes” or “no.”
McSally, who recently committed to holding this live town hall after saying such gatherings were settings for “political ambush,” often gave long answers that seemed to anger the crowd and sidestep the questions posed by the audience or by the moderator, Editor Dan Shearer of the Green Valley News, which sponsored the event.
Audience members inside Good Shepherd United Church of Christ at times shouted at McSally, demanding she answer their questions with a simple yes or no. McSally resisted, saying the questions were often complicated and required lengthy responses.
The capacity crowd was joined by about 200 people outside the church, who stood near the various entrances in an attempt to hear McSally speak. They sometimes broke out in chants, saying, “Do your job,” and “Let me in.”
Even more lined up along a nearby street, holding protest signs.
The two-term congresswoman told reporters the town hall was a bit “rowdy at times” and noted that some of the activists who had organized a competing town hall in Tucson showed up at the Sahuarita event.
Shortly after the Sahuarita town hall concluded, McSally tweeted a “thank you” to all those who attended.
During the 90-minute forum, McSally said she was against mass immigration deportations, believes climate change is real and vowed to protect Social Security and Medicare. Her statement opposing mass deportations brought a welcome response from the audience.
But as she elaborated her stance to some other issues, audience members repeatedly interrupted her to voice their displeasure with her answers.
In other issues, McSally attempted to explain her positions directly to the individual asking the questions.
McSally told a teenager wearing a pink Planned Parenthood shirt that she was committed to making sure that community health centers would offer her reproductive care.
“There are two Planned Parenthoods in Tucson, there are 28 community health centers in my district,” McSally said. “This is about the outcome, not the operation.”
Booed again when she called Obamacare “a disaster,” McSally attempted to explain how she wanted to replace it over time, but her lengthy three-step answer seemed to anger many in the audience.
When 9-year-old Mitchel Collins, who goes to school in Sahuarita, asked at the end of the town hall why she thought Betsy DeVos was qualified to be the nation’s education secretary, McSally asked why he thought she was unqualified.
Collins immediately answered, saying DeVos said she wanted guns in schools to protect against grizzly bears.
It would take a few moments for McSally to respond, noting the Senate confirmed DeVos and the committees she sits on in the House are not education-related.
Other answers simply were not well-received.
When a mother asked McSally about the rollback of bathroom rights and how it would affect her transgender son, the congresswoman’s answer was quickly drowned out by loud jeering and booing.
“It needs to be balanced to protect children like yours, but also other children,” McSally said.
more town halls
Earlier in the day, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in Tucson, urged members of Congress to “have some courage” and face their constituents.
Her comments were in response to Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, who this week invoked the 2011 shooting of Giffords in explaining why he’s currently holding only telephone town halls.
But Giffords said town halls were a hallmark of her tenure in Congress. She noted that her successor in office and her former aide, Ron Barber, also was shot multiple times that day and continued to take part in town halls.
“To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls,” Giffords said in a statement released by Americans for Responsible Solutions, an organization that seeks stricter gun laws.
McSally briefly touched on gun control issues, touting her attempts to push forward “sensible solutions” but conceded there was more work to do.
At the end of the town hall, Shearer asked McSally to commit to another town hall soon.
“Of course, I am doing one tomorrow,” McSally said. Later, a McSally staffer noted the meeting she mentioned is closed to the public.
Town hall without McSally
Another town hall Thursday was held without McSally in attendance. That gathering, at St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church, attracted about 400 constituents, including members of the Pantsuit Nation Tucson Chapter, Stronger Together Cochise County and Nasty Women and Bad Hombres of Tucson.
Marion Chubon of McSally Take a Stand spoke first, expressing her disappointment with McSally’s decision to not attend the group’s event.
McSally informed the group that she was not able to commit to attending, Chubon said. One day later, McSally announced she would attend the town hall in Sahuarita.
Gun violence victims, scientists, a transgender woman, a mother insured under the Affordable Care Act, a cancer survivor, a DACA recipient, a Muslim woman, a Jewish woman and public-school teachers were among the 15 scheduled speakers.
Following one or two speeches on each issue, a member of McSally Take a Stand came to the podium and described McSally’s views on that particular issue and how she has previously voted.
After the scheduled speakers, audience members were invited to speak, concluding their speeches with a question for the congresswoman. These speakers addressed an empty podium.
Star apprentice Leah Merrall and The Associated Press contributed to this story.