Constituents of Washington's 8th congressional district are looking all over for their representative, Congressman Dave Reichert (R-Auburn), who should be back in town for recess this week. But they're having trouble finding him. None of the 400 constituents who attended Monday night's Empty Chair Town Hall at Cashmere Riverside Center in Cashmere, WA (pop. 3,063) reported seeing him. Neither did the nearly 100 people who marched up and down the sidewalks outside his Issaquah offices for Tuesday's Fill Dave Reichert's Parking Lot with Voices rally. If he's not in his office and he's not at a town hall, he must still be in hiding.
Leavenworth, WA resident and Mission Indivisible member Michael Nash organized the Empty Chair Town Hall in Cashmere. (You can watch the whole thing up there ^^.)
The event focused on the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans voted to gut without offering a replacement plan. As people entered the Cashmere Riverside Center, they had the opportunity to write their questions for Reichert on postcards and notes. Organizers also installed Real World-style confessional booths around the room so people could tell their ACA stories into a camera. (Nash says those videos will be available in a few days.) Donations were taken to purchase a full-page ad in the Wenatchee World. According to Nash, the piece will include a request for Reichert to meet with Mission Indivisible in person, at which point they'll give him the videos and the notes that people wrote.
During the town hall, attorney Joe Morrison thanked Rep. Reichert for partnering with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal on the BRIDGE Act and a few other resolutions, and then delivered some less flattering background information. He claimed that Reichert has "seven plus" years of voting to repeal the ACA, and says the only time the congressman ever voted to replace Obama's signature healthcare plan was when he voted for H.R. 5424 back in 2010. That bill that would have enacted H.R. 4038 (aka the "Common Sense Health Care Reform and Affordability Act"), which looks a lot like the non-plan many expect Republicans to offer up on Thursday: high-risk pools, fewer people covered, more hurdles to sue for malpractice.
After Morrison's intro, Dr. Bob Crittenden, senior health policy advisor to Governor Jay Inslee, gave a wonky but followable presentation arguing that Washington's state exchange—which, again, is the ACA—isn't broken, though it could be a little better. "We're working on things like behavior health integration. We’re doing a better job on substance abuse. And we’re able to do that because people are in and not out," he said.
States that rejected Medicaid expansion, Dr. Crittenden added, are seeing their premiums rise at a faster rate than states like Washington because, well, they rejected the Medicaid expansion. When people can afford to pay their hospital bills, turns out the hospitals aren't forced to pass along the cost of unpaid bills to other patients.
Furthermore, "over half of the people on the ACA work," he stressed. They're entrepreneurs. They're journalist-adjunct professor-copywriters who just so happen to be in-between things right now, which is to say they're in the "gig economy." They're not. Fucking. Freeloaders.
Toward the end of his speech, Dr. Crittenden warned that if lawmakers defund the ACA, they'll "never find the tax to put [it] back in place." Obamacare might be easy to break, but it's hard to build back up again.
Following Dr. Crittenden's presentation, constituents directed their ACA stories and questions to an empty chair situated at the front of the room.
The first person to stand up described herself as a small business owner who was raised in a Wenatchee valley pear orchard. Despite living with a connective tissue disorder that literally makes her body fall apart, she said she's "a mother and a fighter and a contributing member of society because [she has] access to health care" through the ACA. "Take that away from me and you threaten my life and my livelihood," she said.
After several more gut-punching stories that every Republican should be forced to listen to while they run the treadmills at their taxpayer funded gyms, a woman named Mary asked Reichert's empty chair the best question I heard all night.
"I have yet to see a clear, logical explanation for how the repeal of the ACA will help us fiscally as a state and nationally," she began. "Additionally, as far as the moral high ground: we don't have the option to opt out of paying our share of taxes for education, whether or not we have children. We don't get to opt out of our share of paying for the defense budget, whether or not we're nonviolent. It makes no sense to me either morally or fiscally why you would do this. So, until I hear the explanation, I'm assuming it's out of allegiance to the party line. Your people are more important. Could you please explain."
Fair q. Very fair q.
The scene was a little different at the 'Fill Dave Reichert's Parking lot with Voices' rally outside Reichert's Issaquah office the following morning. For one, there were more mandolas:
I didn't get the name of this picker-and-singer, but his songs characterized the vibe of the afternoon action: light-hearted and invitational, but also direct and teeming with an undercurrent of anxiety and dismay.
While Rep. Reichert was convening, according to his Facebook page, with his Health Care Advisory Committee, his constituents got some exercise walking up and down the sidewalk adjacent to 56th Street and talking about taxes. Given the congressman's seat in the Ways and Means Committee, organizers thought it'd be best to focus this rally on Trump's returns, Reichert's recent voting record, and, of course, his failure to host public meetings.
Attendees parked at their own risk in the Fred Meyer lot a few blocks away, several of them on their lunch break. Big trucks honked as they passed little clumps of people wearing pussy hats and holding up protest signs. "We care about Trump's Taxes BIGLY," one read. They cheered for bike cops and media vans.
Terri Lovato, 60, recently retired from Boeing after a 31-year information technology career and is now a part time SilverSneaker instructor at 24 Hour Fitness. She came to the rally because she's "a little disappointed in her Congressman, Dave Reichert."
For this session of congress, Lovato took issue with Reichert's vote to gut the congressional ethics office. Allowing congress to operate without an independent ethics office would be "sort of like the fox watching the hen house," she said.
The other big problem for Lovato was Reichert's vote against demanding Trump to release his tax returns. "That was not cool," she said.
And if Rep. Reichert suddenly and magically appeared before her, like a kind of Sheriff Jesus, she would ask him about high-risk pools for healthcare costs: "They don't make sense to me because they take the sickest and most vulnerable people and make them pay the highest amount to have insurance," she said. "That's just fundamentally wrong to me." She'd also want to ask him about his recent vote for a bill that restricted the Social Security Administration's ability to share mental health information with the national gun background check system, a decision she calls "irresponsible."
I would just like to pause here a moment to remind everyone that at the Trump rallies the Stranger reported on this summer, people were openly spreading conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton allegedly killing Vince Foster and also buying shirts that read "Trump that bitch." They were not talking about anyone's voting history.
Sammamish resident and soon-to-be law school student Christina Finley wants to know why Reichert voted to not release Trump's tax returns, too. "I'm just like, why? Does he have something to hide?" they say.
Right now they're also very worried about Trump's ties to Russia and LGBTQ rights "because Trans people are still being murdered and nobody's doing anything about it."
The fact that Reichert refuses to hold in-person town halls troubles Sammamish resident Phil Porach, as do recent reports of deportation raids, Republican tax policies, and GOP plans to repeal the ACA without a proper replacement. "How can you represent people if you don't listen to what they want and they need?" He asks. "I'd like to know where he stands on some of these issues. Unfortunately, I think he stands where he's told to stand."
The crowd skewed Boomer, but there were a few young folks like Finley. Around noon, people started chanting "Where's Dave?" and "Where's Trump's Taxes?" for one or two television cameras that showed up. A few moments later, the group of 100 thinned. It was chilly and drizzly, and some had to return to work.
On Thursday, a larger crowd is due to fill the sidewalks outside of Reichert's office for the Hear Our Voices Rally at 11 a.m. At 1 p.m. that same day, the congressman will be safe behind a digital wall, fielding questions at his Facebook live town hall.