Chaffetz met with anger and contempt during town hall meeting
Cottonwood Heights Police Officers and residents wait for Rep. Jason Chaffetz to begin the tTown hHall mMeeting. (Debbie Welder/Cottonwood Heights Citizen)
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Brighton High School’s auditorium was at capacity on Thursday, Feb. 9 for a town hall meeting with Rep. Jason Chaffetz. The event was scheduled from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., but residents started lining up at the front of the school around 3 p.m. By the time the town hall began, the auditorium held approximately 1,000 screaming residents while over 1,000 more chanted outside the doors in protest.
Chants from the groups protesting outside included, “vote him out, “keep your hands off our lands,” “do your job,” “investigate Trump,” “you work for us,” “keep it public,” “impeach 45,” and an echo chant where the first group yelled, “show/tell us what democracy looks like” while the second group replied, “this is what democracy looks like.”
Inside the auditorium, Chaffetz stepped on stage and was met with chanting, booing and screaming from the audience.
“Thank you for being here,” he began. “I do believe as a representative, a part of my role and responsibility is to stand, and to listen, and to hear, and to have a public dialogue. That’s what this is about.”
Chaffetz began his address by mentioning President Donald Trump. Those three words were all it took to make the crowd pipe up again. Chaffetz then called on an attendee to ask a question, who brought up the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Before he answered, Chaffetz noticed some signs in the audience and asked what they were. In response, he was screamed and booed at for not answering the question right away. One woman even rushed toward the stage demanding that he give an answer.
Chaffetz began to answer the question by saying he does enjoy wildlife and public lands. He then asked if people liked that he withdrew H.R. 621, a bill that would have sold off public land across the U.S., including hundreds of thousands of acres in Utah.
“There are some aspects of the bill I think you’d really like,” he said. “One of the things that I helped champion was 300-plus miles of the continuous wild receiving designation down Isolation Canyon. Did you like that? Because that was still the Public Lands Intuitive.”
Chaffetz explained there is typically only one BLM police officer for every one million acres of land. If ever the BLM needs help, they contract with local sheriff offices.
“What this bill would do, is get rid of the BLM enforcers and give that money and those assets and those responsibilities to the local sheriffs,” Chaffetz said. “The net effects of that is more law enforcement at the local level who can solve these problems and their crimes. That’s my intention, to actually have more law enforcement so they can actually enforce and protect public lands.”
This comment sparked booing from the audience.
The next attendee Chaffetz called on asked a question about Trump and his comments about Muslims. Chaffetz said he thought the negative comments made by Trump about Muslims were “absolutely wrong.” He said he then began to visit mosques in Salt Lake County.
A Muslim community leader asked Chaffetz about Trump’s travel ban, asking why Pakistan and Saudi Arabia weren’t on the list. She then asked why Chaffetz doesn’t investigate the reasoning behind the selection of banned countries.
“Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question. I really don’t,” Chaffetz said. “I know that the seven countries that were on that list were identified largely by the Obama administration.”
Audience members began to chant “investigate Trump.” Chaffetz responded saying he had to say something people weren’t going to like.
“You want to hear this. The president, under the law, is exempt from the conflict of interest laws,” Chaffetz said. “If you’re going to run for president, you should have to release your tax returns. I’m of the same opinion.”
Chaffetz then called on another attendee for a question. Her name was Chelsie Acosta and she introduced herself as a teacher. She discussed how her classroom has many diversity students, including LGBTQ and Muslims students.
“What am I supposed to say to my students? What am I supposed to tell them about where this country got to today?” Acosta said.
Chaffetz thanked Acosta for touching the lives of children.
“I do believe that the messages the kids are seeing on television, the disparity on television is wrong,” Chaffetz said. “I’m trying to be here to help. I don’t pretend that you’re Republican; I don’t pretend that you vote for me, but it’s important for us to have this dialogue.”
As the conversation about immigrants continued, many attendees began shouting about Trump’s proposed wall.
“As far as the wall, I don’t care how big, far and wide the wall is, if you don’t fix legal immigration, you never solve this problem,” said Chaffetz.
As he concluded the answer to the proposed question, Chaffetz called on another attendee standing in the audience for her question.
Another attendee told a story about how she survived cancer with the help of yearly screenings at Planned Parenthood.
“Sir, will you please explain to me why you are trying to take that vital health provider away from women like me, especially in light of the new reports that indicate that community health centers will not be able to fill the gaps with Planned Parenthood closed?” she asked.
Chaffetz thanked the woman for her sincerity but said she’s going to disagree with his opinion on Planned Parenthood.
“My concern is to give that organization federal tax-payer dollars, when we have so many in our community who disagree with that. There are a lot of people and a lot of money and a lot of services that can be offered through these community health,” Chaffetz said.
Many protests from the audience erupted. Chaffetz tried to explain what he thought the better use of that money would be but he was interrupted by many protests, so he turned his attention to the students in the front row.
“To the young people that are here up front, thanks for being here. You better get a lot of extra credit for this. You are our future. We want and need young people to be here and be involved and be engaged,” Chaffetz said.
Chaffetz called on another attendee who identified herself as a retired teacher.
“I rarely had a discipline problem because I would draw a line in the sand at the very beginning of the year and say ‘pass this line and this is the consequence.’ For the president of the United States, the consequence is impeachment. What I want to know, Representative, is: what is your line in the sand?” she asked.
Her question was reinforced with a whole auditorium of cheers.
Chaffetz said his line in the sand is the law.
“Some of the accusations towards the president that I have heard don’t step over the line of the law,” he said. “The line is the law. It’s not a Jason Chaffetz line. It’s the law of the land.”
Hannah Bradshaw followed with her own question. “What are you doing to help protect our water and air for our generations? Do you believe in science? Because I do.”
Chaffetz stretched out his arm for the young lady to shake his hand before she returned to her seat.
“We have a major problem here, in particular, Salt Lake Valley, with the inversion,” said Chaffetz. “We have to make sure that we are being responsible. One of the things we are going to have to do in our state, is look at how to deal with transportation.”
Chaffetz was then asked to define tribal sovereignty.
“That is a difficult, difficult question. If you recall, this Bears Ears mining is not on the Navajo Nation. You got about 3 percent of the Navajo Nation,” Chaffetz began, but was not able to finish because of the various protests.
“I want to thank everyone for being here,” Chaffetz concluded. “I love this country. God bless you.”
Chaffetz walked off stage around 8:20 p.m. Many of the event headlines stated that the meeting would go until 9 p.m., so many attendees were very upset.
The town hall meeting was originally scheduled at Cottonwood Heights City Hall, but because of the size of the anticipated crowd, it was moved to the Brighton High School auditorium.
“We understood the town hall was scheduled for an hour,” said Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore. “The congressman remained for an hour and 20 minutes. He did not, based on our understanding, cut the event short.”