The people versus Doug LaMalfa

Angry constituents sound off—loudly—at Oroville town hall

Attendees at a town hall held by Doug LaMalfa wave red signs to express disapproval with the Richvale congressman’s statements.

Attendees at a town hall held by Doug LaMalfa wave red signs to express disapproval with the Richvale congressman’s statements.

Photo by Ken Smith

Pastor Steve Terry’s prayers for courtesy and respect went largely unanswered at a Monday (April 17) town hall meeting with Rep. Doug LaMalfa, as the congressman and about 500 constituents—most critical of his voting record and stated views on health care, reproductive rights and a variety of other issues—faced off at the Oroville State Theatre.

The raucous tone of the evening was set before the meeting’s opening invocation was finished. Most of the crowd booed as the Oroville Rescue Mission pastor thanked God for Congressman LaMalfa, prompting the preacher to abruptly end his address with: “Father, thank you for our military … in Jesus’ name!”

So it went for the whole of the meeting, with barbed exchanges between the congressman and the audience continuing for more than two hours. Attendees frequently waved red or green signs to indicate their disdain or approval of statements made by LaMalfa and public commentators, and the cheering and jeering rarely stopped. Though LaMalfa naysayers accounted for much of the noise, a vocal minority of supporters occasionally chimed in with cries like “Hillary for prison!”

Discourse at the town hall wasn’t limited to local issues, but instead provided a microcosmic view of the deep-seated divisiveness pervading American politics. LaMalfa—who’s marched in lockstep with the Republican Party since taking office in 2012—served as a surrogate for many wishing to unload their frustrations regarding President Trump.

“We may disagree on policy, but I will not accept a representative who will not stand up for facts and for decency,” said the first public speaker, Julie Walton. “Please do not align yourself with the president. Speak out for transparency, support the request for the president’s tax returns to be released, and do not be complicit in the demonstrably false statements made by this administration.”

LaMalfa, who’s expressed support for the president’s recent executive actions on immigration, airstrikes on Syria and rolling back environmental regulations put in place by the Obama administration, denied paying blind fealty to Trump and said it’s too early in the president’s term to pass judgment. “Let’s see what he’ll do, first,” LaMalfa said.

The congressman answered “no” to a middle school student asking if he believed in “alternative facts,” but doubled down on his long record of denying climate change. Responding to a comment criticizing that stance from Bill Bynum, a retired teacher and trustee with the Palermo Union School District, LaMalfa said with a note of sarcasm, “I agree, climate change occurs all the time.”

The contentious atmosphere reached a crescendo during a conversation about Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He began a slideshow outlining his views on health care, with slides reading “ACA: Costs Up, Choices Down” and “ACA was passed by deception,” prompting a roar of disapproval from the crowd that didn’t cease for several minutes. “You guys don’t need me here for this,” he said at one point, and walked offstage for about a minute before returning.

LaMalfa stated his belief that less regulation will create more jobs in the North State. “We have 100 million dead trees in California forests right now and we need to be harvesting them and getting them out,” he said. “We need lumber jobs, we need mill jobs—those are the kinds of things we can readily do that would benefit our economy, our environment and the people of this area.

“Jobs are finally coming back to the United States rather than being chased out of the country by regulatory measures. When we get this going, the jobs will be here, they’ll be everywhere.”

The few supportive comments LaMalfa received came toward the end of the assembly. One woman voiced her support and said many of the problems being discussed were a result of “our nation turning our backs on God.” She also criticized the audience’s behavior.

“There’s a way to discuss your issues in a civilized way, but I’m just beyond appalled by how things are going here,” she said.

“Congressman, I’m glad you’re standing proud,” said former Butte County Supervisor Curt Josiassen, who suggested that Southern California water contractors who profit from water originating at Lake Oroville should pay for repairs of the Oroville Dam spillway.

Josiassen’s comment then turned toward a debunked conspiracy theory—still advanced by President Trump—regarding Hillary Clinton profiting from the transfer of U.S. resources to Russia.

“My question is, are you going to support Bill and Hillary’s investigation for the $120 million they got paid for the uranium in the U.S.?” he asked. “Get that done and then let’s talk about the real stuff!”

Outside the theater, as the crowd dispersed, Biggs Elementary School teacher Tammie Lofton stood outside recapping with her friends, retired teacher Diane Brown and Bynum, the man who commented about climate change during the meeting. Lofton and Brown wore matching pink, knitted “pussy hats,” so named for Trump’s vulgar comments about grabbing women’s private parts, and said they felt complaints expressed by the crowd had fallen on deaf ears.

“It’s really horrible to realize that somebody so out of touch with people is representing us,” Lofton said. “I think he was smug, he was condescending and he is uninformed.

“He’s definitely not ‘one of us.’”