Chants of “What do we need? Healthcare!” and “Don’t give in to racist fear, immigrants are welcome here!” echoed off the iron bars of Congressman Jeff Denham’s gated community in Turlock Thursday evening as nearly 200 protestors marched on his neighborhood, urging the state’s 10th Congressional District representative to back away from healthcare and immigration actions spearheaded by President Donald Trump and GOP leadership.
Marchers gathered at Markley Park before making their way to Denham’s home, where community members and local faith leaders convened for a candlelight vigil. Patty Hughes, a Modesto resident and organizer for the vigil, said that the gathering was held to get Denham’s attention. Hughes and other 10th District constituents have voiced their frustration at how difficult it has been to have their questions answered by Denham as of late, and the vigil comes at a time when Republican members of Congress are facing heated crowds and increasing pressure to protect healthcare and immigrants.
“Since Congressman Denham is not coming to the people, the people want to go to him,” said Hughes. “Right now, he’s almost in hiding and he hasn’t made any arrangements to meet with any of the constituents or do a personal, public town hall. I think it’s sad that he’s voted in to represent each one of us, but he refuses to meet with us.”
About 300 people gathered at a church in Modesto on Feb. 15 for a town hall, imploring Republicans in Congress to protect the Affordable Care Act, and though Denham was invited to attend, he did not. According to Jessica McFaul, Denham’s communications director, the town hall was held when Congress was in session and the Congressman was in Washington at the time.
Though Denham holds Mobile District Office Hours throughout the district each month, where constituents can ask questions and receive help with different caseworks, representatives from Denham’s office typically staff these events. Denham does attend when his schedule allows. At the Congressman’s MDO in Denair Thursday morning, constituents in attendance expressed their discontent that a representative, rather than Denham himself, was there to take questions.
“It’s like he doesn’t care. By not being here, he’s not representing us,” said Michelle Park.
Park added that she has been to three MDOs, and has yet to have a question answered by Denham. McFaul said that representatives always staff the MDOs. Peter Butler, a Denham representative who staffed Thursday’s MDO in Denair, stated that he could “portray information that Denham has already put out,” but could not speak for him. When asked a question regarding Denham’s position on climate change, Butler was unsure of Denham’s view on the topic.
McFaul added that Denham does aim to respond to every constituent who wants a response with a written letter, but the volume of correspondences Denham’s office is seeing is significantly higher than usual, causing delays in response.
“The congressman’s top priority is to listen to CA-10 constituent concerns; unfortunately, much of what we’re seeing are publicity stunts fueled by Bay Area activists,” said McFaul. “This is why we continue to encourage constituents to contact our offices directly to ensure that their voices are heard and represented in Washington.”
10th District constituent Carolyn Nevfeld, who is from Tracy, attended both Denham’s MDO in Denair on Thursday morning and the vigil later that evening. She said that she has reached out to Denham multiple times, both through MDOs and by contacting his office directly, but to no avail. She marched Thursday evening to fight to save the ACA, which if repealed would leave her uninsured.
“I’m 65 years old…if you take away those insurances I can’t afford the cost,” she said. “Mr. Denham needs to respond to all of his constituents, and so far, from what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard, it’s not happening.”
The ACA also saved Nevfeld’s grandson, who at just five days old required open heart surgery which without the act would have made him uninsurable.
“If you take away the ACA, people are going to die,” she said.
Denham has made his position on repealing the ACA clear. A banner on his website reads “Repeal and Replace: Improving Healthcare for America” and is the first thing that greets those visiting the page. On the website, Denham describes the ACA as “a knot of tangled legislation filled with loopholes, taxes, cumbersome regulations and uniform policies that cannot be undone.”
Constituent groups are welcome to request meetings in the office, said McFaul.
Area activist groups plan to continue to urge Denham to “show his face,” and local retirees and working people plan to hold a rally outside of his office Friday from 12 to 1 p.m.