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Tensions rise as Denham Town Hall approaches
Jeff Denham
Congressman Jeff Denham will be a part of a Government Night-Town Hall starting at 6 p.m. April 17 at the Larsa Banquet Hall, 2107 E. Monte Vista Ave. Attendees should arrive prepared to show proof of District 10 residency at the door. - photo by Photo Contributed

Although District 10 constituents’ calls for Congressman Jeff Denham to hold a Town Hall meeting have been answered, local opposition groups have still taken offense to the upcoming event which they claim is full of restrictions and limitations meant to hinder attendance.

Protestors have been fighting for Denham to host a town hall for months, staging demonstrations outside of his district office in Modesto and even his neighborhood in Turlock, demanding the Congressman meet them face-to-face to answer their questions regarding topics like healthcare, women’s reproductive rights and immigration. In March, Denham announced that he would be holding a Government Night-Town Hall, along with Assemblyman Heath Flora, Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa and Mayor Gary Soiseth. Still, said Stanislaus Resistance Chair Lise Talbott, this is not enough for many constituents who want answers.

“We didn’t want a Town Hall with the Mayor of Turlock, we wanted one with Denham,” said Talbott. “It’s not a Town Hall – it’s a sham hall.”

Talbott said that she and other opposition groups believe Denham is using silencing tactics to limit who can attend the event and what questions are answered, including the format of the event and registration instructions. Constituents at the event will only be allowed to ask questions through index cards which will be screened and read aloud by a moderator, and those wishing to attend will have their IDs checked at the door and are asked to pre-register online – both of which intimidate constituents from attending and target those who are undocumented or do not have IDs, said Talbott.

“It seems to be a common tactic not just from Denham but from other members of Congress around the country to limit the people that can attend,” she said. “It doesn’t sound like there will be an opportunity for face-to-face conversation with him – it sounds like he’ll just be reading questions off of a card.”

Other issues the opposition groups have with the event include the isolated area of the Town Hall, which is being held in Denair, and the presence of three other officials who may presumably take time away from Denham.

“A real Town Hall is not a limited amount of time…anyone who is interested can attend, and it should be available to more constituents, not in a remote area,” said Talbott.

Talbott and her opposition group, Stanislaus Resistance, will be joined by other groups prior to the Town Hall event to protest, she said. Around 100 activists are expected to attend. While the event is not what the groups had in mind while protesting for a Town Hall, it’s a start, said Talbott.

“I think it’s a good first step,” she said. “But, the fact that our activism got this ‘kind of’ Town Hall to begin with is a good thing. It shows the pressure we’ve been putting on him is working.”

Despite tensions between Denham and opposition groups, Denham’s office said that the Town Hall was not a response to complaints, but rather the first Government Night held since the new Congress began. Turlock’s first Government Night was held in 2011 and has since become an annual event.

“As always, the Congressman hopes to hear what’s on the minds of constituents,” said Jessica McFaul, Denham’s communications director. “But, it’s important to remember that he does this in many different ways every day through calls and emails that come in to his offices, information relayed through his staff, constituent meetings and district events.”

The 2017 Government Night-Town Hall will be held at 6 p.m. April 17 at the Larsa Banquet Hall, 2107 E. Monte Vista Ave. Attendees should arrive prepared to show proof of District 10 residency at the door, and non-residents will be admitted if space allows. For questions, contact Denham’s Modesto office at 209-579-5458 or his Washington, D.C. office at 202-225-4540.