SALT LAKE CITY — Freshman Congressman Ben McAdams ticked a campaign promise box — and diverged from the playbook favored by his GOP predecessor — by hosting a town hall meeting Saturday in West Valley City.
One attendee underscored how much the public appearance, McAdams' first as the new Democratic District 4 representative, was appreciated following the penchant by former Rep. Mia Love to avoid group gatherings.
"I want to express, on behalf of the CD4 Coalition, its board of directors and 1,000-plus members, how much we appreciate Congressman McAdam's openness and accessibility," said CD4 Coalition Director Chris Bell. "It's refreshing after Mia Love refusing to meet in this setting for the last three years."
Questions from the crowd of about 85 in attendance at the Redwood Recreation Center in West Valley City touched on a variety of issues in the hour-long forum. The topics were varied and included concerns about changes to the Affordable Care Act, climate change, public lands, Capitol Hill gridlock and gun control.
Not surprisingly, the federal government shutdown featured largely and McAdams kicked off the event just an hour or so before President Donald Trump was scheduled to address the nation on a proposed border security compromise.
FBI agent Stephen Olsen, a 20-year veteran of the agency, said he is one of the 800,000 furloughed government workers but, because of his exempt status, is still reporting to work every day without receiving a paycheck.
Olsen said he'd worked multiple assignments that included border security issues and had witnessed drug traffickers "throwing duffel bags full of drugs directly over the border where no wall existed." He underscored the need for enhanced border security and said he supported the shutdown. However, he also noted he wasn't supportive of Trump's plans for expansive wall building.
"I've seen what border security is like," Olsen said. "I don't respect Nancy Pelosi's position and I really don't support President Trump's position either. There are lots of people in D.C. saying 'not a dollar for a wall' or 'we need a wall across the entire southern border.'"
Olsen, who noted his opinions were his own and that he was not speaking on behalf of his agency, said he believes the real solution lies somewhere in between.
"The U.S. Border Patrol proposed 234 miles of targeted fencing, not a wall," Olsen said. "There is a need for border security but not for a wall 2,000 miles long."
He also noted that even though he had not voted for McAdams, he is praying daily for the congressman's success.
McAdams, speaking before hearing the news of Trump's proposal, said he'd voted eight times to re-open government but was not, in true Blue Dog fashion, siding entirely with the position of the House speaker. He noted he was ready to work with members of his own party, as well as those from across the aisle, to "find a better way forward."
District 4 resident Brian Fabbi, who introduced himself as a member of the United Utah Party and a state legislative candidate in the last election, expressed his concern about the lack of civility and severe partisanship that is contributing to the lack of progress by federal lawmakers.
"We really believe that civility is lacking," Fabbi said. "Politicians need to do what's best for everybody to improve the lives of everybody. Not just the people who donate, not just the people in their party, but everybody."
McAdams pointed to his long record of working with Republicans as both a minority party member of the Utah Senate and as a Democratic Salt Lake County mayor who had to find ways to work with a county council that enjoyed a GOP majority. He said that body of experience is driving him to seek out the road less traveled by looking for opportunities to both spend time and build relationships with his Republican colleagues in congress.
"I think bipartisan policymaking has to start with bipartisan relationships and bipartisan respect," McAdams said. "One of the things I've started doing is instead of posting up where all the Democrats are (in the U.S. House chamber, between votes) is posting up in the center and organically trying to have conversations with people on the other side of the aisle."
One attendee, Clayton Hinman, a 66-year-old West Valley City resident, was concerned about what he called the erosion of Second Amendment rights. Hinman railed against Democrats in general and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in particular about gun control proposals he said restricted the rights of gun owners but "didn't do a doggone thing" to protect the public. He urged McAdams to support legislation that focused on criminal acts instead of gun owners.
"I'm not against decreasing crime but I have not seen one bill that will punish a criminal … whether they rob a bank or shoot their friend down the street or whatever," Hinman said.12 comments on this story
"Increase the penalties for those laws and I'll be behind you 100 percent. But to take away my rights and tell me how much ammunition I can have, how many guns I can buy … I don't like that."
McAdams asked those in attendance, and his broader constituency, to stay in touch with him and promised that he and his staff will be closely monitoring social media tools like Facebook and Twitter for feedback, as well as the more traditional comment routes of emails, letters and phone calls.
"I'm best at my job when I know what you think," McAdams said.
Correction: In an earlier version, photo captions misspelled FBI agent Stephen Olsen's last name as Olson.