SEATTLE – U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert responded Wednesday night to growing criticism over his policy of not holding public town halls, saying he decided to stop them for safety concerns and because he found them to be counterproductive.
Reichert, R-Auburn, told Q13 News that he made the change after Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others were shot while she held a public meeting in a supermarket parking lot in Arizona in 2011.
“I think the majority of the people have legitimate concerns and fears,” Reichert said. “We want to hear those legitimate concerns and fears. But there, in my experience, is always a faction that will want to show up and create a scene and we’re going to avoid that.
“It would be irresponsible of me to put my staff and put my constituents in a situation that is unsafe.”
Reichert said he and his staff have experienced stalking, threats and even assault.
“Those things aren’t gonna happen,” Reichert said. “I would be irresponsible in allowing that sort of an atmosphere to exist.”
Instead, Reichert said, he holds hour-long meetings with people in small groups of eight to 10. He said he’s found that to be more productive and respectful, and said some of his constituents have said they prefer that to a town hall – and that he doesn’t trust the motivations of those who say otherwise.
“Would you rather have a town hall with 500 people and not get to ask your question and you may not have an answer to your question?” he said. “And some have said, ‘I’d rather have a town hall.’ And that tells me, they don’t want to talk to me and they don’t want to listen to me and they don’t want me to listen to them – they just want to shout at me.”
Reichert, a Republican, said Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell don’t hold town halls either and said he should be held to the same standard.
Reichert, who took office in 2005, also said he won’t necessarily side with President Donald Trump on every issue out of party loyalty.
“I don’t let anybody tell me what to do,” he said. “President Bush, President Obama – I think that what I would ask people is to go to my website and see how many times I have veered away from the party, I’ve veered away from the President. “It doesn’t matter which administration it is.”
He did say he plans to work on the Trump administration’s promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s in a death spiral, as the Aetna insurance company has said,” Reichert said. “It’s created higher premiums and higher co-pays. It is a failed law and we are going to replace it with laws that create a patient-centered health-care plan where people can choose their own doctor, choose their own healthcare plan, choose their own insurance and have control over their healthcare.”