Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz held a packed and chaotic town-hall meeting in Cottonwood Heights on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. Hundreds were unable to get in, and many of those who did met Chaffetz with shouting and booing.
Because of the number of online RSVP’s, the meeting was moved from Cottonwood Heights to Brighton High School. Despite the change in venue, the line wrapped around the building an hour before the meeting started, and not everyone in the crowd made it inside to hear Chaffetz speak.
“A couple hundred of people were left outside,” said Emilia Wint, a Westminster College sophomore majoring in outdoor education and leadership.
Police later reported there were 1,000 people outside.
Wint tried to attend the meeting but was unable to get in, so she stayed outside the school and participated in the protest instead.
“A lot of people had signs and there was a lot of chanting,” Wint said. “Every person I encountered was against Chaffetz.”
Wint said she saw signs that said “Protect wild Utah” and “Chaffetz is another pussy grabbed by Trump.”
Inside the high school auditorium, the crowd chanted “let them in” as Chaffetz took the stage.
Chaffetz addressed the crowd with a ‘Thank you.’ They responded with a roar of booing.
Chaffetz called on a member of the audience wearing a purple jacket to ask the first question of the night.
“BLM 2.0 calls for more public input and transparency,” he said. “You voted against this. Explain why.”
“I want more public input,” Chaffetz said. “Some will agree with me; some will disagree.”
The crowd erupted into chaos again.
“Answer the question!” a member of the crowd shouted, and a man and women then rushed the stage.
“I have the floor now,” said the man who rushed the stage.
Chaffetz asked the crowd to settle down.
“I want to get through as many questions as possible,” he said.
Once the yelling subsided, a member of the audience asked about H.R. 622, a bill Chaffetz sponsors that aims to terminate law enforcement from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The crowd erupted again, and many members of the audience held up cards that read “disagree” on them.
“We will talk about 622 in a minute,” Chaffetz said. “We’ll come back to that.”
Next, Chaffetz asked the crowd for its opinion of H.R. 621, a bill he sponsored with the intention to sell federal land back to individual states. Chaffetz retracted this bill.
“Did you like it when I withdrew H.R. 621?” Chaffetz asked, and the crowd applauded.
A member of the audience asked Chaffetz if he had any private interests regarding public land.
“I have no private interest,” Chaffetz said, and the crowd’s applause changed immediately to booing.
“What we are trying to do with the public lands initiative is come to a balanced approach,” Chaffetz said. “ I hope you do appreciate that not every single person has the same view point on the use of the public lands.”
Once the contentious conversation about public lands was finished, Chaffetz called on a woman wearing a hijab.
She said she was a Muslim woman and wanted to know why Trump’s travel ban did not include Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
“Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question,” Chaffetz said. “I know that the seven countries on that list were identified by the Obama administration.”
The crowd booed.
“We can’t do vetting in many of these countries,” he said.
Chaffetz said it’s very difficult to conduct vetting in countries where there is no government.
“When we give people visas, we rely on the host government to actually help us in the background check,” Chaffetz said. “So when you go back and give a fingerprint, what are you going to check that against?”
Chaffetz continued to call on members of the audience and was interrupted every few sentences by the crowd. He waited patiently and asked the crowd to calm down so he could get through as many questions as possible.
A man who said he was a supporter of Chaffetz and Trump stood up.
“What can we do to come together as a nation?” he asked, to crowd applause.
A woman in the audience with a pink knitted hat was called on next.
She said she could not afford health insurance but was able to receive her yearly cancer screenings through Planned Parenthood.
“Explain why you are trying to take that vital health provider away from women like me,” she said. “Especially in the light of the reports that indicate that community health centers will not be able to fill the gap with Planned Parenthood closed.”
Chaffetz told her he lost his mother to breast cancer in 1995.
“She was not very old,” Chaffetz said. “She was diagnosed in her 30’s, and it was one of the hardest things I went through in my life.”
The crowd was silent for the first time as Chaffetz choked back tears.
“My dad, he died from cancer.” Chaffetz said. “Prostate cancer.”
Chaffetz said if his dad had gone to a screening that the cancer would have been preventable.
When Rep. Chaffetz took the stage, he united the crowd by engaging them in the pledge of allegiance. Photos by Cole Schrieber
“My concern is to give [Planned Parenthood] federal taxpayer dollars when we have so many in our community who disagree with that,” Chaffetz said. “I believe there is a better use for that money.”
Once again the crowd shouted at once at Chaffetz.
“Relax,” he said with a smile. “It will be good for your health.”
Through the seemingly constant shouting directed at Chaffetz, he continued to smile and make jokes throughout the night.
At 8:10 p.m., Chaffetz took his final question. He thanked the audience members for their time and walked off the stage as the crowd erupted one last time.
Outside, the protest was still going on.
“This is what democracy looks like!” protestors shouted as the audience left the high school.