At an impasse over town halls: Cook says no to ‘chaotic meetings’
By Stacy Moore, Hi-Desert Star
YUCCA VALLEY – Residents of the HI-Desert tried to keep up the pressure on U.S. Rep. Paul Cook with a mock candlelight vigil Tuesday, but the congressman isn’t budging.
The locals are calling for Cook to hold a town hall in his 8th District, but Cook is standing firm on his decision not to host a public meeting.
“I’ll continue meeting with constituent groups just as I have in the past – including those which disagree with me, but do so in a constructive manner,” Cook wrote in an editorial Wednesday.
“However, I won’t attend chaotic political protests which accomplish little and jeopardize the safety of participants, my staff, or me.”
The congressman and his spokesman’s descriptions of demonstrators as politically extreme agitators who could turn violent are not playing well with the residents taking part in the “Where is Paul Cook” movement.
“We are not a fringe. We’re upstanding Americans who value our democracy and we want an opportunity to express our views for him to take back to Washington, “ Eva Soltes, a spokeswoman for indivisible Morongo Basin, said at Tuesday’s vigil.
Chapters of Indivisible, a group founded in the wake of Donald Turmp’s election, are using a tongue-in-cheek “missing” campaign to spotlight his choice not to host a town hall.
At the candlelight vigil, constituents stood at the corner of Twentynine Palm Highway and Old Woman Springs Road as the sun set. They held LED candles and “missing person” fliers with Cook’s image.
“He has nothing to fear; we are very peaceful people,” Soltes said. “We just want to explain our concerns.”
One of their biggest concerns is health care; Trump voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act before under the Obama administration, and Republicans are now working on what they say will be a repeal and replacement of Obamacare.
Cook spokesman Michael Fresquez said last week the Indivisible members refuse to accept that the ACA must be repealed, and that makes them a fringe group.
“The extreme part of their political agenda is their unwillingness to accept changes to Obamacare or admit that any part of it has failed,” he said. “It has resulted in higher premiums for many people, many aren’t allowed to see the doctor they want, and fewer and fewer insurance companies are participating in the exchanges. The result for many is reduced quality of care and less affordable care.”
Soltes said Tuesday their concern about health care is a life-or-death matter. GOP proposals would lower tax credits for customers on the health care exchanges, raising costs, according to reports from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Urban Institute. “Because of the health care agenda being proposed, people could die,” Soltes said.
A post from Cook’s office on his Facebook page Tuesday asked for constituents’ thoughts on the ACA. It had garnered 199 comments by Wednesday evening.
Another topic at the candlelight vigil was immigration and deportation.
“I’m a citizen of the United States and because of Trump’s immigration policy, I feel compelled to carry my birth certificate with me at all times,” Yolanda Brown, another Indivisible spokeswoman, said.
“If I’m in fear, and I was born here, I’m sure I’m not the only one.”
In Cook’s editorial, he said he has been “unwavering” on both health care and immigration for years.
“Voters made a clear choice in my last election, and I plan to keep my word to fight for my long-held positions: Obamacare is deeply flawed and must be repealed and replaced with a better plan,” he wrote. “Any new plan must roll back Obamacare regulations and mandates while ensuring that Americans have access to quality care to fit their budget.”
He said America must secure its borders before reforming immigration law. “The borders are not secure; we must provide more resources for our border enforcement to stop not only illegal immigration but the flow of drugs, criminals and victims of human trafficking into the United States,” he wrote.
While Cook stood firm in his vow that he won’t host a town hall, Indivisible members said they aren’t going to stop.
“I hope he realizes our group is persistent, we’re strong in our beliefs and most importantly,” said Brown, “we’re not going anywhere.”