Many of the 1,000-plus people who packed Brighton High School on Thursday night for a town hall with U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Alpine, held double-sided signs reading “Agree” and “Disagree.”
The “Disagree” side was pointed his direction far more often.
The crowd of dissatisfied people met Chaffetz with a loud chorus of boos when he first walked into the auditorium — and the mood toward Chaffetz did not improve throughout the night as they asked him questions on topics ranging from Planned Parenthood to immigration.
Several groups had mobilized via social media beforehand, and though the town hall was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., by 5:15 p.m., people were already lined up around the Cottonwood Heights building.
When the doors opened at 6 p.m., the auditorium quickly filled nearly to its capacity of 1,080, leaving hundreds more outside.
Those left outside protested, chanting phrases like “Bring him (Chaffetz) out,” or “Do your job,” and holding signs with phrases like “Give me tax returns or give me impeachment.”
Tax returns were one of the biggest topics of the night.
After one question from the crowd in which a woman reminded Chaffetz of his stance on Trump’s tax returns during the election, Chaffetz told the crowd that his stance on that hasn’t changed. He still believes Trump should hand over his tax returns.
“I said if you’re going to run for president, you should have to release your tax returns,” Chaffetz said. “Here’s the difference, that’s my opinion. My guess is everyone in here has that same opinion…” He paused as members of the crowd angrily shouted over him. “But it’s not required by law,” He finished to more angry shouting.
Shannon Black, of Orem, asked Chaffetz why he wanted to defund Planned Parenthood.
As a single mother of three with a family history of cancer, Black said, Planned Parenthood was what had allowed her to get regular cancer screenings after an irregular pap smear in her twenties.
Chaffetz responded by telling her how he had lost both his parents to cancer. He then proceeded to say “My wife …” when he was drowned out by the crowd shouting that he wasn’t answering the question.
“There is so little decency here,” Chaffetz said, before saying he thought the federal funding given to Planned Parenthood would be better spent at community health centers, which was once again met with boos and shouts from the crowd.
Black said she appreciated Chaffetz taking time to answer her question, and said she will take him at his word and hold him accountable to continuing a dialogue and discussion with constituents.
“We obviously have a very deep divide, and I think we differ on what the facts say about what can be provided for women through community health centers, but I appreciate him taking the time to answer my questions,” Black said after the meeting.
This kind of turnout and activism is typical of what’s happening across the nation, said Jonny Griffith, chairman of the Utah County Democratic Party.
Multiple groups dissatisfied with Chaffetz’s previous answers on issues like investigating Trump’s possible conflicts of interests, the congressman’s handling of public lands and his stance on abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, had mobilized people on Facebook beforehand.
“People are showing up in a way that they never have before,” Griffith said. “So, if I was Congressman Chaffetz, I would be thrilled to see that his constituents, whether or not he agrees with them, are coming down.”