Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
RUIDOSO – Republican Congressman Steve Pearce faced hundreds of impassioned constituents Saturday during his first town hall since the election.
Only one punch was thrown – and not even over politics. Sheriff Robert Shepperd said two men scuffled after one took a photo of the other against his wishes. The event at the Ruidoso Convention Center drew some 300 people and was rowdy, but otherwise nonviolent.
“The most important thing that happened is that we, with very different viewpoints, sat down and had a civil discussion,” Pearce told the Journal after the two-hour town hall. “Yes, it was rowdy. I don’t mind that at all. People do have strong opinions, and this is how the process works.”
Republican lawmakers across the country have faced fired-up crowds, many of them Democrats angry at President Donald Trump over his plans for health care, education, public lands, the environment, immigration and the border. Pearce drew criticism for weeks for not holding a town hall sooner, although he did hold a conference call during which his office said some 10,000 people phoned in.
New Mexico’s second congressional district spans the state’s border with Mexico and is one of the largest districts in the country, geographically speaking. Constituents showed up in force from Ruidoso, Las Cruces, Artesia, Roswell and Carlsbad. Pearce started by requesting questions from people who disagreed with him.
There were plenty who did. Questions about Republicans’ plans for expanding private use of public lands and the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act dominated much of the discussion, along with concerns about education reforms and the fate of Planned Parenthood women’s health clinics, which Republicans have vowed to defund.
Wayne McDonald of Alamogordo stood up in the front row and told Pearce that, after the congressman voted to repeal the ACA, also known as Obamacare, he called his office to ask if the government was going to take away his wife’s Medicaid. The office said “not for a long time,” McDonald told Pearce.
“How do I explain to my wife when we’re sitting in the doctor’s office – that we finally got to sit in – that ‘don’t worry, Steve Pearce says it’s not going to happen for a long time?’ What is a long time? And when are you going to take her health care away from her?”
Pearce told him “the Affordable Care Act is in the process of total collapse” before being momentarily drowned out by boos.
He continued, “We either do nothing or we do something. That is where we are. Now, you have heard Mr. Trump. You have seen me vote for repeals, and the idea is that we are going to repeal and replace. Our leader Mr. (Paul) Ryan has said we’re not going to leave anybody hanging.”
Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, is Speaker of the House.
Between shouts and jeers, the subject of civil political discourse itself became a theme of the town hall. More than one constituent said they were worried about how harsh political rhetoric has become. One woman pleaded with Pearce, “What can you do to help bring us all together?”
Pearce described ways he has tried to reach across the aisle, particularly with Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a West Texas Democrat with whom he has sponsored immigration reforms in the past.
“I take it personal when people look with contempt on the opposite viewpoint,” Pearce said. “I am here to listen to opposite viewpoints.”
A dozen or so members of the Democratic Party of Lincoln County gathered outside the convention center afterward holding fluorescent-colored signs with “Hands off our public lands” and “Social Security needs to be saved – from Republicans.” As the group shouted answers to a television reporter’s questions, one woman said, “I think he listened, but I’m not sure he changed his mind any.”