You have to hand it to Congresswoman Martha McSally: Faced with the possibility that she would look cowardly for refusing to hold an open-topic town hall, she figured out a way to outmaneuver local constituents who were hoping to tarnish her carefully polished image of a fighter who is standing up to Washington.
And so today, McSally will be having a town hall in Sahuarita and a group of her more critical constituents will be hosting their own “McSally Take a Stand” town hall in Tucson.
As the Weekly
has reported earlier, pressure has been growing on McSally to do an open-topic town hall. McSally has steered away from such events, preferring to do town halls via conference call or appear at workplaces like IBM or Raytheon (where people who might challenge her would be inhibited by the presence of their bosses) or at senior centers.
McSally’s reluctance to do a traditional town hall is understandable, given the way that Tea Party activists used them during the Obama administration to challenge Democratic congressmen and the way that Democrats have flipped the script and are now using them to challenge Republican members of Congress as they prepare to repeal the Affordable Care Act, eliminate insurance protections for citizens with pre-existing health conditions, allow coal-mine operators to dump waste into streams, deliver ginormous tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, create a new tax on imports (including those that keep the Southern Arizona economy churning), destroy Planned Parenthood, transform Medicare into a voucher system, round up as many undocumented immigrants as their private prisons can hold, undermine NATO and the European Union, and otherwise pursue the Trump-Ryan-McConnell agenda while they control the White House and Congress.
Various constituents have met with members of McSally’s staff, including District Director C.J. Karamargin (a former local newspaper reporter and communications director for Gabby Giffords when she held the seat that McSally now has), to request a town hall. Karamargin had the job of telling them that it either wasn’t going to happen or that something might be in the works.
But after a bunch of protestors showed up at McSally’s office to deliver petitions requesting a town hall, McSally herself quietly asked a handful of the leaders up to her office to discuss the idea of town hall. Accounts of the meeting vary, but several of those women who were in the meeting say that McSally shifted from sympathetic to condescending in her conversation with them. At the end of the meeting, McSally said she’d try to work with them to schedule some kind of town hall.
As a result, the women involved agreed to hold off on their plan to host the “McSally Take a Stand” town hall without McSally, where they would discuss various issues and try to suss out McSally’s stance on them—which can be challenging, given that McSally will often sidestep controversial details, such as what exactly the “replace” portion of the plan to repeal-and-replace Obamacare involves.
At the same time, McSally did a town hall via conference call and said that she wasn’t attending the McSally Take a Stand town hall because it amounted to “political theater” and a “political ambush.”
The organizers of the McSally Take a Stand town hall insist that they wanted a civil exchange and not a contentious event, as some town halls around the country have become.
Marion Chubon, the founder of McSally Take a Stand, says she was looking for a way “to engage with (McSally) in a meaningful way.”
Chubon said her group “truly is motivated by civil discourse and having her represent us. This wasn’t a trap.”
Chubon says she’s not a professional political activist; she’s a 49-year-old local mom who has a crafting business and her previous political activity consisted on walking her neighborhood on behalf of Gabby Giffords.
She decided to get more involved in politics after Trump’s election.
“Honestly, I can’t believe that anyone thinks what’s happening in Washington is OK,” Chubon says. “I understand there are political machinations at work but it is lunacy up there. She is a leader of our community and we need her to reassure us she’s taking care of us.”
As a Jewish woman, Chubon is particularly concerned about Trump strategist Steve Bannon. “My son is 14 and terrified about this administration,” she says. “After the election, and after I had assured him that there was no way this man could become president, I had to have some answers for my child.”
Likewise, Kristen Randall, who has launched a local branch of the national Indivisible movement, is new to the political scene. Randall, 34, is a registered Republican; the hydrology scientist grew up in a Republican family in New York, but says she discovered a much more conservative breed of Republican when she moved to Arizona.
“I was an informed voter but never really engaged,” Randall says. “I see my party really changing and moving in an extreme direction and I wanted Martha McSally to tell us, what is the temperature in Washington, D.C?”
When Karamargin continued to give them the run-around, Chubon, Randall and their allies moved forward with their McSally Take a Stand town hall. And the next day, McSally announced that she would be having her own town hall: On the same day, but down in Sahuarita, a few hours earlier than the McSally Take a Stand town hall.
Chubon says she had to laugh out loud when she saw what McSally had done.
“Doesn’t it feel like political theater and an ambush?” Chubon asks. “I’m disappointed in the lack of transparency. It didn’t seem like (McSally’s staff) were talking to us in good faith. It felt like it they were misleading us.”
Randall likewise says she also feels like McSally is the one directing the political theater performance, especially since McSally’s staff didn’t let her know McSally was planning a separate town hall, even though she had been trying to work with them.
“I feel kind of snubbed,” she says. “We are very specifically looking to engage with our members of Congress. I’m not a strategist, but I feel like she’s been getting this bad press because of my group and Marion’s group have been pushing this narrative about her not having a town hall. So I feel like this was a trap.”
So both town halls are going on today: McSally’s town hall, moderated by Green Valley News Editor Dan Shearer, will take place at 4 p.m. at The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ, 17750 S. La Canada Drive. (The venue holds about 300 people and doors open at 3 p.m. It’s scheduled to be livestreamed at gvnews.com
if you can’t make the drive to Sahuarita.
Meanwhile, the McSally Take a Stand town hall is still a go as well, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at St. Francis in the Foothills, 4625 E. River Road. You can watch it on Facebook Live via the McSally Take a Stand Facebook page.
Whether you think McSally has made a brilliant maneuver or has been too clever by half depends on your political perspective, but it’s clear that the congresswoman is aware that representing a competitive district in the Age of Trump will require a great deal of subterfuge and careful strategy.