People on both sides of the polarized political spectrum in Tuolumne County say they anticipate a peaceful event when U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock comes to Sonora for a town hall meeting Wednesday.
About 50 people gathered for a demonstration last week at the Tuolumne County Administration Center to express their concerns to one of McClintock’s aides. Activists opposed to the policy positions of the Republican congressman from the 4th District are trying to get an even larger turnout for the event that begins at 6 p.m. in the Sonora High School auditorium.
“I’m anticipating at least a couple hundred people,” said John Garcia, founder of the Tuolumne County Indivisible group, which is part of a national grassroots network that’s intended to pressure GOP lawmakers into resisting the agenda of President Donald Trump.
McClintock could not be reached for comment.
Garcia was among the 50 who showed up for the protest last week at the County Administration Center. He was also one of the hundreds who participated in a demonstration at a Feb. 4 town hall hosted by McClintock in Roseville.
McClintock drew widespread criticism for telling media outlets he sensed an “anarchist element” among the protestors at his previous town hall, despite Roseville police describing the demonstration as peaceful and orderly.
Critics of McClintock have accused him of trying to misrepresent the protesters in an attempt to discredit them.
“One of the things we’re promoting is a peaceful, polite, regulated and patriotic demonstration,” Garcia said of Wednesday’s event. “McClintock has characterized us as anarchists and disruptive, and we’re going to be on our best behavior to combat that.”
Sonora police are planning to have an increased presence at the event, according to Interim Chief Mike Harden.
Harden said they are working in coordination with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol to provide security, though he stressed that they aren’t taking sides.
“We play this right down the middle,” he said. “We are a free and democratic nation. Our role is to make sure the event is safe for everyone to participate.”
Republican town halls have become increasingly more confrontational in recent weeks, according to published reports, leading to a number of GOP lawmakers opting to cancel or avoid holding such events.
The unrest is widely attributed to the election of Trump and a series of executive actions he’s taken, including steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act and a temporary ban on travel to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Earlier this month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Washington state federal judge’s ruling to temporarily block the travel ban.
A number of new groups in Tuolumne County have formed in recent weeks to organize like-minded people against the Trump administration and GOP agenda.
Last Thursday, about 40 people attended a Foothills Huddle meeting at the Sonora Fire Department station on South Shepherd Street. Such “huddles” were created by the organizers of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., as part of a larger plan for action in the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency.
Jennifer Fletcher, of Sonora, organized the event after noticing there weren’t any huddles planned in Tuolumne County. She had to find a bigger venue at the last minute after receiving over 50 RSVPs to the meeting that was promoted mostly online.
“There are a lot of strong feelings right now, and I think people need a healthy outlet for them,” Fletcher said.
Although the first meeting was mostly for people to introduce themselves and express their concerns, Fletcher said they plan to hold more meetings to develop political strategies.
Fletcher said there are a number of other groups that people can join to get involved, including the Indivisible group, several environmental groups and the Tuolumne County Democratic Club.
The club met Tuesday night at the Pine Tree Restaurant in what was described by several who went as more well-attended than a typical meeting.
At the meeting, Robert Carabas was elected as the club’s new president and Deborah Baron as the new vice president. Carabas made an unsuccessful bid in November to unseat Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, who is now in his third term.
Baron has also helped launch the Democratic Women’s Alliance that’s going to have its first meeting soon.
The ultimate goal, Baron said, is to help get some people with liberal perspectives elected to local, state and federal office in 2018. She said the county isn’t exactly as red as many might think.
According to the California Secretary of State’s office, 42 percent of the 31,402 Tuolumne County residents who registered to vote in the Nov. 8 election were Republicans and 31 percent were Democrats. More than 22 percent registered as not having a preference, meaning Democrats would need to capture most of those voters.
Sharon Marovich, chairwoman of the Tuolumne County Democratic Central Committee, has served on the committee since the mid-1970s and said she can’t recall such a flurry of left-wing activism in the county, something she attributed to both Trump and the rise of social networking websites like Facebook.
“I think it’s an excellent expression of people’s right under the Constitution for free speech and redress of grievances,” Marovich said. “We lost Barnum and Bailey’s circus, but the greatest show on Earth is now in the White House.”
Those on the other side of the aisle may not agree with the newly energized movement’s views, but they say that they respect their right to express them peacefully and respectfully.
Melinda Fleming, who is a vice chairwoman for Tuolumne County Republican Women Federated, said conservatives in the county conducted similar protests during the late 1980s and early 1990s against environmental regulations that they felt threatened the local logging industry.
“I think the appropriate kind of protest is a great thing,” Fleming said. “It’s kind of refreshing to see people there.”
However, Fleming said those that have become more unruly — such as riots at the University of California, Berkeley, campus earlier this month — make liberals look like sore losers or poor sports, something she blamed in part on younger generations being too coddled.
Fleming is also the executive director of the Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources and Environment, or TuCARE, a pro-mining, pro-logging group that will host McClintock as its keynote speaker at its 28th annual dinner and auction on March 11 at the Elks Lodge in Sonora.
Due to the recent protests, Fleming said she had to contact law enforcement about providing security for the first time in her 14 years of organizing the event. The group has hosted other controversial speakers in the past, including Myron Ebell, a prominent climate-change skeptic who headed Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team.
Fleming said she believes McClintock has done a good job representing the Mother Lode and listening to constituents over the past four-plus years in California’s Fourth Congressional District.
“We have concerns beyond the immigration stuff locally,” Fleming said. “We’re currently under three states of emergency in the county, and none of them have to do with immigration (referring to the drought, tree mortality and damage from recent storms).”
Charlotte Frazier, chairwoman of the Tuolumne County Republican Central Committee, said the committee is entirely in support of McClintock and the president.
Frazier acknowledged that peaceful assembly is a constitutional right and hopes that people inside the auditorium remain respectful so that McClintock can engage with those asking questions.
As far as the surge of new opposition groups go, Frazier said she felt positively about the Republican party’s standing in the community. She supported the rights of people to organize, but would like to see them do so behind the 45th president.
“I would personally like to see us all galvanized and get behind President Trump,” Frazier said. “He’s doing what he said he would do.”
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.