HOLBROOK - Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick abruptly walked out of a scheduled event Thursday morning in Holbrook after people became upset that she wasn't addressing the crowd as a whole.
Kirkpatrick, a Democrat representing Arizona's District 1, announced she would be holding one of her new "Chat with Ann" events at the Safeway store at 10:45 a.m., which she said would make it "as convenient as possible for folks to talk about their concerns and issues."
The congresswoman planned to speak to people one-on-one for a period of one hour, but the crowd of about 50 people expected her to address them in a "town hall" style.
"Although the event was listed in the local paper as a 'Chat,' many people came with the impression it would be a 'town hall' type event where questions would be taken from the audience and answers given to all," Jeff Lineberry, chairman of the Navajo County Republican Committee, told The Independent.
"Given how and where the event was planned, there appeared to be an expectation of having only five to 10 people show up. The event was staged in the front lobby of Safeway, and the crowd kept getting in the way of shoppers entering and leaving the store," Lineberry said.
Lineberry noted that people from all over Navajo and Apache counties attended the event and it became obvious there would not be enough time for Kirkpatrick to meet with everyone who attended.
"Suggestions were made from the crowd that the event could be moved outside or it could be changed to a 'town hall' style meeting in order for everyone to get their common questions answered. Those suggestions were dismissed and Rep. Kirkpatrick tried to continue the discussion with individuals at the table while the crowd strained to hear the questions and answers," Lineberry said.
"After about five minutes, one of the people asked a question aloud about requiring members of Congress to fall under the same health care as being considered for the rest of us. At this point, Rep. Kirkpatrick got up from the table and left without further comment, to rousing applause from the audience.
"As I left, there were still people coming to Safeway looking for the meeting and becoming disappointed that she had left," Lineberry added.
"She tried to control it by going just one-on-one with the folks who where there. We were all upset with this format," Steven Slaton of Winslow said.
"Needless to say, we were stern in saying, 'Have the people ask the questions so we can hear it and we want to hear your answer.' After the first couple was done, the second person asked - not one-on-one - if Congress will sign onto the health-care bill for their own coverage, and she just keep on asking the person to just sit down so we can talk one-on-one.
"When the person didn't want this type of format, but kept on pressing for an answer, well, she had nothing to do with that. She got up and left," Slaton said.
"This is getting out of hand, when a U.S. representative of Congress walks out from their folks whom they are suppose to represent, us the people," he added.
"Our representative walked out on us. She arrived 10 minutes late and walked out after eight to 10 minutes," Lakeside resident Richard Nash said, adding, "I wanted to talk about the Medicare bill. I am extremely disappointed in Ann Kirkpatrick."
Show Low resident Evonne Young said she drove to Holbrook to meet with Kirkpatrick.
"I have no opinion of her. Based on her Web site I thought she's pretty good," she noted, before saying that Kirkpatrick "talked very quiet so nobody could hear the questions and answers" and the "angry mob kept asking her to speak louder so we could hear."
However, Terry Hill, Shumway disagreed with the description. "It was not an unruly crowd. They only became upset when she would not talk to the people and she walked out."
St. Johns resident Ray Webber said he wanted to hear what Kirkpatrick had to say, but "there were no loud speakers, no microphone. Obviously she did not want to talk to the group, only individuals. I agree with how she's voted on some things, and I want to know her opinion on other things. I'm very upset with her. I hope she doesn't get reelected. I'd rather have someone you can talk to, even if you don't agree."
Joseph City resident Eli Blake, first vice chair of the Navajo County Democrat Party, said he saw something different.
"This is what I observed. She set up a table, attempted to meet people coming in and out. The first couple of people talked, then the crowd showed up. They were not interested in the answers she was trying to give them. They started to shout her down and it got to the point she grew so frustrated she left. There was no point in her staying," Blake said.
Sheriff K.C. Clark, who stressed that he was there to deliver chairs and a table at the congresswomen's request and not to provide security, agreed with Blake.
"She was trying to talk one-on-one and it just didn't work out. That seemed to anger people. She wanted to talk one-on-one and people weren't going to let her do that. She didn't want to talk to a crowd, so what's the sense in staying? Nothing would be accomplished," Clark said, adding that it appeared most people wanted to talk about health care.
He said that he was "shocked" by the crowd's reaction. "You couldn't hear. I was definitely shocked."
The sheriff also noted that most of the people in the crowd didn't appear to be local folks from Holbrook and Joseph City, as was the case that afternoon in Winslow, where Kirkpatrick was to tour the Winslow levee and police department. She also canceled those events.
"There were a lot of the same people and a bunch of others I didn't recognize. They showed up with posters and signs," Clark said.
It's unclear whether it was an organized protest. Some people told The Independent that it was not organized and they simply showed up.
However, one Democrat, who asked to remain anonymous said he heard someone at the Safeway event say that he had been contacted by the RNC (presumably the Republican National Committee) and told to be there. He said he overheard another person say he had driven 260 miles to be at the event after getting an e-mail telling him to be there and "to be disruptive."
Joe Katz, Kirkpatrick's press secretary, said there's a trend across the nation of people "shouting down" and "folks trying to silence those with opposing opinions."
Asked if he thought the crowd's reaction was part of an organized efforts, Katz said, "It's unfair for me to speculate, but there has been a fair amount of evidence of this kind of thing being encouraged by groups with ties to lobbyists. Some are so set against changes to the system, a system that is clearly not working."
Katz, who was not at the Safeway event, said Kirkpatrick is "very dedicated to having a dialogue" with constituents and "hearing the voice of folks in Greater Arizona to get a sense of their life and turn it into good policy.
"This requires honest dialogue between folks, to sit down one-on-one, but folks there weren't willing to have that dialogue. They were looking to silence folks, not in sharing opinion. It's understandable that they're frustrated, but there comes a point when they're stopping people from expressing their opinion."
In a statement e-mailed to The Independent, Kirkpatrick said she was "disappointed that the event was disrupted by a small but vocal group."
She said she scheduled Thursday's "Chat With Ann" to give "folks a chance to share their thoughts with me about what is happening in Washington, including critical issues like health insurance reform and getting our economy back on track."
She added, "These 'chats' are meant to give people a chance to let me know what they need and what's important to them, and today's disruptions meant that a lot of folks did not get that chance."
She said her goal is to "bring the thoughts and common-sense ideals of rural Arizona back to Washington, and talking with people at these public events is critical to achieving that goal."
Having grown up in Arizona, she said she remembers "the days when folks who disagreed would do so respectfully and were still able to work together on the important issues to find solutions.
"In my short time of representing folks in District 1, I have never been afraid to stand up for Arizonans. Sometimes that meant voting against my party, but I did it because it was in the best interest of folks back home."
In spite of how the Holbrook event turned out, Kirkpatrick said she will reschedule the "chat" and looks forward to more public events, "but more importantly I look forward to a return of civility and respectful dialogue where the focus is on the people and not scoring political points."
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