A full house was on hand for the April 20 town hall at Sonoma Valley High School, where Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and a passel of assembled pols gathered to field questions and comments from constituents.
Congregated at the Pavilion on the high school campus, a solidly blue crowd from a solidly blue district swelled to standing room only, with consensus wafting sweetly through the spring air. Thompson stepped to the microphone and surveyed the room, clearly impressed at the level of civic participation.
“Wow,” Thompson said. “You know, I stopped doing these town halls a couple of years ago because no one showed up! It’s great to see people excited, with a renewed interest in town halls.”
The crowd applauded enthusiastically, setting the cooperative tone that would hold through the evening.
It was Thompson’s fifth town hall in three days – the only stop in Sonoma – but the Congressman appeared crisp and energetic in a starched shirt and blue tie.
Leading with a “greatest hits” summary of current congressional goings on before introducing his cohort, Thompson briefly addressed the potential “ripping health care away from 24 million people” with a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, President Trump’s “wrong-headed travel ban” and border wall — mention of which was met with loud boos — and a host of other collateral damage allegedly on the way from Republican leadership in Washington D.C. Then he turned the microphone over to his colleagues on the dais, and didn’t get it back for nearly an hour.
Rachel Hundley, Sonoma’s mayor, ran down City Council talking points, summarizing the current agenda and inviting participation. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin offered a perspective of County issues – advocating to “strengthen the safety net,” provide housing for all, rebuild infrastructure, and prioritize clean watersheds. Lucy Benz-Rogers, an immigration lawyer from the International Institute of the Bay Area, hit a nerve with the mostly white crowd when she spoke of the need for “quality low-cost immigration advocacy,” and Cheryl Johnson, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Health Center, addressed the link between social uncertainty and wellness.
“Anxiety and fear have physical manifestations that impact health,” Johnson said.
Alan Piombo from Senior Advocacy Services focused his remarks on Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, addressing concerned seniors in the crowd: “I’m 70 years old. I’ve been on Medicare for a while. I can tell some of you have, too,” he said, getting a mild laugh from his contemporaries.
All parties signaled a general sense of alarm at the promised dismantling of social services by the Trump administration. Rather than an executive agenda to “make America great again,” the Town Hall crowd saw a democracy heading off the rails.
When Thompson regained the microphone he was handed a thick stack of questions, focused primarily on national issues. Of “dreamers” and the debate about sanctuary cities, Thompson said bluntly, “The immigration system in the United States of America is broken. It doesn’t work.”
Addressing the North Korea’s ambitions with its nuclear program, Thompson lamented both the Trump administration’s 465 vacant positions and its 30 percent cut to the State Department budget.
“We need a fully staffed diplomatic core,” said Thompson. “We need to be doing everything we possibly can to ensure that we don’t go to war.”