VISTA, Calif. (CN) – More than 300 protesters gathered this week at Republican Rep. Darrell Issa’s Vista, California, office in a grassroots effort being watched nationwide, as the congressman grapples with the changing politics of his traditionally Republican district.
Protesters have been showing up weekly for “Resist Trump Tuesdays” at Issa’s district office, since President Donald Trump’s unexpected election win last November. Issa was an early and strong supporter of Trump’s campaign, a political move which may have been why Issa was reelected by just over 1,600 votes in November over newcomer Democrat Doug Applegate.
Issa has served in the House since 2001.
Since the election, Issa’s constituents – which include residents from northern San Diego cities including Del Mar, Oceanside and Carlsbad, as well as Ladera Ranch in south Orange County – had been putting the pressure on their congressman to hold a town hall meeting to get their input on the current administration’s priorities.
Issa dodged their requests for an in-person town hall for weeks, citing the high costs involved. He claimed the San Diego Sheriff’s Department had previously charged him $50,000 for security services at a town hall in 2009, so he preferred to have phone-in town hall conversations. But a public records request to the sheriff’s department by one of Issa’s constituents revealed the congressman was charged $6,000 for security, not the $50,000 he had claimed.
Residents of the 49th District even crowd-funded $6,000 for a full-page ad in The San Diego Union Tribune asking Issa to show up at a town hall they planned last month. Issa did not attend, citing a scheduling conflict.
But last weekend, Issa held back-to-back town hall discussions focused on the Republicans’ replacement of former President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law. But now that the congressman has met with concerned citizens from his district, those Tuesday protesters haven’t backed off putting pressure on their representative to resist Trump’s policies.
Who Are the Protesters?
The group of more than 300 protesters at Issa’s office Tuesday appeared to be mostly older white people. Many held signs and yelled chants including “Forward together, not one step back,” “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Darrell Issa has got to go” and “If you go with [Paul] Ryan, you’ll be crying.”
At one point the protesters turned around to face Issa’s office and yell, “We’re not paid!” in response to comments made by Issa, Trump and other GOP representatives that protesters who’ve shown up to their offices and public engagements in droves are paid by opposition groups.
Paul Terwilliger told Courthouse News he’s been showing up to the Tuesday protests for weeks and that he’s particularly concerned about environmental-protection rollbacks and health care.
He said Issa, like Trump, does not represent the people and that he’s looking forward to the 2018 midterm elections, when he believes many Republicans will be ousted.
“It won’t be just us. It will be a nation fed up with what the Republican Party has done. The terrorists are in Washington, not across the border,” Terwilliger said.
He said he believes the Issa protests have maintained momentum because “our future and the country’s future depend on it.”
Esther Escovodo and Kathy Muckley from Rancho Bernardo are also regulars at the Tuesday protests, and said for many in attendance “it’s no longer a party thing,” since Republicans and Independents also join Democrats in calling for Issa to better represent them in Washington.
“Darrell Issa has been unresponsive, more than anything. He does not listen to his constituents and he is holding his party above the people he represents,” Escovodo said.
One of the initial organizers of the protests, Ellen Montanari, told Courthouse News the protest efforts do not boil down to one leader or group. She said little neighborhood groups pop up weekly, many of which are affiliated with churches and were founded since the November election.
She said Issa’s “behavior” is what keeps hundreds of people coming back week after week, since he’s remained largely unavailable to his constituents.
Montanari said because Issa won reelection by such a slim margin, people believe they can prevent his reelection in 2018 if they stay involved.
“People know if they get active and stay active they can have a voice. My ability to have an impact at the federal level is small, but my ability to impact this district is great,” Montanari said.
The organizer counted their “successes” as a reason people come back week after week.
“In two months, we went from zero to Rachel Maddow, to the Washington Post, in a district that is traditionally conservative. Issa has not been paying attention to the changes in the district,” Montanari said.
Issa “rode in on Trump’s coattails,” she added. But while Trump hasn’t changed his message, she said that perhaps Issa has stepped away from the president’s polices because his district is leaning more and more to the left.
At his town hall last weekend, Issa said he would not support defunding Planned Parenthood. A few days later, he went on the record on the Fox News show “Fox and Friends” to say he would not vote for the Republican health care replacement as is.
Issa has already announced his plans to seek reelection in 2018, and has been put in the Patriot Program by the National Republican Congressional Committee to help with his fundraising and campaigning. Two Democrats have said they plan to run against Issa, including his previous opponent Applegate and newcomer Mike Levin, an Orange County environmental lawyer.
Tim and Misty O’Healy are also regulars at the Tuesday protests and got politically active with the progressive group Together We Will North County following the November election. Tim O’Healy said the bipartisan group of people who go to the weekly protests is “what this country is built on.”
People are organizing across political ideologies and various causes, with a lot of connections being made on Facebook and social media, O’Healy said.
“We’re concerned because Congressman Issa has a very poor voting record on the issues that are important to us. His voting record is almost against all of these issues, all of the time. We’re not going to have that anymore, the complacency is gone,” O’Healy said.
O’Healy said the 49th District has turned from “very bright red Republican” to a “shade of purple that is leaning Democrat.”
Protesters are taking a two-pronged approach in the 49th District, O’Healy said. They want to influence Issa’s voting record so he represents his constituency rather than his special interests, and eventually hope to boot him from office in the 2018 midterm elections.
Misty O’Healy said the presidential election has spurred many in Issa’s district to action.
“Many people are now driven to action and want to be part of the solution. The same people say they were complacent and thought it was for someone else to do, but now are saying I want it to be part of my job,” O’Healy said.
Protesters said they plan to show up at Issa’s Vista office every Tuesday for Trump’s first 100 days as president.