Hanford Resident Ron Bates patiently waited for almost three hours for his turn to share his concerns with his local representative Congressman David Valadao, R-Hanford.
Valadao held a ‘Hometown Huddle’ event on March 6 to listen to constituents in the 21st Congressional District during 10-minute-one-on-one meetings, which aimed to provide participants with the opportunity to discuss their specific concerns and share their stories with him first hand.
Bates was among several dozen constituents who showed up for the opportunity to talk to the Congressman.
According to Anna Vetter, deputy chief of staff and communications director with Valadao’s office, approximately 62 people had signed up within the first two hours of the event, which started at 3 p.m. Those attending were on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Vetter said within the first two hours, Valadao met with approximately 18 people since some of those meetings included couples.
Vetter added that a “big email blast” was sent out to some 50,000 constituents in the district three days prior to the event, which took place at his congressional office on North Irwin Street in downtown Hanford.
In the email to his constituents, Valadao told them that “listening to the values and concerns of my constituents is one of the most important parts of my job as your representative.”
Vetter said they didn’t expect the huge turnout and added that Valadao was planning on meeting with all the people who signed in at the event.
However, many constituents left before they got a chance to talk to the Congressman as time went by and the long wait continued. Others brought their own chairs as limited seating was available inside the lobby of Valadao’s office.
Bates said the lack of a seating area might have contributed to people leaving before talking to Valadao, adding that some of those who left were elderly people who “were standing all this time, a man in a wheelchair, some young people with small children.”
Bates, who arrived around 2:30 p.m. hoping to be one of the first ones to meet with Valadao, walked out of Valadao’s office around 5:30 p.m.
“It’s a ridiculous use of time,” Bates said of the long wait to talk to Valadao for only 10 minutes.
Bates’ No. 1 concern was the Affordable Care Act and wanted Valadao’s “assurance that he wouldn’t vote to a repeal of it unless there was a very a good replacement, which he gave me. So we will see,” he said.
“I am concerned about my neighbors. There are a lot of people who have children that need the ACA,” Bates said. “There are people who work at minimum wage with no other insurance and didn’t have any insurance until the ACA. And we have in Kings County alone 13,000 people who are going to lose their insurance if they repeal the ACA and do not replace it with something better,” Bate said.
Bate also talked to Valadao about the need of an open forum meeting like a town hall, where anybody can come in, anybody can speak to him, listen to him.
Melissa Reyna, a constituent from Sanger, drove to Hanford arriving at 3 p.m. and the line to sign in was already long.
Reyna felt the ‘Hometown Huddle’ event was not advertised well in advance for constituents to be able to take time from work to attend.
“I’ve been here for three hours, so I have to stay to see him now,” Reyna said of not getting discouraged to wait more time for the opportunity to share her concerns with Valadao. “There were definitely a lot of people, elderly folks, who were here and got extremely discouraged and left.”
Reyna also wanted to talk to Valadao about the ACA and the discussion of the repeal and replacement of the ACA which would affect a lot of her family members and friends.
“There are lots of people I know who have been able to get the health care they need, they have been able to get surgeries they need as a result of now having coverage,” Reyna said. “There is a lot of uncertainty going around.
“Especially in the Central Valley, you have such a high number of people enrolled in Medi-Cal,” Reyna said.
Like Bates, some of the people who waited their turn to meet with Valadao also said they would have preferred a town hall meeting setting instead of the individual one-on-one meetings.
“He could have been more efficient if he would have held a town hall,” said Ruth López, adding that many of the constituents have the same questions or concerns. “He could have answered them once in front of a crowd.”
López arrived around 4:30 p.m. and after she signed in she went home to drop off some of her children so they wouldn’t be waiting with her for hours.
López said she “appreciated the one-on-one; the gesture of it, but it would have been more efficient with a town hall.”
The main topic López wanted to talk to Valadao was about DACA, and immigration reform, especially knowing that some DACA students are being deported.
“I am wondering if he is working with schools on becoming sanctuary schools or anything like that,” López said. “Or how is he working with ICE officials, I just want to hear what he is doing in that regard.”
López said she was hoping to see a bigger Latino turnout; however, she felt that the amount of time they were notified of the event by email was not enough for some people to take time off to attend, plus she wasn’t sure if Valadao’s office was planning on providing translation for those who needed it.