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Scenes from the 'With or Without' Erik Paulsen town hall (spoiler alert: it was without him)

Scenes from the 'With or Without' Erik Paulsen town hall
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
By the time the meeting kicked off at Plymouth’s Mount Olivet Lutheran Church at 7 p.m., the auditorium was filled to capacity.

If there’s one thing constituents in Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District could probably agree on, it’s this: Rep. Erik Paulsen isn’t really into holding in-person town hall meetings.

That’s why a district resident, Kelly Guncheon, organized an event Thursday night — to see if Paulsen would show up to listen and answer a few questions from the people he represents in Washington, D.C.

By the time the meeting kicked off at Plymouth’s Mount Olivet Lutheran Church at 7 p.m., the auditorium was filled to capacity, causing hundreds of people to spill into the chilly darkness.

The only one missing: Paulsen. 

Julie Hoyme, of Plymouth, wasn’t surprised the five-term congressman wasn’t at the event, which drew more than 600 people, almost all of whom had come to express their displeasure with the policies of President Donald Trump, on everything from his executive orders regarding immigration to the Affordable Care Act.

“Erik Paulsen is a coward,” said Hoyme, standing outside of the church. “He doesn’t do town halls. I’ve heard he hasn’t done one in six, seven years.” 

Guncheon decided to organize the event in response to Paulsen’s preference for engaging the public through telephonic town halls: “A few people are on the line,” Guncheon added. “They can ask questions, but only through the screener. So, there is no dialogue. And then, when it’s done, there is no recording of it. There is no transcript.”

Earlier this week, Paulsen’s office told the Star Tribune that he had held “more than 100 “in-person town halls, telephone town halls, and Congress on Your Corner events. He has already held two town halls this year and will continue engaging with constituents on all sides of the issues in a productive manner.”

Over the past week, town halls around the country have been inundated by protesters, who have challenged congressional members over their positions on various policies. Much of the effort has been spearheaded by Indivisible, a national movement organized around “resisting” the Trump administration and promoted by progressive groups such as MoveOn.org. 

Thursday’s two-hour meeting wasn’t that, exactly. Guncheon, a financial planner who identifies as a political independent, titled the gathering “With or Without Him,” and provided participants with opportunities to review where Paulsen stands on key policies and to voice their concerns with the Trump administration.

Guncheon asked the crowd in the auditorium whether they agreed or disagreed that Congress mandate that the president releases his tax returns for review — to which they roared in agreement. 

He also asked about a budget resolution to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and the Department of Labor’s rule on drug testing for those applying for unemployment compensation. Not surprisingly, the crowd disagreed with both ideas.

An hourlong comment session followed, during which some people “shamed” Paulsen for not standing up for his constituents and others pleaded with him not to look at issues based on the party line. 

Jennifer Woessner, cancer survivor and public school teacher, was the first to open the session, voicing her support of Obamacare, while criticizing Paulsen for promising to repeal and replace the law during his campaign rallies last November. “The Affordable Act saved my life,” she said in tears.

Daniel Macdonald, of Eden Prairie, was concerned about the Trump administration’s flurry of executive orders that included barring some refugees from entering the country and deporting undocumented immigrants. 

“I’m a 60-year-old white guy who’s a little heavy,” he told the crowd. “And I spent 40 years in corporate America, up to and including vice president of a large corporation. So, I’m your prototypical Republican, except I’m not.”

A town hall attendee holding up a sign
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
A town hall attendee holding up a sign demanding the president release his tax returns.

Macdonald then talked about adopting twin teenage girls from Colombia a year ago, meeting every Spanish-speaking family in his neighborhood and learning more about other cultures he wasn’t familiar with before. “They’re here for the same reason we are,” he said. “They’re working to make a living for themselves and their family.” 

He added: “So, all this talk about immigration and walls needs to stop. I’m asking our representative to not vote the party line, to think for himself and represent us.”

As dozens of people inside the church took turns speaking into the microphone, Hoyme stood outside collecting names and notes from those who — like her — couldn’t make it inside the building because of the overflow crowd.

A woman in a nearby car got out of her car, walked up to Hoyme and said to her, “Here’s a small gift.” The woman then rushed back in the car. 

“She just came and gave me mittens,” said Hoyme, who was shivering with cold. “I never met her before.”

Inside the church, Guncheon had just wrapped up the town hall meeting and the crowd began to trickle away — except for the nine or so people who stopped by to thank him for organizing the event.

“We wanted to do this for three reasons,” Guncheon told MinnPost. “We wanted to talk to Erik Paulsen and see if he would come and talk to us. We wanted to demonstrate that we could have a civil meeting and we wanted to show what community can do.”

Meanwhile, volunteers began to clean the church and collect posters and signs the town hall attendees had brought. One of them read: “Do your job! Respect your district! Not your radical Trump agenda!” 

Another one read: “Where’s Erik? Hiding from constituents!”

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Comments (20)

The Invisible Man

Unlike the rug in The Big Lebowski, the presence of Erik Paulsen doesn't really add much to the room. I am sure the town hall meeting was just as successful without him as it would have been had he been there.

Where's Waldo

When he was first elected we'd show up en masse to his public town halls. He didn't like that so he just stopped doing them. So I didn't expect he'd show up -and he didn't!

Capacity

The doors of the venue had to be closed to hopeful attendees as the crowd inside had reached the fire code capacity of 600. People were asked to squeeze together to facilitate additional seating.
Cars lined both side of the street after the church parking lot filled.

Kelly Guncheon and his family conducted a civil and respectful event populated by community members concerned about their representative's voting and the direction of the country.

As Jason Robards' character of Ben Bradlee said in "All the President's Men: Nothing's riding on this except the, uh, First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press and maybe the future of the country.

Independent

From what I have read here and what I know of the host, I am thinking this was more of a Liberal rally where they invited the Representative in to throw pies at him.

As our Rep I think Erik should have shown to take the pies, but to pretend this was a generic balanced town hall meeting seems very inaccurate.

By the way, I attend that church and it was certainly hopping when I dropped my child off for an unrelated event. Cars everywhere...

Balanced?

Were they screening the voters to make sure it was balanced? Were conservatives not invited?

Invited

I am not sure how the invites were handled. I don't make it to church much since my donation is on auto deposit, however I live ~1 mile away and am a facebook friend with the organizer. And I did not hear about it until that night... Maybe I just wasn't watching close enough. It was breaking up when I was picking up my daughter and all I saw were anti-GOP / anti-Trump signs... And the comments I have read from the event seem pretty one sided for a district that just elected Erik.

If I had known it was going to that exciting I certainly would have come in and listened. Though my daughter insisted that I not make any comments if I did. Teenagers are so sensitive... :-)

Correction

Apparently I was unfriended at sometime, I assume due to my once in a long while questioning his further Left posts...

This "Liberals only listen to Liberals" and "Conservatives only listen to Conservatives" thing is a HUGE problem... Not sure how to change it since both sides are SO ADAMANT that their world view is the only one and that the other side is evil. :-)

Thank Heavens for places like MinnPost !!!

Everyone was invited and welcome

There were Republicans, Democrats, and independents there. There was no screening. The invitation was on an open Facebook page, in the Sun Sailor--twice--and I believe was in church annuncements.

Question

So did you ever have any indication that Erik would come?

Or is this really just a way to rally the Liberals and gain additional supporters?

I mean it does seem like a brilliant method. Get everyone there and if Erik no shows, people may tend to think he is ignoring them. And if Erik shows and people share their sad stories and he has no immediate answers, he is shown to be unwilling to help.

My question is why would any rational person show up to these events? There seems to be no upside for them. By the way, the screaming usually does not happen until there is some one there to take their frustrations out on. Remember all those school closing meetings...

Balanced

I attended the event and yes, it was certainly a mojority of anti Trump people. But, not all. I sat next to a group who were not clapping in agreement, making comments about "those liberal" and whatnot. And that is OK! It should be voices from both sides. I think this group was determined to be civil, whether Paulsen showed or not. It is a town hall that I hope we can repeat with Paulsen in attendance!

Great article

Great article about a fantastic community discussion. Hundreds of concerned constituents feel ignored. Too bad Rep. Paulsen wasn't there but I hope he will watch the live feed.

Why was he re-elected?

I think he was re-elected by 10 points in a district that Hilary won by 10 (?). Why is this guy re-elected to 5 terms?

You Work for Us.

People are reminding their senators and representatives who they work for and what that work is: to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
It's simple, guys. Get back to doing it, those of you who haven't been.

"Luv it"

That quote just warms my heart!
It is what America is suppose to be about!
Thanks
Could we call it the prime directive? :-)

Town hall meetings

Also, last night there was a Rep. Lewis-absent town hall meeting in West St. Paul. About 100 people attended and spoke about their concerns regarding legislation and poor communication from Rep. Lewis. Another will take place on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. in the Burnsville library.

One commenter here noted that Rep. Paulsen won by a wide margin. Here in CD 2, Rep. Lewis won by less than 2% and failed to get a majority of the votes... Independence candidate got 8%.

Great Article!

Thank you Ibrahim Hirsi for the great coverage.

One clarification: A Town Hall by definition is open. Eric Paulsen holds private phone calls by "invitation-only". These are not "telephonic town halls" as Paulsen's campaign is claiming. They are trying to spin reality. There is a donor list invited to attend the calls, and a screener determines which questions are asked.

Clearly these are NOT created for a dialogue with the constituents, but an attempt to "control" the messaging, and avoid any "tough" questions. The Paulsen team does not share how many (if any) are "new" or if they are all repeating invitations to the same people.

Perhaps you could interview Erik Paulsen and ask some of those questions he is trying to avoid as a follow-up to this article if he continues to refuse to hold real Town Halls.

Glad to see MinnPost carrying the same torch

That the Strib does. Absolutely no coverage of the town hall meetings hosted by Representatives Ellison, McCollum, Peterson, and Nolan. Each Representative has the same number of votes in Congress, yet only a select few are singled out day after day regarding the number of town hall meetings that they host. And if an objective person looks at who is singled out and who isn't, it appears that.. No, no bias here, just move along. I'm sure that there is a perfectly innocent reason that Republicans are under the local media microscope and that Democrats are not.

Wondering about town halls

The spirited Town Halls having been taking place in Republican districts. However, I am wondering one thing. These are incumbents, so they must have recieved a majority of the votes in their last bid for election. Yet, there is overwhelming opposition at the meeting to repleaing the ACA.
The Republicans have made no secret of their dislike for the ACA. Did people vote for them, thinking they were not going to repeal the ACA at their first opportunity?

Well:

Aren't representative suppose to represent all the people, or just the republican ones that voted for them? Kind of like Trump, everyone that didn't vote for him (no voice), even though he lost the majority. Perhaps a lot of folks have had enough abuse already from the right, not to mention of course, 2 elections of the last 5 that went to the right when they lost the majority vote (talk about rigged elections) and of course the denial of a supreme court justice appointment, kind of really drives the point home about: "Flawed Democracy" perhaps the lefties should be the ones hording the guns vs the nighties?

Interesting

"Aren't representative suppose to represent all the people, or just the ****** ones that voted for them? "

I really do not know the answer to that one. I mean the Liberals did everything they could to change healthcare financing, LGBT rights, raise taxes, etc against the will of many of the citizens in the country. It seems that both sides forget everyone else once they get in power...

That is probably why the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth. Do the voters want them to be moderate in office when they voted for either extreme?