U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake faced angry constituents who questioned him on health-care reform, the proposed border wall and other issues at a town hall in Mesa on April 13, 2017.
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The crowd responds to Sen. Jeff Flake talking about voting on the “nuclear option” of axing the filibuster for Supreme Court Nominees with boos and a chant on April 13, 2017.
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U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake answers audience questions about internet privacy and regulations at a Mesa, Ariz., town hall on April 13, 2017.
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U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake responds to audience questions about climate change, energy, renewable resources and research funding.
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U. S. Sen. Jeff Flake answers an audience question about access to guns for the mentally ill and background checks for those with criminal records at a town hall in Mesa on April 13, 2017.
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Sen. Jeff Flake’s Q&A session at the Mesa Convention Center was his first in-person event of the year and his first since the new Republican-controlled Congress was seated on Jan. 3, 2017.
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Highlights from Sen. Jeff Flake’s town hall
Town Hall chants ‘Shame on you’ to Sen. Flake
Sen. Flake on internet privacy, regulation at Mesa town hall
Sen. Jeff Flake on energy and climate change
Sen. Jeff Flake on guns at a Mesa town hall
Sen. Jeff Flake responds to questions on copper mining
Anti-Trump activists in the ‘Indivisible’ movement are putting heat on Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Arrive to the town-hall meeting early and with your group? Check.
Distribute signs, handouts and other materials to group members before the meeting begins? Check.
Have in hand five or six prewritten questions, crafted to force a real answer and not mealy-mouthed political-speak? Check.
Have fully charged smartphones or video cameras ready to record the action? Check.
Notify journalists of your plans for maximum publicity? Check.
As Arizona Republicans Sen. Jeff Flake and Rep. Andy Biggs recently learned, the “Indivisible” movement is on the march, demanding town-hall sessions with their members of Congress and then swarming them with their progressive allies to push back against President Donald Trump’s agenda.
Even in a red state like Arizona — and in a traditionally Republican stronghold such as Biggs’ 5th Congressional District in the East Valley — the anti-Trump activists have been successful getting their message across, thanks in large part to their strategy outlined in the online “Indivisible” guide, a detailed how-to “resistance” manual that adopts lessons from the conservative “tea party” uprising of 2009 and 2010.
The guide, written and published by progressive former congressional aides, is designed to help channel the organic passions that emerged on the left following Trump’s surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election.
The authors make no secret that they are employing the same tactics — including flooding congressional town-hall events with critics — used by conservative tea partyers against then-President Barack Obama and Democrats years ago.
“We believe that protecting our values, our neighbors, and ourselves will require mounting a similar resistance to the Trump agenda — but a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness,” the guide says. “Trump is not popular. He does not have a mandate. He does not have large congressional majorities. If a small minority in the Tea Party could stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”
The “Indivisible” guide got a big boost after MSNBC personality Rachel Maddow spotlighted it on her television show. A couple of Arizona leaders of the anti-Trump movement say they learned about the guide from Maddow.
“Something clicked. I saw that there was no ‘Indivisible’ in Phoenix, so I made my own,” said Nicole Girard, who founded Indivisible PHX. “I did nothing but sit back and watch membership explode and it continues to grow. It has been the most heartening thing. I think we are all just garnering strength from one another.”
‘How to be visible’
The “Indivisible” movement in Arizona consists of many independent but loosely aligned groups, which can be based in a city, a congressional district or a legislative district or statewide.
The various groups use the guide for ideas but are not “in exact lockstep,” Girard said.
“We all use it as a means by which to find the courage to express ourselves, maybe in slightly different ways,” said Girard, who works in the education field and has never been as active politically as she is now. “The people who set it up make no bones about the fact that they are congressional aides who saw how effective the tea party was. It does provide a guide about how to be visible, speaking out, organizing town halls, taking an active role in your local government, staying on top of these people, calling them, getting to know them.”
Wendy Garcia, a stay-at-home mom who has a background in communications, described a similar experience that led to her creating the “Indivisible Surprise!” group.
“I was devastated on Nov. 10. I cried for a couple of weeks. And then I remembered something I had seen on ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ about ‘Indivisible,’ ” Garcia said. “I simply cannot say that I have done nothing. I had to do something. So I started an ‘Indivisible’ group. I started one because there wasn’t one.”
Her group has been adding to the “Indivisible” playbook. Her 15-year-old daughter, dressed in a yellow chicken suit, got a lot of attention at Flake’s rowdy April 13 town hall at the Mesa Convention Center.
In another twist not included in the national guide, “Indivisible” members in Arizona created an anti-Flake “theme song,” a parody of pop star Taylor Swift’s hit “Shake It Off.”
Flake, a first-term senator, is up for re-election in 2018 and has been the target of much of the local “Indivisible” movement’s ire.
Flake got blistered at his two-and-a-half-hour town hall in Mesa, which ran about an hour longer than scheduled. He got hammered over his opposition to Obama’s signature health-care-reform law, the Affordable Care Act, his vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Trump’s Education secretary and a host of other issues.
In addition to the “Indivisible” activists, Flake’s town hall also attracted familiar Democratic political operatives and representatives from more traditional liberal special-interest groups and organizations, including Planned Parenthood. The women’s health-services provider announced in a news release that it was sending a contingent, including Tucson high-school student Deja Foxx.
After publicly confronting Flake over efforts to defund Planned Parenthood as well as pointing out his “privilege,” Foxx was described in the media as “the standout star of the event.” She was invited to appear on CNN and got a write-up from Teen Vogue.
‘Nobody gains anything from it’
At the end of a subsequent appearance last week before the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Flake jokingly thanked the polite business audience “for making this second town hall a lot more pleasant” than his previous one.
Biggs acknowledged he was torched throughout his town hall in a joke at an event with business leaders days later. “They told me I have three minutes,” Biggs told the crowd, “so I prepared about 15 or 20 seconds of comments and expect two and a half minutes of booing.”
After the hostility Flake and Biggs faced, it’s unclear how eager other Arizona Republicans will be to stand before the “Indivisible” army.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who just easily won a sixth, six-year term in 2016, was famous for sparring with critics on the presidential campaign trail during the 2008 election cycle. But he told The Arizona Republic he is inclined to hold town halls in more controlled environments, such as with employees of local businesses. He said he believes such events are more effective.
“Frankly, I don’t think the purposes of town-hall meetings are to see how somebody can shout and disrupt,” McCain said. “I’ve done town-hall meetings for over 30 years and they have always been respectful and informative. If they deteriorate into just shouting contests, nobody gains anything from it.”
Learning as they go
The “Indivisible” movement in Arizona also has been learning from experience and has been making adjustments as needed.
After the Mesa town hall with Biggs, the first-term House Republican from Gilbert, the group AZ Indivisible shared a tweet that reflected on what worked and what didn’t in trying to upstage the congressman.
They wrote, for example, to “get your chants down! Biggs would not allow signs, but he could not shut us up. We did lots of boos, but we had opportunities to yell other things like ‘coward.’ …”
They also noted that a question on stopping a late Obama rule on internet privacy left them “looking weak” but a question on whether Biggs believed in climate change was “the best question — by far.”
‘Democrats’ turn to be loud’
The “energy, passion and anger” is on the side of the Democrats and the left right now, one political expert said.
Both Flake and Biggs took heat at events in Mesa, an area with a reputation as solidly Republican. Biggs’ 5th Congressional District is one of the most conservative in the Southwest. Trump supporters were easily outnumbered at the events and they were largely quiet.
“Democrats have cars and are willing to drive to the site of a town hall to make their views heard,” said John J. “Jack” Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. “Years after the tea-party phenomenon, it’s the Democrats’ turn to be loud at town halls. On one side is anger and on the other side is ambivalence, and anger speaks more loudly than ambivalence.”
Gilbert resident Carrie Goode is part of the effort to channel anger among Democrats, though she doesn’t want it seen as manufactured rage. The protests are real and the people in them are unpaid, she said.
“Nobody’s paying me. I had a lot of other things I planned to be doing at this point in my life,” said Goode, who is semiretired.
The tea party “did kind of a road map for people to be able to express themselves at a time when a lot of people feel unable to do that,” she said. “When I started getting involved with this, my thought was we need to take a page from those people. They were extremely effective.”
Social media in general has made organizing easier for people, Goode added.
“I use social media to organize my mah-jongg group.”
The Republic’s political team on April 25, 2017, talks about the latest political news affecting Arizona, including the protests surrounding the future of school vouchers and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s donation controversy.
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The Republic’s political team on April 18, 2017, talks about the latest political news affecting Arizona, including 2018 candidates, Sen. Jeff Flake’s town hall and how a bill to require child-welfare officials to get warrants fell apart.
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The Republic’s political team on April 11, 2017, talks about “zombie” health care reform in Congress, and the expansion of the school voucher program headed by Gov. Doug Ducey.
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The Republic’s political team on April 4, 2017, talks about the state of the filibuster and the latest on Secretary of State Michele Reagan’s “Show Me the Money” campaign.
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The Republic’s political team on March 28, 2017, talks about funding for teacher raises in the state budget, what comes next after the non-vote on the ‘Obamacare’ repeal bill in Congress and proposed restrictions on citizen initiatives in Arizona.
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The Republic’s political team on March 21, 2017, talks about the possible impact on the president’s blueprint for a budget, and the lack of female representation in Arizona’s legislative leadership.
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The Republic’s political team on March 14, 2017, talks about how much of Arizona’s delegation has been quiet about the “Obamacare” replacement, but even Republicans don’t seem to like it.
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The Republic’s political team on March 8, 2017, talks about the latest political news affecting Arizona, including a failed tax-cut bill, a congressman’s tweets and how a former state senator isn’t working at the White House after all.
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The Republic’s political team on March 1, 2017, talks about the latest political news affecting Arizona, including the state of Senate Bill 1142 and the rowdy crowds at U.S. Rep. Martha McSally’s Town Hall.
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The Republic’s political team on Feb. 21, 2017, talks about recent political news, including Trump’s Arizona announcement about Intel, McCain and Obamacare, and House Bill 2404 targeting voter initiatives.
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The Republic’s political team on Feb. 6, 2017, talks about the latest political news affecting Arizona, including how much debt is too much for the state and which lawmaker wants to be shot.
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The Gaggle: Voucher vote, Arizona university funding
The Gaggle: DCS warrants and Flake gets scorched
The Gaggle: Health care in Congress and school voucher expansion
The Gaggle: Is the filibuster busted and will Michele Reagan show us the money?
The Gaggle: Teacher raises, ACA repeal and ballot initiatives
The Gaggle: Federal budget and few women in the Legislature
The Gaggle: Obamacare replacement, George W. in town and TANF benefits
The Gaggle: Tax that did not get cut, tweets from Gosar and a non-job
The Gaggle: SB 1142 is dead and town halls get rowdy
The Gaggle: Bigfooted, McCain and HB 2404
The Gaggle: How much debt is too much?
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