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The Journal Gazette

  • Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette Kim Waldschmidt, far left, raises a red slip of paper to indicate she disagrees with a statement by Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, during a town hall meeting Friday at Adams Woodcrest chapel in Decatur.

Saturday, April 22, 2017 1:00 am

Crowd gets heated at Banks' town hall

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

DECATUR – Freshman U.S. Rep. Jim Banks heard boos, jeers and hisses at his town hall meeting Friday.

Objections started early when Banks was asked whether he would seek the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

“The president is two months on the job, and I ­haven't seen anything yet that would cause me to call for his impeachment,” Banks, R-3rd, said at the Adams Woodcrest senior living complex.

“Are you kidding me?” a woman yelled from the crowd of about 60 people sitting in the Adams Woodcrest chapel and auditorium.

Banks attracted more complaints when he said he favors ending federal funding to Planned Parenthood because the family planning organization provides abortion services.

Yet there were those at the gathering who applauded the lawmaker from Columbia City, and a male voice said, “Amen.”

“I will continue to support efforts that would prevent tax dollars from going toward abortion,” Banks said.

“They don't!” several women disputed him at the same time.

“There are alternatives to Planned Parenthood, and the efforts in Washington to defund Planned Parenthood, which I support and I will continue to support, would send those funds to organizations who don't provide abortions,” Banks said.

Some people booed, but others clapped.

“That's what his constituents want, that's what we want,” a man said as people stood and shouted over one another.

“This is our town. We didn't ask you to come down here,” the man bellowed at an audience section where women had identified themselves as Fort Wayne residents.

Things simmered down shortly, although the conservative Banks continued to hear opposition to most of his positions, including his support for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and legislation that would let internet service providers share information on customers.

Across the country, congressional town halls, especially those for Republican lawmakers, have turned confrontational since Trump's election last November.

Progressive audiences are behaving pretty much as conservative tea party groups did in 2009 and 2010 when Democrats ruled Capitol Hill.

Former school teacher Kim Waldschmidt was among people at Friday's town hall who raised slips of green paper when they agreed with an audience member's point of view and red paper when they disagreed with Banks' reply, which was often. It's a tactic encouraged by the anti-Trump group Indivisible.

“Because of the Trump administration, so many people are activated, because it's just been a nightmare,” Waldschmidt said after the meeting.

Waldschmidt said she is “on the liberal side of the coin” and accused Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress of perpetuating political tensions in the country.

“I don't feel the divisiveness is being mended by our representatives. They act as if (Trump) is only representing the Republicans who voted for him,” she said.

Banks didn't seem fazed by the audience mood in Decatur.

“I thought it was a very civil conversation” and “a great dialogue,” he said after the hourlong event, which was briefly delayed by a funeral conducted in the Adams Woodcrest chapel and auditorium.

“The passion that some of the individuals who showed up, who come from a different point of view than I do – it's a healthy part of the process to listen to them and engage them,” Banks said. “It doesn't mean that we're going to agree or convince each other that one of us is right or wrong, but it's a healthy part of the process.”

This was at least the third public forum Banks has had since taking office this year. He met constituents at an open house at his Fort Wayne office in January and took questions at a town hall meeting in Portland in February.

“I look forward to more opportunities to do that in the future,” Banks said Friday about the town hall format.