Sen. Jeff Flake faces hostility at AZ town hall

MESA – The audience chanted “Health care for all,” “No to the wall,” and “Shame on you” as Republican Senator Jeff Flake took the stage last week at a town hall at the Mesa Convention Center.

The town hall had been eagerly awaited. About 1,200 Arizonans lined up, most of them wearing stickers supporting the Affordable Care Act and one wearing a chicken suit, before the doors opened.

“Look at this, this is the 21st Century and you have to fight just to have” health care, said Lydia Bell. Her daughter, Suzie Bell, sat in the front row with “ACA SAVED MY LIFE” written across her forehead.

Some yelled at Flake, saying he was providing “roundabout answers” to key topics, including women’s reproductive rights and a planned wall along the Mexico border. Flake sometimes asked people to “agree to disagree” with his answers.

“President Trump was elected president. There are some things I agree with President Trump on and some things I disagree with President Trump on,” Flake said.

“What I’ve heard again and again tonight was ‘I disagree.’ This is not ‘I,’ this is ‘we,’ ” said Patty Smith, who said Flake needs to represent all of his constituents’ views, conservatives and liberals alike.

Hostility marked the town hall atmosphere but Flake supporters sat quiet amid the chaos.

Senator Jeff Flake listens to constituents, many of whom had complaints on Flake’s representation of them. (Photo by Devon Cordell/Cronkite News)

Farhama Ahmed, who has lived in Arizona for more than a decade, sat in silent support of Flake in the back row – watching and listening and feeling frustrated with her fellow constituents.

“This is scary, the way people are acting and reacting,” said Ahmed. “He can’t make everyone happy.”

“Clucky the Flaky Chicken,” the alias of a 16-year-old girl wearing a chicken costume, provided one of the more bizarre moments at the town hall on Thursday. She walked around the hall, clucking, to symbolize Flake being a “chicken” for not holding more town halls.

Flake told constituents that he understands they may not all agree with his opinion or decisions, but he has to do what he thinks is right.

“My job as a senator is to say what is the best policy,” Flake said.

Flake joins many Republican lawmakers who oppose the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. A Republican initiative to replace it failed to reach Congress when it became clear it wouldn’t have enough votes.

Flake, who is up for re-election in 2018, admitted he can’t afford to ignore feedback from his constituency.

“No good candidate is ever confident,” Flake said. “You always go in assuming you’re gonna have a tough race and I’ll have a tough race.”

Flake extended the town hall, planned for 2.5 hours, for another hour to allow everyone to be heard. After it ended, he talked to constituents one-on-one.