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At Town Hall In Central Utah, Rep. Stewart Faces Fewer Critics

Julia Ritchey, KUER
Rep. Chris Stewart talks with constituents at a town hall in Richfield, Utah, on May 12, 2017.

Congressman Chris Stewart’s town hall in Central Utah on Friday brought out more supporters than detractors, but he still faced several tough questions about the GOP’s plan to repeal Obamacare.

Stewart’s town hall at Richfield High School started calmly enough, with the Congressman briefing the crowd on his recent trip to Asia.

But when he pivoted to health care, and his recent vote supporting a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, several people objected.

"It’s ridiculous to think Republicans or anyone wants to make life harder for people; it’s just not true," said Stewart of the American Health Care Act, the House bill Republicans recently passed.  

“It is true!” some shouted back. 

Stewart reiterated talking points that the GOP’s health care plan would protect those with pre-existing conditions. Critics say the bill would allow states to opt out of those provisions and could make insurance unaffordable for those people with lapses in coverage.

About 250 people attended the town hall, a diverse mix of ranchers, retirees and public lands advocates. Although there were some outbursts, people remained civil with the congressman who took a vast majority of votes here in last year’s election.

Credit Julia Ritchey, KUER
Nancy Schmidt, a Republican from Richfield, tells Rep. Stewart she supports the president but worries the GOP isn't doing enough to back him.

Nancy Schmidt, a Republican from Richfield, told Stewart she's worried that the GOP isn't doing enough to back President Trump. 

“I support the president," she said. "I believe in President Trump, and I want you to support him in all that he does — maybe not his Tweeting — but you know, anything else,” she said.

Tyrell Aagard, chair of the Salt Lake County Young Democrats, drove two and a half hours to ask Stewart about the fallout over President Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey, a decision Stewart said he supported.

Aagard said it’s important that Stewart hear from both urban and rural parts of his district.  

“And I think the biggest thing, is a lot of the folks in the Levans and Richfields of Utah never talk about politics or even interact with the people in the Salt Lake Citys and Ogdens of Utah,” he said.

Stewart took about seven questions from the audience before exiting the stage after about an hour. As people streamed out of the auditorium, one woman said she hadn't been to a town hall that lively before. 

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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