Right-wing congressmen here in the west are getting an earful at their public forums for constituents.
Yesterday it was the turn of Stevan Pearce, a Tea Party darling who has won several terms to represent New Mexico’s conservative Second (southern) Congressional district.
A crowd estimated at between 1,500 and 3,000 people turned out at the Farm and Ranch Museum in Las Cruces for Pearce’s “town hall” event. Every legal parking spot was taken and dozens more vehicles were parked illegally; the auditorium was jammed to the walls, standing room only. It was a hostile crowd.
This was a new experience for Pearce, whose public forums back in the district are usually dominated by his supporters. Once, for a forum in rural Dona Ana County, his supporters surrounded the parking lot with ATV’s and packed loaded firearms. Needless to say, few if any opponents even tried to park there.
Saturday’s event was entirely different. Pearce always comes to these town halls well prepared with alternative facts and/or cherry picked data to support standard positions of the far right. His language is directly from the American Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute and the American Petroleum Institute. He became a multi-millionaire selling and leasing oil and gas-drilling machinery, and friendly oligarchs of the extraction industry bought him his seat in congress, where he is careful to serve their interests 100 per cent. He does a passable job of making the right-wing think-tank language sound like his own, and usually that’s enough to get him by. At one forum a few years ago, for example, a member of a scientific team that had done an exhaustive study of the energy needs of the southwest, citing detailed economic evidence from the study, asked why he did not support development of wind power in an area that “has lots of wind.” Well, Pearce replied, “those wind farms are unsightly.”
The old tactics didn’t fly Saturday. Even though he wandered to every corner of the auditorium, randomly selecting questioners, virtually no friendly softballs were tossed. Questioners came prepared, with carefully thought-out, usually written questions that cut to the chase of issues they care about: health care, immigration, public education, public land, climate change. More than once he was asked when if ever he would “stand up” to Donald Trump. When his evasive answers were greeted by jeers and catcalls, he turned his back on the questioner and walked away.
Asked about the mountain of scientific data on anthropologic climate change, Pearce retreated to the long-since discredited argument (launched in 2009) about e-mails sent by certain scientists in an international climatic research council. When the questioner interrupted to point out that newer data refute all the attacks triggered by those e-mails, he turned and walked away.
When a questioner pressed him about whether Republicans in congress should demand that Trump release his tax returns, Pearce said that will not happen, turned and walked away.
Most of the hostile questions drew loud applause; most of his evasions drew contempt. A few supporters in the crowd shouted barnyard epithets about Hillary. Deputy sheriffs asked one of the loudest to please tone it it down. He stalked out of the auditorium.
For almost a decade, Pearce defied prevailing public opinion in his district and opposed the creation of new national monuments to protect archeological, cultural, historical and scenic areas. With the support of New Mexico’s two U.S. Senators, the monuments were created by President Obama. Subsequent studies have shown an uptick in business related to tourism, with a potential for much greater economic impact when the development of the monuments is completed (Republicans, led by Pearce, have slowed the development by withholding funding). Pearce says the monuments have cost the area money. A questioner asked where he got his information. “From the people who ran the Chili Challenge,” he said. (The Chili Challenge was an annual assemblage of off-road vehicle operators who tore up the fragile desert around the Robledo Mountains with racing and climbing competitions. The only local businesses they ever patronized were two convenience stores that sold gas, beer, liquor and fast food. The monument boundaries adjoin the desert area where the ATV people partied. When the monument was approved, sponsors moved the “challenge” to another location. Pearce receives large campaign contributions from sellers of ATVs and associations of ATV users.) When the questioner pressed for hard economic data, Pearce walked away, angrily repeating, “The Chili Challenge is gone. The Chili Challenge is gone.”
Twice the microphone the congressman carried around the auditorium malfunctioned. The second time it happened, staffers hastily assembled a new microphone extension. While he waited for it, someone shouted, “Use the microwave.”
It was that kind of day for Stevan Pearce, Tea Party darling.