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Angry Protesters Confront Heller, Amodei

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Paul Boger
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Protesters are confronting Republican members of Congress across the country this week as they return home for a recess, probing to see if lawmakers veer from President Donald Trump's more controversial actions or increase their public availability. Northern Nevada is no different.

The Carson City Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon Wednesday was billed as a routine speaking engagement, but for Republican Senator Dean Heller and 2nd District Congressman Mark Amodei, the event turned into a 45-minute grilling from angry voters.

Roughly 100 people paid to hear from the lawmakers about efforts to pass business-friendly legislation. However, when Heller told the crowd he wanted to reform a 2010 banking reform law, about 20 or so people in the crowd began jeering the Republican.

"We'll have tax reform and we will lower the tax burden we have on corporations and small businesses and also for individuals, for everybody," Heller said. "We're going to go get tax reform and after that, we're going to go to the banking committee and we're going to change Dodd-Frank."

"Boooo..."

Across the country, Congressional Republicans have been facing similarly hostile crowds, and Wednesday's event was no exception. Many of the protesters hammered Heller and Amodei for details about everything from their support of the Trump administration to immigration policy. But most, like 42-year old Laura Freed of Reno, wanted to know when the two Republicans would hold a public town hall meeting in the district.

"Your constituents want to talk to you and you're fun to talk to, you like to parry. Would you guys commit to having a public town hall rather than doing a chamber of commerce luncheon?" asked Freed.

Representative Amodei agreed to the request; he's even held a few across Northern Nevada in the last few months. Senator Heller, however, was nonplussed by the idea. He instead told the gathering about his commitment to holding town hall meetings over the phone. Yet when pressed on the issue, he half-heartedly agreed to speak with voters but with some conditions.

"I'll tell you what, I'll do a town hall with you if you promise one thing: that you won't applaud," said Heller. "No applauding. Alright? I'll tell you what, no booing either. Just no applauding, no booing, and we will have a one-on-one dialogue. Is that fair?"

But not everyone at the event was pleased the luncheon turned into a raucous affair. Some of the attendees called the protesters rude while others told them to be quite or to shut-up. Several declined to comment on the event.

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Credit Paul Boger
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Outside the private event, the lawmakers received yet another chilly reception. Hundreds of protestors, who were unable to purchase a ticket, lined the sidewalks. Some yelled; others held signs.

"I think they need to get out here and visit with their constituency and they would see that there's a real movement going on now," said retired geologist John Hartly of Dayton. Holding a sign that said "Where in the world is Dean Heller?" he said Amodei and Heller need to be accessible.

"They need to provide leadership and be with the movement or else they're going to get swamped by it."

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Credit Paul Boger
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John Hartly

In total, the event lasted 45 minutes before Chamber officials ended the event. Speaking to reporters, Representative Amodei says he wasn't surprised by the anger. 

"It was like, 'Listen, this is part of the process,'" said Amodei. "I think we got some glimmer of people's thoughts on some of the issues and stuff like that. Some of it is they just disagree. That's also one of the choices. That's kind of the process, and you saw it at work today."

Senator Heller did stick around after the luncheon to speak with some voters and supporters, but when approached by reporters, the senator refused to answer any questions and darted out through a side door.

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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