U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 19. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 19. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Cantwell bows to pressure and schedules Seattle town halls

By Jim Brunner / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE—Under pressure from constituents after years of avoiding town halls, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has finally scheduled three of the open meetings in the Seattle area this week.

The third-term Democratic senator’s first town hall, focused on health care, will take place Wednesday at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Cantwell will be joined for that event by Dr. Paul Ramsey, CEO of Harborview Medical Center and dean of the University of Washington School of Medicine, “to answer questions on the future of health care policy and listen to her constituents’ concerns about the proposed Trumpcare bill in the Senate,” according to an announcement by the senator’s office.

On Friday, Cantwell will hold a midday town hall on net-neutrality issues. It will be from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Town Hall Seattle downtown.

Saturday, Cantwell will host a general town hall at the TEC High School gym in White Center from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, also has scheduled a town hall this week — her sixth since taking office in January. The meeting is Thursday at Town Hall Seattle, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Cantwell’s town halls will come after more than five months of work by the liberal activist group Seattle Indivisible, which opposes the agenda of the Trump administration — and has been pushing lawmakers to stand in total opposition.

Organizers with the group have held rallies, met weekly with the senator’s staff and used calls, emails and social media to pressure Cantwell to finally agree to face constituents at an open town-hall meeting.

In a statement, the group said “these are extraordinary political times for our nation and that elected officials must start engaging more directly with their constituents if we are going to stop the regressive Trump/GOP agenda and preserve and advance the values that made our country great.”

Seattle Indivisible has pressured U.S. Sen. Patty Murray as well, without success so far. Like Cantwell, Murray has declined to hold open town-hall meetings, preferring more controlled discussions and preselected audiences for her public events.

Town halls have long been a tradition for many members of Congress. In Washington state, Reps. Rick Larsen and Derek Kilmer have held dozens in recent years.

Nationally, some Republican U.S. House members have dodged the events in recent months, while others have faced hostile constituents angered by Republican health-care proposals that would dismantle parts of the Affordable Care Act, including a rollback of its Medicaid expansion.

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, has faced protests over his longstanding refusal to attend town halls. Reichert contends the meetings are dominated by shouting activists uninterested in civil conversations.

All of Cantwell’s events this week are free and open to the public, but tickets have to be requested in advance through Cantwell’s official website: www.cantwell.senate.gov/townhalls. Those who can’t use the website can email townhall@cantwell.senate.gov or call Cantwell’s Seattle office at 206-220-6400.

Asked whether Cantwell will hold any town halls outside the Seattle area, her spokesman Bryan Watt said that’s likely — more of the events are in the works for the August congressional recess.

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