This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Rep. Chris Stewart's town hall, originally slated for Friday but postponed to next week due to planned votes in Congress, marks the first to be held in person by a member of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation since Rep. Jason Chaffetz's rowdy event last month which the head of the state GOP condemned as being marred with "intimidation and violence" in urging representatives to avoid such live events and instead speak to constituents online.
Whether heeding that advice or responding to other pressures, Rep. Mia Love and Sen. Mike Lee have done just that in the past few months, hosting a handful of "telephone town halls" with Utah residents while sitting behind computer screens in Washington. Rep. Rob Bishop and Sen. Orrin Hatch have skipped public town halls altogether, both live and online.
That sidestepping is out of sync with what a majority of Utahns want: 92 percent of registered Utah voters say congressional members should meet with constituents in open forums, according to a new Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.
Most residents, though, haven't actually attended a town hall 46 percent say they have, 53 percent acknowledge they have not.
That's not entirely unexpected, said Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Jason Perry.
"People want access whether or not they decide to avail themselves of it," he said.
Still, Perry suggests the 46 percent who said they have attended a town hall seems high. That might be the result of an increase in political engagement, he said, in the wake of President Donald Trump's election. Since November, residents have rallied for and demanded face-to-face accountability with their representatives.
"People right now, across the United States, seem to be more mobilized than ever," Perry said.
The poll among 605 registered Utah voters was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates from March 15-21. It has a margin of error of 3.98 percentage points.
Residents and activist groups across the state have joined in the persistent calls for in-person town halls a request Stewart alone seems to have taken to heart. His planned event the only live town hall on the calendar for any of Utah's congressional leaders will now take place March 31 at 7 p.m. at Salt Lake City's West High School (241 N. 300 West).
"I have a responsibility to stand there and listen to them and try to understand what it is that's driving them right now," said Stewart, who's sprawling 2nd Congressional District encompasses Salt Lake City as it stretches from southern Davis County to St. George.
West High School administrators estimated there are 1,500 to 2,000 seats in the auditorium. Stewart said that should be "plenty of seating" for the hourlong event, which promises to be packed by members of the state's growing "resistance" movements.
"Chris Stewart is the first Utah legislator since Jason Chaffetz to hold a town hall let's show up and let him hear our voices," Utah Indivisible posted on Facebook.
At Chaffetz's Feb. 9 town hall at Brighton High School, just 1,000 people were allowed inside. Another 1,500 stood outside barred from entering because of fire codes.
Those who didn't make it into the auditorium rallied and chanted while those inside shouted over Chaffetz, urging him to "do your job." They booed when he mentioned Trump and they often cut him off midsentence.
After the town hall, Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans said the event was violent and unsafe. He warned representatives to skip in-person forums to avoid the "thuggish behavior." Chaffetz disagreed, saying he didn't witness any violence and he pulled back from his initial claim that professional agitators from out of state stacked the event.
Stewart said he's not "terribly concerned" about angry or frustrated constituents, who he suggests deserve a chance to vent.
"We're not concerned about this thing turning into a riot," he said. Salt Lake City police officers will patrol the event.
The congressman also said West High School was "the biggest venue we could find" and he'd be surprised if all of the seats were filled.
"We'll do the best we can to make access for people," Stewart said.
In the case that anyone is kept outside, he noted, "We'll invite those folks to stay after, and we'll hold two town halls if we need to."