Amash, constituents clash over principle

About 500 at town hall in Grand Rapids to talk health care, Russia investigation

US Rep Justin Amash,
U.S. Rep. Justin Amash holds a town hall at Ottawa Hills High School in Grand Rapids. (May 31, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If members of Congress were under the impression that passions had subsided in the Trump era, a Wednesday town hall held by U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids, proved them wrong.

Speaking to Amash before the event, 24 Hour News 8 asked Amash about his vote last week on the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act. That measure passed in the U.S. House of Representatives 415-3 — with Amash being one of the three who voted no.

The measure was created response to the allegations of sexual abuse of young athletes by Michigan State and USA Gymnastics women’s national team physician Larry Nassar. It would make rules about reporting abuse to law enforcement more strict.

Amash explained his nay vote the way he does almost every vote he makes: from the lens of states’ rights.

“It’s authorized to be handled at the state level, not at the federal level. And it will affect our criminal justice system in negative ways if we have the federal government handling more and more crimes,” Amash said.

That states’ rights perspective dominated the town hall.

Before a crowd of about 500 at Ottawa Hills High School, Amash tried to explain his positions, which are often in opposition to both parties and the White House. He often failed to satisfy many of his constituents, especially when it came to his position on health care.

“The federal government should not handle these issues. It should be on the state level,” Amash told the audience, to which they responded with a chorus of boos.

On that issue and school vouchers, some members of the audience objected to Amash’s principle.

“And you said put it back in the states. You put it back in the states and we’ll really be screwed,” one woman said.

At times, Amash found himself frustrated with the reaction he was getting.

“If your idea of representation is just someone shouts at me and then I do what they want — that’s not how representation works in this country,” he said. “You can’t have a principled representative who is also a partisan and a political representative. But if that’s what you want, you will get it. You will get it from someone else, not from me.”

But on a few issues, his independent streak got his some applause from this audience, like when he addressed how Congress should deal with the investigation into allegations that members of President Donald Trump’s campaign had inappropriate contact with Russian envoys before the election.

“An independent investigation,” he said.

In the end, was the exchange worthwhile?

“I admire him for having the courage to come and speak to the audience who he knows is going to be hostile to him,” said Judy Bialk of Kent County, though she did not think that he was listening to his constituents.

When asked if any minds were changed, Jackie Landon of Grand Rapids said, “No, I think people are pretty set in their ways with stuff — rightfully so.”

Amash will host another town hall starting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Kool Family Community Center in Battle Creek.