News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Congressman Can Expect Grilling From Left And Right At North Texas Town Hall

flickr user rep.louiseslaughter
Congressman Pete Sessions, a Republican, represents North Dallas, the Park Cities area and a chunk of Collin County.

When Congressman Pete Sessions opens his town hall at Richardson High School on Saturday, he’s likely to face the same kind of raucous reception his fellow House Republicans have seen in recent weeks. More than 2,000 people have signed up for the town hall, and submitted more than 1,200 questions for the man who represents Texas’ 32nd Congressional district.

A new budget proposal from the Trump administration calling for massive cuts to a wide range of programs, and a new healthcare law from House Speaker Paul Ryan are likely to mean that Sessions can expect the kinds of criticism from the left that’s become commonplace. Large groups of mostly progressive activists, many organized under the Indivisible banner, have been taking every opportunity to give their representatives an earful.  

“It’s not like ‘I just have to do something’ it’s ‘I am scared,’” says Jara Butler, who has been organizing with the Indivisible chapter in Sessions’ district. “These are real life issues, I am concerned, and I want to be heard.”

Butler, who’s also active with the Dallas County Young Democrats, says there are a litany of issues that people want Sessions to answer for: the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, education, and the economy.

“Our members are also concerned about immigration. This is an economic issue for Texas. For many in our group human it’s a human rights issue,” Butler says. “For me personally, the [Affordable Care Act] is important. We have a lot of seniors in our district.”

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is also an issue for Sessions’ critics on the other side of the political spectrum, too.

Caron Hill is a Republican precinct chair in the district, and a member of the Far North Dallas Tea Party. She says that when Sessions and his fellow House republicans voted to repeal Obamacare dozens of times before, and they didn’t wait for something like Paul Ryan’s newly proposed replacement bill. That measure, she says, falls short.

“My question is, was that just a show vote? Because they’re not willing to do that now,” Hill says. “Where do they stand on that? Where does Pete stand on that?”

Hill worked to get Sessions elected years ago, and has since worked to help his challengers replace him. She’s got a range of criticisms about his record, but also because she thinks he’s become unaccountable to his constituents. She says it’s important that all of Session’s constituents make him listen.

“I hope that there are people there on the conservative side, on the liberal side, and in between. I think the main thing is that people want to hold their congressman accountable and I think it’s about time,” she says.

Texas’ 32nd congressional district stretches from the posh neighborhoods of North Dallas to its tony suburbs in Collin County. It’s long been a safe Republican seat, but in the last election it voted for Hillary Clinton by a hair.

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson says that’s fired up local Democrats who see it as a battleground in future elections, though he says they might have to be patient.

“This district is evolving, and it’s evolving away from a straight Republican district. But in the upcoming election in 2018 it will be a Republican district comfortably,” he says, because in non-presidential elections, Republicans typically turn out at in much stronger numbers than Democratic voters.

Over the course of two decades in Congress, Sessions has climbed to an influential leadership role as chair of the powerful Rules committee. He’s known as more of a work horse than a show horse.

That’s what Jonathan Zouzelka, of Dallas, likes about him. Zouzelka’s a Republican, and he’ll be at Saturday’s town hall to show some love to his representative.

“He’s hands-on and he’s engaged,” he says. “He’s never been someone to want to engage in any of the low-brow politics that are so common in today’s environment.”

When it comes to the new healthcare replacement, Zouzelka says he trusts the Republican leadership, including Sessions, to make it a much better alternative to the reforms Democrats enacted.

Earlier this month, Sessions submitted his own plan, called the World's Greatest Healthcare Act of 2017. 

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.