Rep. Erik Paulsen (R), who represents Minnesota’s Third Congressional District, heard from angry constituents Wednesday during his first town hall event in at least seven years.
The three events – hosted in Hamel, Brooklyn Park, and Chanhassen – made it clear that the Third Congressional District is frustrated with Paulsen. Audience members were polite but direct, and regularly expressed disagreement with Paulsen’s statements by flashing red cards.
Many constituents took issue with the fact that the town hall events were only open to ticket holders who had responded to an online RSVP on Paulsen’s site. Photos from the Brooklyn Park event showed a largely empty event space.
“There are several thousand constituents in this district and Erik Paulsen has chosen to hold three small town halls in very small locations during the middle of the business day,” said Katie Simons of Eden Prairie. “I don’t call that accessible.”
Paulsen justified the decision by saying that without an RSVP policy, “people come in that don’t live in your district and they shout each other down. Thankfully in Minnesota we’ve still got the civil component, which we want to maintain.”
Ironically, while Paulsen doesn’t welcome non-constituents to his town hall events, he does welcome money from outside his district. In 2017, for instance, he took almost $1.5 million from out-of-state donors.
Some 75 constituents showed up to the event in Hamel, many of whom wanted to know what Paulsen was doing to curb the epidemic of school shootings.
“I’m curious what you’re going to do to prevent these tragedies from happening,” asked Carrie Lewis, 43, of Plymouth.
Paulsen said he favors banning bump stocks, the firearms modification devices that increase the rate at which rifles fire. In October, a shooter used bump stocks to kill 58 people in Las Vegas.
Paulsen also said he supports measures that would make it easier for authorities to seize weapons from individuals who were deemed unstable.
Guns were also a major topic for the roughly 120 constituents who attended the Brooklyn Park event, where people dropped their names in a bucket for the chance to ask their representative a question. One person asked Paulsen – who has taken $20,000 from the National Rifle Association over the course of his career – if he would continue to accept NRA money.
“I don’t expect the NRA to send me a check, so that’s the way I’m going to answer the question. I don’t expect them to,” Paulsen said.
In the wake of a mass shooting at a Florida high school in February, Dean Phillips – Paulsen’s challenger in the upcoming midterm election – asked Paulsen to return the money he’s taken from the NRA.
“Would you commit to helping pass legislation for comprehensive, no-loophole background checks?” asked one constituent at the Chanhassen town hall.
“I don’t have a problem with enhancing some of the background checks,” Paulsen said, adding he supported extending waiting periods for gun purchases.
Paulsen used the Brooklyn Park event to distance himself from President Donald Trump, who lost the Third Congressional District by nine points in 2016.
“Do I think the President is a good role model for our children? No. I think some of the policies that are in place now are actually helping the country, there’s no doubt about that,” Paulsen said, while emphasizing that he didn’t vote for Trump.
Paulsen was also critical of the president during the town hall in Hamel.
“When comments were made about African nations not being – that same standard or having the moral clarity – I said that was wrong, the president should apologize,” Paulsen said, in reference to comments Trump made earlier this year in which he questioned why the U.S. should accept immigrants from Haiti and various African nations which he described as “shithole countries.”
Despite his criticism of Trump, Paulsen’s voting record tells another story. Political data site FiveThirtyEight shows that Paulsen has voted in line with Trump’s agenda over 97 percent of the time.
Paulsen also touted his bipartisan credentials and said he supports the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.
“I support [special counsel Robert Mueller] continuing his role in finality,” he said. “It should not be interrupted.”
While the town halls were not campaign events, they mark the de facto beginning of the campaign season for Paulsen. The Cook Political Report ranks the race between Phillips and Paulsen as a toss-up. Paulsen handily beat his 2016 Democratic Farmer-Labor opponent, but some analysts believe that anger toward President Trump could produce a “blue wave” that sweeps many Republicans from office – especially those who, like Paulsen, represent districts that preferred Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Featured image via YouTube.