ST. GEORGE – U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart came under fire during a town hall meeting Wednesday night as voters demanded accountability.
The meeting, held in the St. George City Council chambers, was the second of its kind this week where Stewart met with constituents to hear their concerns on various issues. The first one was the night before in Cedar City.
The tone in Cedar City was mild compared to that of the one in St. George where many in the audience were calling for answers in the death of Arizona rancher Robert LaVoy Finicum.
The incident at issue was part of a law enforcement action taken Jan. 26 against Finicum and several others who were part of an armed militant group occupying the Oregon Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The group seized the refuge three weeks earlier on Jan. 2.
In both meetings, Stewart was confronted by relatives of the Cliven Bundy family about their feelings and opinions concerning the recent arrests and treatment of Cliven Bundy’s sons. The FBI arrested Dave and Mel Bundy March 3 for their involvement in a 2014 standoff at their father’s ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada.
Mel Bundy’s mother-in-law, Aleta Ruth, said her grandchildren are experiencing anxiety because their father is gone. She also described how her son-in-law was shackled to a concrete wall for 48 hours.
“We don’t even treat criminals like that,” she said.
She repeatedly told Stewart that Dave and Mel Bundy are “good men” and “don’t deserve this.”
“Where is the justice,” Ruth said. In an emotional plea, she begged the congressman to do something.
Stewart tried addressing the group but was cut off several times by demands from the audience that he head up a congressional investigation into the FBI’s actions.
Stewart told the audience that as a rancher himself he is sympathetic toward these issues. He also assured the group he met with some members of the Oregon occupation and Bundy Ranch standoff, but said the law enforcement investigation of the FBI’s actions during those incidents needs to run its course.
As he did in Cedar City, Stewart again called attention to a new bill he and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz will be introducing next week when the House returns to session. The bill, he said, will strip law enforcement responsibilities from any agency under the Department of Interior including the Bureau of Land Management.
Stewart introduced a similar bill in 2014 called the Regulatory Agency Demilitarization Act that would have stemmed the trend of federal regulatory agencies developing SWAT-like teams.
While the meeting was scheduled for an hour, Stewart ended up taking questions and listening to his constituents’ concerns well past 8 p.m. He also spent time afterward talking with many of the people who didn’t get a chance to previously ask any questions.
Stewart is up for re-election this year and is being challenged by Democratic hopeful Charlene Albarran.
The third town hall meeting with Stewart scheduled this week is Thursday at 7 p.m. in Ephraim at the Founders Hall at Snow College, 1550 College Avenue East.
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