Updated to include statement from American Civil Liberties Union.
If the Congressman won’t come to you, go to the Congressman. But watch out if that Congressman’s office is in a private building.
A group of young Democrats in Arapahoe County found out Tuesday that they would be blocked from entering the building that holds the Aurora office of Republican Congressman Mike Coffman.
Tuesday, a dozen members of the Arapahoe County Young Democrats took more than 200 letters and postcards to Coffman’s Aurora office at 3300 South Parker Road. The building is known as Cherry Creek Place IV, and is home to dozens of companies, including real estate brokers, attorneys, title, insurance companies and accountants.
Coffman’s website shows the third-floor office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
When the Arapahoe County Young Democrats, led by Kronda Seibert, approached the door of the building, they were met by a man, later named by both Seibert and the building property management as Wiley Price. Price identified himself as a building property manager, told them that only one could go upstairs.
When they protested, arguing that the office was paid for by taxpayers, he said: “Alright, you know what, I’m not going to argue about this. You can either go now or I’ll have you arrested.”
Seibert said that Price told them they could not protest in the building, to which Seibert replied that that was not their intent. Seibert said Price also said that protesters were “bothering” people in the building.
Eventually, Seibert, alone, was allowed to go to Coffman’s office to drop off the letters. She informed JD Key, Coffman’s political director, of what had happened, and said he responded that the building was private property. The Colorado Independent called Key but had not heard back from him by deadline.
When Seibert returned to the parking lot, she said a man who identified himself as a police officer was addressing the group, telling them they could be on the sidewalk but not in the building. According to the group, the man, who was dressed in “grungy” jeans, t-shirt and a blue hoodie, came from inside the building and flashed a badge at the group, but they didn’t get a good look at it. Seibert said the man denied he was building security and claimed he was a “police officer” but refused to provide his name.
The Young Democrats, along with members of Indivisible Aurora, part of the national anti-Trump Indivisible movement, have been visiting Coffman’s office every week for the last six weeks, delivering letters to the Congressman’s staff. Seibert said they have been peaceful in those visits.
This week’s letters came from a “With or Without Mike Coffman” town hall sponsored by the Young Democrats and held last Thursday at the Aurora Central Library, in the same room that Coffman had used in January for a public forum. Coffman was invited numerous times to attend last Thursday’s town hall, which drew more than 100 people. Seibert said he never replied to any of those invitations, which she sent by email and phone.
In recent weeks, members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, both Republican and Democrat, have turned to tele-town halls rather than face-to-face town halls. Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma hosted a 45-minute telephone town hall this morning that drew nearly 10,000 participants and listeners, according to ColoradoPolitics.com.
Gardner was a no-show at two “with or without” town halls in Denver and Fort Collins last week that drew more than a thousand people.
It’s not just a Colorado issue. Members of Congress, most Republicans, returned home for the President’s Day recess to find constituents, often angry, flooding their public events. It harkens back to 2009 when angry Republicans, including those from the Tea Party, jammed town halls held by Democratic members of Congress.
Andrea Valenzuela, who works for the property management company for Cherry Creek Place IV, said the building has been the target of noisy protests and vandalism in recent weeks, though she made clear she was not blaming Seibert’s group for the trouble.
“We don’t want any problems,” Valenzuela told The Independent, adding that the management company doesn’t want to get into the middle of a political issue. “If people have an appointment with the Congressman” they can come in, she said. “We’re here to protect our tenants.”
Coffman’s website says nothing about having to make an appointment just to get into the building.
Calls to both the Aurora Police Department, to verify the identity of the officer at the building, and to Coffman spokesman Dan Buchelli were not returned by deadline.
A check on the location of district offices for Colorado’s congressional delegation found most are located in private buildings, where the office is on the second floor or higher. The outlier: the district offices for Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, whose Boulder and Fort Collins offices are both accessible from the street.
Seibert pointed out that Coffman’s website lists open office hours. She said the inability of constituents to visit during those hours is an abuse of the Congressional funds that pay for the office.
Nevertheless, she said, the Arapahoe County Young Democrats plan to continue visiting Coffman’s office every week. If, she said, Coffman thinks that “by ignoring us we will go away,” he is wrong.
The incident has raised eyebrows for the American Civil Liberties Union. In a statement to The Independent today, spokesman John Krieger said “The Constitution guarantees all individuals the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. When the office of a representative has significant barriers to access, it sends a distressing message to that representative’s constituents that their opinions and concerns are not welcome.
“If those barriers are exclusive to people who disagree with the representative and they include confrontations with security or police, it can have a chilling effect against the truly patriotic freedom to dissent that this country was built on.”
Video credit: Arapahoe County Young Democrats
Photo credit: Sarah Blume, the Colorado Independent