This past February, Dr. Kathryn Allen, a 64-year-old family physician with a sleek gray bob who also goes by Kathie, was one of more than 1,000 angry constituents who packed into a high school auditorium in the Utah suburb of Cottonwood Heights for a town hall meeting with their then-congressman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz. The fiery cell phone videos from the event have since become the stuff of cable news legend: Some people chanted “Do your job!”; others just booed at top volume. They were angry that Chaffetz, then the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, had failed to investigate the Trump campaign’s Russian connections with the same vigor he’d shown Hillary Clinton and Benghazi; they were also angry over his stated interest in defunding Planned Parenthood.
“He did not listen,” Allen told me by phone recently from Utah, her voice still indignant. Chaffetz would later muse that the rowdy crowd was made up of “paid protesters,” but Allen remembers very real, very emotional moments, including when one woman in the audience stood up to tell Chaffetz that Planned Parenthood had saved her life by diagnosing her cervical cancer at an early stage and asked him point-blank: Would he fight for Planned Parenthood?
“Instead of answering her question, he started talking about the fact that both of his parents had died of cancer. He got all teary-eyed and talked about cancer research and how he’d like to see it increase,” Allen recalls. “It was so manipulative.” In fact, over the course of that now-infamous town hall, Allen says, Chaffetz “deflected almost every question. To me, it was appalling.”
So appalling that six months later, Allen, a Democrat and political newcomer, is running in November’s special election to replace Chaffetz—and turn his long-red seat blue—in what will be one of the country’s most-watched races.
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